Somewhere in the mid-20th century, rock and roll music split into two sects: bands following in the tradition of gospel roots and those who adopted a more southern undertone.
Of the latter, many groups took musical cues from blues music. Bands like Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, Van Halen and even new wave bands like INXS, embraced the perilous Satanist tradition in rock and roll.
In the early days of rock, conservatives warned against the devilish influence rock and roll might have on its listeners. I suppose that’s a testament to the power of music.
But in contrast to the Norman Greenbuams and the U2s, the sinful and hedonistic nature of rock and roll falls close to the realm of the devil than any squeaky-clean paradísio. Even the imagery of bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden or Slayer evokes the occult, the weird, the unmentionable or any other adjective that H.P. Lovecraft liked to use.
Even acts like Elvis Presley embraced moral rebellion through his suggestive themes and performance, closer to horns than a halo. And Charlie Daniels, Robert Johnson — and even Goethe — did the devil a favor by personifying him as a fair character with a sense of justice. Somewhere down the line, rock musicians plainly started embodying outright evil.
It’s difficult to tell if the image of debauchery arrived before the actual sex and drug debauchery that long defined rock, but they probably informed each other. Of course, other bands shifted the meaning of evil from things defying the Bible out of protest to a more positive action of defying the Bible out of spite. Norwegian black metal bands took the notion of the style to its logical extreme conclusion.
But sometimes, subtlety proves more effective. Less is more. A duality, or qualified opinion fairs better than an absolute.
Music that hints at a never-ending fight between Good and Evil without taking sides ends up the most objective lens into the unknown. Of course, Good and Evil are synonymous with the morality of decisions, like the bargain in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Contemporary artists that meditate on the practicality of living, whether in music by Josh Tillman or in film by Darren Aronofsky, reveal the most through discussion and the sanitizer of sunlight.
Ultimately, rock and roll’s obsession with Satan emerged from its rejection of the so-called straight and narrow path. But it’s only a way of pursuing the path toward goals. The important thing to note is that no absolutely correct path exists.
Rock music in the 21st century summons the spiritual and occult ranging from Godsmack’s “Voodoo” to Foxygen’s “666”. The Luciferian trend has continuously subverted the radio since its early days as blues.
No matter if you follow Good or Evil, the only true mark of judgement comes with inner-character. That’s why some of the most vile-looking people are in reality some of the kindest.
However, above all, I think evocations of the afterlife and devil-fraternizing is just a humorous way to prepare for the unexpected. Whether or not Hell exists, it’s fun to think — or sing — about it.