Friday, June 29, 2012

Psychedelia in Diabolus Part III

When I wrapped up part two I was just getting into psychedelia in 'modern' metal (the 1990s onward).  Now that some of the more extreme gernes such as death and black metal have been considered, it's time to move onto the more overtly psychedelic movements in modern metal. Thus, an apt place to start would be with the subgerne known as prog metal, a hybrid of heavy metal and progressive rock.

As noted in part one, prog and heavy metal had the same origins, namely 1960s acid rock. When the acid rock movement began to splinter in the late 1960s some groups jacked up the volume and distortion, leading to heavy metal. Others stuck by the otherworldly atmospheres of psychedelia and acid rock and incorporated elements of classical, jazz, and avant-garde to open up even more dimensions. Given that both metal and prog shared the same origins, there was frequent overlap between the two gernes in the 1970s. Both used mythological and fantasy-derived lyrics, much to the ire of rock critics everywhere that longed for a 'serious' message. Both gernes would adopt increasingly theatrical concerts, be it the shock rock of Alice Cooper and Kiss, or the full on theater of Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Both would increasingly revere musicianship, pushing the notions of what could be done with guitars and drums to new levels (at least in terms of pop music). And finally, both gernes were pretty thoroughly despised by music critics and hipsters alike --witness Lester Bangs' take on Jethro Tull, for example --despite widespread commercial success.

Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson channeling the Pied Piper 

Indeed, distinguishing certain 1970s rock groups as prog or metal can be a little difficult. Tull would most certainly fall under the prog category, but several of the most well known singles such "Cross-Eyed Mary" have a strong metal edge. Canadian power trio Rush frequently straddled the line between metal and prog in the 1970s, before finally settling in on prog as the decade came to an end. Conversely, Rainbow was most certainly a metal band (they have to be to include both Ronnie James Dio and Richie Blackmore), yet few prog bands could craft an epic on par with the likes of "Stargazer." And then there was Hawkwind, a psychedelic space rock outfits often described by critics as prog, but whose fan base has been dominated by metalheads for years (having metal legend Lemmy Kilmister on bass for a while was probably a big reason for this).

Rainbow (top) and Hawkwind (bottom)

As the 1970s came to an end a massive gulf opened between the two gernes. As metal became increasingly obsessed with speed, heaviness, and shock value prog went in the opposite direction: It began taking on aspects of new wave, soft rock and 'adult contemporary.' Witness the transformation Genesis made under Phil Collins as a fine example of the depths prog sank too to remain commercially viable. 

And yet the connection between prog and metal was never totally severed. Power metal, for instance, maintained a tenuous link between metal and prog. It was not until the rise of Queensryche in the late 1980s, however, that the subgerne known as prog metal began to take shape. Queensryche originally started out with a sound similar to what bands that fell under the NWOBHM banner had, but as the decade progressed they increasingly began to add elements of 1970s prog. Pink Floyd is often cited as a major influence, but I personally hear a lot more Queen than Floyd. Curiously, Queensryche's breakthrough album was a concept album titled Operation: Mindcrime. The story line revolves around a heroin addict alienated from modern society. Thus, he joins a secret society geared toward political assassination. This organization is led by a demagogue known as Dr. X who, using the protagonist's heroin addict and a series of brainwashing techniques, is able to turn him into a programmed assassin.

This concept of course bears strikingly similarities to the various projects, such as MK-ULTRA, that the CIA instigated during the Cold War in order to create a 'Manchurian Candidate.'
"For intelligence purposes, what was required of MK-ULTRA was ability to manipulate memory, and to relax the inhibitions of captured enemy agents so that they would reveal their secrets... That was step one. Step two would involve erasing specific pieces of information from the subject's memory and replacing those pieces with bits of memory, thus permitting the Agency to send that agent back into the field without any knowledge that he or she had been interrogated and had given up the sensitive information. Step three was a potential bonus: Could that enemy agent then be 'programmed' to commit acts on behalf of the Agency, without knowing who gave the commands or why? This was the essence of the Manchurian Candidate."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pg. 218)   
But I digress --Back to Queensryche. All in all Queensryche doesn't have much of a psychedelic component in their sound, but they would at least lay the framework for later bands to bring back psychedelia. One such group was New York's Dream Theater, whose highly complex, atmospheric sound would occasionally delve into psychedelia, most notably in the keyboards. 

As the 1990s progressed, the prog elements of Dream Theater's sound would only become more pronounced as did the occult allusions in their work. In 2001 they even drew the attention conspiracy theorists when a live album, Live Metropolis Pt. 2. Released on 9/11/01, the album's original cover art depicted the skyline of New York City engulfed in flames. This album represented a landmark for either the Cryptocracy, synchronicity, or both, depending upon what side you fall upon. I wish I could add more about this group, but despite having seen them live in either 1999 or 2000, Recluse has just never been able to warm up to them. I just can't muster the enthusiasm to analyze their work in depth.

the original cover for Live Metropolis Pt. 2, released on 9/11/01

I don't have such a problem with Tool, another early prog metal outfit. I've written extensively on Tool before here, so I will not delve deeply into them for this piece. In brief: Tool was founded in 1990 in Los Angeles by drummer Danny Carey, bassist Paul D'Amour, guitarist Adam Jones and singer Maynard James Keenan. Over the past twenty some years Tool has only experienced one lineup change, namely the departure of D'Amour after Tool's debut album, Undertow. He was soon replaced by Justin Chancellor, who has remained the bassist ever since.

Tool's music, which typically consists of five-plus minute songs, extended jamming off of a handful of chords, profane and perverse lyrics, and an all-encompassing aurora of darkness, has been labeled as metal, prog, alternative, and even post-rock by various sources. Psychedelia is rarely a label used by critics, but this aspect of Tool's sound is rarely lost on their fans. In point of fact, Tool fans are just as likely to be into Pink Floyd or the Flaming Lips as they are Slayer or Cannibal Corpse.

What's more, Tool's lyrics are heavily laced with references to the occult and other arcane subjects. The title of their breakthrough album, Aenima, is a play on enema and anima, a Jungian archetype. The followup, Lateralus, is a rough concept album revolving around alchemical transformation. Drummer Danny Carey has acknowledged a keen interest in the occult, especially branches relating to Aleister Crowley. Carey claims to have incorporated elements of sacred geometry into his drumming and even to have performed a Crowley-derived ritual which put him in contact with a daimon.

Tool's Danny Carey

Tool has made heavy use of psychedelia over the years. Probably their most noteworthy track in this vein is the epic "Third Eye," the 13+ minute closing track to Aenima. The song seemingly deals with an experience singer Maynard James Keenan had on peyote, and details an encounter he has with a being on the psychedelic plain. Whether this being is itself supposed to be some kind of daimon or Maynard's shadow is left open to interpretation. Regardless, it makes for an utterly breathtaking close to Aenima, which stands as one of the trippiest and most esoteric albums of the 1990s. I can't recommend it or the follow up, 2001's Lateralus, enough to the budding initiate.

Another prog metal outfit that would make tentative explorations into the occult and psychedelia is the Swedish group known as Meshuggah. To be sure, Meshuggah is certainly not the first band one thinks of when they think psychedelia, and for good reason. Meshuggah was initially one of the heaviest and most complex bands to ever record. Their post-thrash classic Destroy Erase Improve was one of the most brutal metal albums released in the 1990s, conjuring images of humanity's holocaust at the hands of machines in the listener's mind. Their sound was (and still is) groundbreaking, incorporating polyrhythms, polymetered riffs, rapid tempo and key changes, and guitarist Fredrik Thordendal's jazz fusion-like solos.

As the 00s arrived Meshuggah began to incorporate elements of the occult and psychedelia into their sound, perhaps in part due to extensive touring with Tool. The transformation began with 2002's Nothing, which found the band slowing their tempos and focusing more on groove than pummeling the listener into submission. It also witnessed the band's first extensive use of psychedelia, most notably on the track "Rational Gaze." The lyrics seem to center around the psychedelic user's alienation from corporate-derived, mainstream society:
"Squint your eyes to see clearly. Blur reality to make it real

Let focus go from your deceiving eyes to know what's been concealed

We've all been blinded - Subjects to visual misinformation 

A systematic denial of the crystalline 

Our light-induced image of truth - Filtered blank of its substance

As our eyes won't adhere to intuitive lines

Everything examined. Separated, one thing at a time

The harder we stare the more complete the disintegration 

To see the fine grain, to read the hidden words

The context of parallel truth - Devoid of fragmentation

Eyes re-opened, susceptible

Reasoning focalized. Receptors activated 

Perspectives distorted

The ladder beyond our grasp

The twin-headed serpent forever hidden

Where's the true knowledge

Where engines of the sane & insanity merge 

the clarity, the unity  

Reality untouchable, transparent, invisible

to our fixed, restricted fields of vision

Existence taken for granted, absolute

Uncomprehended by our content minds 

Possessed, owned, run, controlled

by the common sense-infected rational gaze

Onward forever we walk among the ignorant

Never stray from the common lines"
 The line "A systematic denial of the crystalline" seems to be an allusion to DMT, which sometimes comes in a crystal form. The narrator consumes DMT to achieve a true view of the world in which he lives, yet cannot quite make it to the next level of illumination, as the fourth verse indicates. Still, the user can never fit back into the hive-mind of corporatism, as the final verse indicates. 

The following album, 2005's Catch Thirty-Three, brought occultism to the forefront. The title is a play on the legendary antiwar novel Catch-22, which spawned the phrase "catch 22" as an expression of paradoxes. The number 33 is highly significant in the occult, being the highest degree in Scottish Rite Freemasonry. Of the number, thirty-third degree Freemason Manly P. Hall writes:
"... consider the number 33. The first temple of Solomon stood for thirty-three years in its pristine splendor. At the end of that time it was pillaged by the Egyptian King Shishak, and finally (588 B.C.) it was completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the people of Jerusalem were led into captivity to Babylon.... Also, King David ruled for thirty-three years in Jerusalem; the Masonic Order is divided into thirty-three symbolic degrees; there are thirty-three segments in the human spinal column; and Jesus was crucified in the thirty-third year of His life."(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, pgs. 238-239)

The Catch Thirty-Three cover depicts three separate snake heads eating one another's tails, seemingly in a play off the ouroboros symbol. The following album, 2008's obZen, is even more curious. The title is a combination of the words obscene and zen, playing into an underlining concept the album that humanity only achieves zen through bloodshed and greed. The cover depicts a three-armed nude man seated in the lotus position. He is drenched in blood seemingly from being castrated. One of the three hands holds three fingers over the figure's lips as if in mockery of Harpocrates, the God of Silence and symbolic of the secrets of the ancient Mysteries.
"Harpocrates, the God of Silence, holding his fingers to his mouth... He warns all to keep the secrets of the wise from those unfit to know them."
(ibid, pg. 131)

The fingers of all three hands are meant to form sixes, giving us three sixes, or 666. This cover is seemingly a mockery of the ancient Mysteries. The castrated, monk-like figure is stripped of his generative, or creative force. At the same time he is reminding the initiate to keep the secret he is also drowning in evil.

But so much for Meshuggah and prog metal. Now it's time to move on to the most overtly psychedelics gernes of modern metal. Back in the 1980s when underground metal was becoming increasingly obsessed with speed and technicality, their was one movement still clinging to the classical Black Sabbath approach of slow, heavy riffs. This gerne is doom metal, which began to emerge in the mid-1980s as distinct movement. Some of the pioneering groups included Witchfinder GeneralTroublePentagramCandlemass, and Saint Vitus. Several of these groups incorporated vaguely psychedelic elements, most notably Saint Vitus and later Trouble. Former Saint Vitus vocalist Scott 'Wino' Weinrich embraced an even druggier sound in addition to ample allusions to the occult and entheogens-as-sacraments in later bands such as Spirit Caravan and the Hidden Hand. In the song "Sea Legs" off Spirit Caravan's 2000 album Jug Fulla Sun Wino manages to mix odes to his motorcycle with allusions to the Mysteries:
"From the paradise driven

To escape the Deluge

Revealed the Mysteries given
In exchange for Refuge
Climbing through the sea
In my side car rides my Atlantean queen"


But I'm getting ahead of myself. While doom would pave the way for psychedelia's full on return to metal it was the gernes that doom influenced that would unleash the psychedelic wellspring. It all began in the mid-1980s with a Washington state-based group known as the Melvins. The Melvins cut their teeth on the 1980s hardcore scene before opting to become a metal band. They took the slow, heavy riffs of Sabbath and doom metal and merged them with the raw energy and attitude of hardcore. What emerged was a sound that was both classical and highly innovative at the same time. Early Melvins songs were known for their sudden shifts in key and tempo and guitarist Buzz 'King Buzzo' Osbourne's massively detuned (the Melvins were using drop C tuning as early as the late 1980s) and feedback-laden riffs. The feedback was probably the most striking part of the Melvins' sound. King Buzzo took the amplifier experimentations Hendrix engaged in between songs and created a vocabulary of fills and leads around it, creating a sound that was both sinister and supremely druggy at the same time. Certainly other acts had attempted such a sound before --i.e. the WipersFlipper, and My War-era Black Flag --but it took the Melvins to truly establish this style of music. 

King Buzzo

The influence of the Melvins was vast. Despite receiving little to no mainstream recognition over the years, the Melvins are one of the most important rock outfits of the past 30 years. Probably their biggest influence wasn't even in metal, but in grunge. The Melvins were one of the first Washington state indie bands to gain national exposure, thus drawing attention to other bands in the area. Many of the early Washington bands took the Melvins' signature sound, toned it down and added conventional song structures to it, leading to the birth of grunge. One such group that engaged in heavy Melvins worship was Nirvana.  

Kurt Cobain was a massive fan of the Melvins, and even produced their 1993 album Houdini in a bid to win them more exposure. The Melvins enjoyed close ties with Nirvana before they became the biggest rock act of their generation. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic was a roadie with the Melvins before co-founding Nirvana with Cobain. Longtime Melvins drummer Dale Crover played drums on early Nirvana demos before Buzzo introduced Kurt and Krist to Dave Grohl. Other Washington groups, such as Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, all displayed a major Melvins influence even if they didn't have the direct links to the group that Nirvana did. 

Kurt Cobain with members of the Melvins

Within metal, the Melvins created their own gerne: sludge metal. The sound of sludge was built around lumbering, fuzzed out and detuned guitars with the occasional burst of hardcore and the obligatory feedback explorations. Psychedelia was also present from the get go in sludge --check out "Influence of Atmosphere" on the Melvins debut album, Gluey Porch Treatments, for instance. Still,   it would not become a major competent for almost another decade. The Melvins themselves would not begin incorporating psychedelia heavily into their sound until 1994's Stoner Witch and 1996's Stag, possibly the closet thing sludge has to its own Sgt. Pepper's 

Many of the early sludge bands were based out of New Orleans, and would call their scene NOLA as a result. The two pioneering groups from this scene were Crowbar and Eyehategod, but it was a third, lesser known group that would arguably have a far wider influence. Acid Bath was not actually from New Orleans (rather, Houma, L.A.) but they would soon become one of the leading NOLA sludge bands. Their sound incorporated elements of sludge, hardcore, black and death metal, blues, and psychedelia into a druggy stew that frequently alluded to addiction, dirty sex and serial killers. The cover of their debut album, When Kite String Pops, is actually a painting done by the notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy. The follow up album, 1996's Paegan Terrorism Tactics, featured an album cover by Dr. Jack Kevorkian. 

Acid Bath guitarist Sammy Duet is an acknowledged satanist, yet their lyrical content has rarely gone in that direction. Rather, they frequently offer up an acid-washed view of a modern America overrun with perversion, death, and degeneration. Hell, Acid Bath arguably presents a far greater condemnation of declining morals than Christian fundamentalism could ever manage. Simply consider Acid Bath's supremely creepy take on abortion on the trippy and surprisingly catchy "Scream of the Butterfly." "Jezebel" offers a truly disturbing take on prostitution while the heroin-ode "Dope Fiend" is a harrowing account of addiction. At the end of the latter, when singer Dax Riggs screams "Yeah motherfucker I'm high! And I'm grateful just to be alive!" you know something primal is happening. 

Acid Bath would disband in 1997 shortly after the death of bassist Audie Pitre. Acid Bath never rose above the status of cult band during their run, yet they would have a vastly underrated influence on the future of sludge. They are, to the best of my knowledge, the first sludge band to heavily incorporate psychedelia into their sound and one of the first extreme metal bands in general to go down that path. In the next decade, many of the newer sludge bands build upon Acid Bath's curious mixture of extreme metal, goth, blues and psychedelia, especially the Georgia-based bands, and would add overtly mythological and occultic lyrics to the mix, completing metal's return to the ancient Mysteries

But that's for another installment. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Psychedelia in Diabolus Part II

Welcome to part two of my examination of psychedelia in heavy metal music, and the connections of both to the ancient Mystery religions. Before going any further, let me briefly recap some of the threads that were addressed in part one. We shall start with the Mysteries themselves. 

The Mystery religions were one of the earliest developments in human spiritual life. They most likely originated from Egypt and spread to western Asia and the Mediterranean basin, from which they eventually reached the furthest frontiers of the known world. Most Mysteries were organized not unlike modern 'fraternal brotherhoods' such as the Masons, with a public doctrine for the masses (aka the profane) and a secret doctrine for the initiates. Initiates only gradually learned the full scale of this secret doctrine as they completed various grades within the Mystery, ensuring that the most sacred rites of the Mysteries remained hidden.

Most Mysteries were based around 'suffering gods,' typically of foreign origins, that the initiates attempted to achieve a personal encounter with. Many rituals revolved around around re-enacting the death and various dramas of this god(s). Theater, music, primitive pyrotechnics and orgies (in some cases) were all used to this end. However, the personal experience numerous initiates claimed to have with their god was likely the result of an entheogenic sacrament, most likely some type of psychedelic mushroom or ergot.

Scenes of initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries

And now on to rock 'n' roll. Christopher Knowles, in his great The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll, compellingly argues that rock 'n' roll is the true spiritual descent of the ancient Mysteries.
"Over time, I'd come to realize that rock 'n' roll is in fact the direct descendant of the Mysteries, which had evolved and adapted to suit the needs and customs of postwar American secular culture. 
"What did the Mysteries off that other cults of the time did not? Almost exactly what rock 'n' roll would, thousands of years later. Drink. Drugs. Sex. Loud music. Wild pyrotechnics. A feeling of transcendence --leaving your mind and your body and entering a different world, filled with mystery and danger. A personal connections to something deep, strange, and impossibly timeless. An opportunity to escape the grinding monotony of everyday life and break all the rules of polite society. A place to dress up in wild costumes and dance and drink and trip all night.  
"Mystery cult centers were the ancient equivalents of today's clubs and concert halls, which may be why so many of the old pagan place-names are still in use --the 'Orpheum,' the 'Apollo,' the 'Academy,' the 'Palladium,' and on and on. Just as in the Aquarian Age of the Sixties, some Mystery cults were relatively socially acceptable (think the Beatles) and some were seen as a sign that the world was going to hell in a hand-basket (think the Rolling Stones)."
(The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll, Christopher Knowles, pgs. 6-7)

Heavy metal clearly falls into the latter type of Mystery, it's power to offend and outrage both the right and left wing largely unparalleled in other types of rock music, including punk. What's more, metal probably comes closer to resembling the ancient Mystery than any other post-1960s rock gerne.  Metal is a kind of fraternal brotherhood in its own right, with its own hand signs, phrases and clothing to distinguish initiates from the profane. Legendary metal personalities such as Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Eddie Van Halen, Lemmy Kilmister, and Dave Mustaine have erected cults of personality around themselves that could rival the devotion the gods of the ancient Mysteries inspired. In point of fact, the power of both derives from archetypes. The gods and goddesses of various Mystery cults closely paralleled ancient archetype, such as the Great Mother (i.e. IsisCybeleDemeter). Modern rock stars, especially of the metal variety, have also subconsciously tapped into these archetypes. Even the ancient fables and folklore of the Mysteries have found their way into modern heavy metal lyrics, which in certain strands are heavily influenced by mythology and fairy tales.

As I noted in part one, the main thing that has been missing in heavy metal since the late 1970s to complete its link to the ancient Mysteries are the psychedelics. Of course this was not always the case, as heavy metal originated in late 1960s acid rock such as Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, and Blue Cheer. Many of the early metal outfits such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, and even Black Sabbath still featured the occasional exploration into psychedelia. Bands such as Hawkwind, Captain Beyond and Leaf Hound even found effective mergers of both styles. But as the 1970s rolled on things began to change, especially with the rise of punk in the middle of the decade. By the end of the decade metal had splintered into two distinct strands, one mainstream, one underground.

The first of the two strands we shall consider is the mainstream branch. This strand began to emerge in the mid 1970s when various groups took the blues-based hard rock of acts like the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, and the image (as well as the sound) of glam rock and the New York Dolls and applied the massive guitar sound of Lez Zep to it. What emerged was a boozy, macho racket almost totally void of the gerne's founding psychedelic influences. The first act that comes to mind when I think of this style is Australia's AC/DC, with their (at the time) groundbreaking guitar heroics, crisp riffs, and macho lyrics. AC/DC was soon followed by California's Van Halen, who would set the stage for the explosion of glam/hair metal that would gain enormous popularity in the 1980s, arguably establishing metal as the most popular rock gerne in the world.

AC/DC (top) and Van Halen (bottom)

Glam metal was dominated by sex, booze, and cocaine, and rarely delved into psychedelia, with few exceptions. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is another Australian band, the Cult. Many fans will probably object to me labeling the Cult as such, and not without basis. The Cult's sound was very diverse and unique, but their most successful albums made tentative concessions to glam. But more on that in a moment. 

the Cult circa Sonic Temple

The Cult had their origins in a group called the Southern Death Cult, taking their name from the mysterious mound-building Mississippian culture that once flourished among Native Americans in the Midwestern, Eastern and Southeastern United States. The Mississipian culture were descents of the even more mysterious Adena and Hopewell cultures, which I've chronicled briefly before here, that may have seemingly had religious customs similar to the ancient Mysteries. But I digress.

The Cult started out with an early U2-like sound featuring heavy neo-psychedelic undertones and mystical lyrics. They had some success in their native Australia and the U.K. but the US market remained largely indifferent. The Cult shifted gears and set out to become their generation's version of AC/DC. 1987's Electric was the end result and finally broke the Cult into the US market. It also all but stripped the psychedelic elements from their sound. The following album, 1989's Sonic Temple, attempted to find a middle ground between their earlier work and their breakthrough sound. It would go on to become the group's best selling album, in no small part due to the mega-single that was "Fire Woman." 

The opening track and third single, "Sun King," gloriously displayed the psychedelic and mystical aspects of the group's sound. Cult singer Ian Astbury takes on the mantle of the Sun King and bemoans the power a mysterious woman has over him. Intentional or not, he echoes one of the most ancient ritual dramas in human history, namely the death and rebirth of the sun. In the early matriarchal societies this was attributed to the Great Goddess, the moon, who was believed to control this cycle. 
"In Europe there were at first no male gods contemporary with the Goddess to challenge her prestige or power, but she had a lover who was alternatively the beneficent Serpent of Wisdom, and the beneficent Star of Life, her son. The Son was incarnate in the male demons of the various totem societies ruled by her, who assisted in the erotic dances held in her honour. The Serpent, incarnate in the sacred serpents which were the ghosts of the dead, sent the winds. The Son, who was also called Lucifer or Phosphorus ('bringer of light') because as evening-star he led the light of the Moon, was reborn every year, grew up as the year advanced, destroyed the Serpent, and won the Goddess's love. Her love destroyed him, but from his ashes was born another Serpent which, at Easter, laid the glain or red egg which she ate up; so that the Son was reborn to her as a child once more."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pgs. 387-388)
the cover og Graves' book shows the Three-fold Goddess, the Divine Son, and the Serpent

Over time the Divine Son would become represented as the sun, or specifically the waxing sun, with the serpent taking on the role of the waning sun. This drama was played out amongst the royalty, with the queen assuming the role of the Great Goddess, or moon. The king became the Divine Son as represented by the sun, or sun king, in other words. This was not ultimately an admirable position to hold.
"Seventy-two was the Sun's grandest number; eight, multiplied ninefold by the fertile Moon. The Moon was Latona, Hyperborean Apollo's mother, and she determined the length of the sacred king's reign. The approximate concurrence of solar and lunar time over 19 years --19 revolutions of the Sun, 235 lunations of the Moon --ruled Apollo should be newly married and crowned every nineteenth year at the Spring solstice, which he kept a seven month's holiday at the Moon's honour... The fate of the old king was perhaps the hill-top fate of Aaron and Moses, darkly hinted at in Exodus, and the fate of Dionysus at Delphi: to be disrobed and dismembered by his successor and, when the pieces were gathered together, to be secretly buried in a chest with the promise of an eventual glorious resurrection."
(ibid, pgs. 292-293)
Two of the most noted sun kings were Dionysus, as noted above, and Osiris, both of whom were the chief deities in two of the most popular Mystery cults in Antiquity. Here we see that their human representatives shared their fate of dismemberment, gloriously hinted at in the uncertainty of Astbury's vocals when he proclaims "We can rule across this land" and bemoans "Time was wasted 'cause its gone to fast."

But enough of the Cult, back to glam metal...

Glam metal would continue to dominate mainstream metal until the early 1990s when the rise of grunge and Metallica would finely send it on its way to the dustbin of history. The seeds of hair metal's downfall were being planted at the same time as its identity was being established. As noted before, the rise of punk rock in the mid-1970s had a profound influence on metal. Metalheads became obsessed with the speed and rawness of punk rock (as well as the DIY ethic) and sought to incorporate these elements into heavy metal. This resulted in the other major strand of heavy metal, namely the underground variety. It began in England with bands such Judas PriestMotorhead, and later, Iron Maiden. These groups would go on to spearhead what became known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM.

Judas Priest (top), Motorhead (middle) and Iron Maiden (bottom)

This style of metal brought in faster and more metallic guitars while all but severing metal from its blues and psychedelic origins. While the NWOBHM somewhat maintained the fantasy-centric lyrics that had become such a staple of early metal, they increasingly took on a dark comic book/horror movie slant that would have an enormous influence on extreme metal in the coming years. This is also when the resemblance of the heavy metal fandom to the ancient Mysteries began to become most pronounced.
"In the Eighties, the rock press was largely dominated by baby boomers who thought metal was a piss-poor substitute for the hard rock heroes of their teenage years such as Cream and Jimi Hendrix. But the writers were passing judgement on metal's working-class fans as well as the music. In response, those fans started their own fanzines and tape trading networks, obsessing on bands no one had yet heard. 'We were like secret societies,' fanzine writer Ron Quintana later revealed."
(The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll, Christopher Knowles, pg. 204)
From the NWOBHM would come a whole slew of subgernes that would increasingly up the ante for metal in terms of speed, heaviness and shock value. Possibly no group associated with the NWOBHM movement did more to usher in this change than Venom. Comprised of three former British bodybuilders with questionable musical chops, Venom took the shock rock theatrics of 1970s metal groups such as Alice Cooper and Kiss, as well hardcore punk outfits the Misfits, to a whole new level. For years fundamentalist Christians had accused heavy metal of Satanism, even though the lyrics of most 1970s metal outfits were far more likely to deal with pussy than Lucifer, but it was not until Venom that a metal band opted to build their entire image (and most of their lyrical content) around Satanism.


To be sure, Venom's Satanism was of the campiest variety imaginable, but there were other outfits inspired by Venom that would take Satanism very seriously. Venom's second album, 1982's Black Metal, would even give a name to this style of metal. It began to emerge in the mid-1980s with bands like Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate, and especially Bathory, leading the charge. It would not, however, be until the rise of the Norwegian black metal scene in the early 1990s that black metal had cemented itself as the most controversial subgerne in metal. The unabated Satanism of several of the leading bands was supplemented by numerous church burnings and the occasional murder, bringing to life every stereotype the Fundamentalist movement had ever lobbed at heavy metal in just a few years.

In reality, Satanic metal was far less subversive than most give it credit for being, outside of occasional shocking displays of violence, a la the Norwegian black metal scene. Satanic metalheads, in an attempt to undermine Christianity, took on a faith that only existed as a result of Christianity. Satanism essentially developed in unison with Christianity. The earliest allegations of Satanism were applied to the gnostics, some of which were 'heretical' Christian sects, whom mainstream Christians saw as perverting their faith. 
"It may be accurate to say that Satanism, as we recognize the term today, has roughly paralleled the spread of Christianity, embodied by the Roman Catholic church. An early heretical sect, the Gnostics, regarded life on earth as a season in Hell, condemning Jehovah as evil for creating man in the first place. From that perspective, it was a short step to revering Satan as the valiant adversary of 'evil' Jehovah..."
(Raising Hell, Michael Newton, pg. 324) 

Several gnostic sects such as the PauliciansBogomils, and the legendary Cathars survived into the Middle Ages and may have helped inspire the modern form of Satanism that began to emerge during the Renaissance. In their purest form, Satanic rituals are simply an inversion of Catholic or Orthodox rites. Consider the center piece of classical Satanism, the black mass
"The Black Mass... it is an attempt at organized blasphemy, an attack of rebellion, political as well as theological. It is also designed to attract demonic influences, evil spirits and the souls of the angry dead. Yet, this ritual carries very little weight if performed by a lay-person. It is potentially quite powerful, however, if performed by an ordained priest..."
(Sinister Forces Book I, Peter Levenda, pg. 287)
Black Mass

The mythological and fairy tale-centric lyrics of traditional heavy metal tapped directly into the ancient, pre-Christian concepts of religion. Some of the most renowned metal front men, such as the hobbit-like Ronnie James Dio, took it a step further and tapped into the archetypes of the old gods via their image and stage presence. By contrast, many of the early black metal bands clung to largely Christian-derived Satanism of Medieval Europe, as filtered through modern day horror films. 

It may be for this reason why Satanism in metal has largely petered out since the height of the Norwegian scene. Later period Satanism, such as that pronounced by the Swedish retro-metal band Ghost, has largely returned to the tongue-in-check variety of Venom and earlier shock rockers. Perhaps in an allusion to Satanism's heritage, the anonymous singer of Ghost takes on the persona of the evil Pope, even donning a Catholic derived-robe and hat in addition to a skull mask to complete the effect. "Satan Prayer" indeed. 


NWOBHM would also have ample influence in America as well. Thrash metal, a hybrid of NWOBHM and hardcore punk, would emerge in the early 1980s. It was spearheaded by what would become known as the 'Big Four,' MetallicaMegadethAnthrax, and Slayer. While this brand of metal was a little rough around the edges musically, it wasn't as steeped in the D & D and horror movie aesthetics (excluding Slayer, of course) as other types of metal. In fact, Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax even managed the occasional political statement, making them a bit more acceptable to musical hipsters than the many of the earlier NWOBHM bands. Thrash would begin to make commercial inroads by the mid-1980s due to the growing popularity of Metallica, who would arguably become the biggest heavy metal act of all time by the early 1990s when they slowed their tempos down a bit. 

the Big Four of thrash

Just as Metallica was gaining mainstream acceptance for thrash, Slayer was pioneering another style of metal that would remain firmly in the underground for years to come. While other thrash bands were embracing more 'serious' lyrical content and images, Slayer took the faux-Satanism of Venom and the horror movie aesthetics of NWOBHM and took them to their logical extreme. It all came together on their classic 1986 album Reign in Blood. Their relentless, yet surprisingly technical, musical brutality combined with gory, blood-stained lyrics laid the framework for the metal subgerne known as death metal.

Death metal emerged in the mid-1980s. Generally San Francisco's the Possessed and the Florida-based Death were considered the first two 'true' death metal bands. Florida would go on to become the heart of the early death metal movement, also spawning Cynic, Morbid Angel and Obituary, among others. However, no group has been more closely associated with death metal than the legendary Cannibal Corpse, hailing from Buffalo, New York.

And this was effectively the state of heavy metal by the late-1980s. Just as the underground metal scene was cementing metal's organizational connection to the Mysteries it was losing touch with the spiritual heritage. Some subgernes of metal, such as power metal, continued metal's D and D tradition, but sans the psychedelic aspect. Most branches of metal, however, were content to embrace horror movie-style imagery along with booze and cocaine as driving creative forces.

But then things began to shift ever so gradually in the late 1980s and early 1990s, even in some of the most aggressive subgernes. Newer black metal bands began to grow tired of the Satanism of old and began to incorporate paganism, especially the Nordic variety, heavily into their lyrics and imagery. Some would even rediscover psychedelia in full, such as the Japaneses group known as Sigh.


One of the final bands signed by the infamous Mayhem guitarist Euronymous to his label Deathlike Silence Productions (arguably the first label to focus on black metal, or at least the Norwegian variety) shortly before he was murdered, Sigh quickly grew bored with conventional black metal and began to experiment with their sound. They would embrace full on psychedelia with their 2001 release Imaginary Soundscapes. In addition to psychedelia, the album would incorporate elements of 70s prog, lounge jazz, dub, Japaneses folk music, and so on, to form one of the trippiest releases of the 21 century. Songs like "Nietzschean Conspiracy" are all but unclassifiable. 

Several groups from the black and death movements began to develop a style that would become known as goth metal in the early 1990s, incorporating elements of atmospheric goth rock into extreme metal. Goth, which was heavily influenced by psychedelia, would provide an inroads. The Swedish band Tiamat, named after the Babylonian sea-monster, was one of first extreme metal groups to bring in a pronounced psychedelic influence. Their classic Wildhoney made ample use of this influence. This made the group's name all the more apt, as Tiamat was originally associated with initiation into the Mysteries.
"The she-monster Tiamat who, in early Babylonian mythology, swallowed the Sun-god Marduk (but whom he later claimed to have killed with his sword)... The icon, a familiar one on the Eastern Mediterranean, survived in Orphic art, where it represented a ritual ceremony of initiation: the initiate was swallowed by the Universal Mother, the sea-monster, and re-born as an incarnation of the Sun-god."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 480)

Tiamat (top) and Tiamat (bottom)

No one likely did more, however, to bring psychedelia into goth metal than Type O Negative. Emerging out of the ashes of the thrash band Carnivore, Type O Negative embraced a sound that was slow, keyboard heavy, and firmly tongue-in-cheek at a time when few other underground metal bands were interested in such elements. Their sound was built around bassist and vocalist Peter Steele's unique voice, which sounds like a vampiric version of Berry White. As the years went by, Type O's music become increasingly atmospheric and trippy, leading Steele to dub it 'Gothadelica.' Steele would also seemingly begin incorporating lyrical allusions to the ancient Mysteries into Type O's sound. Consider the track "Green Man" from the classic 1996 album October Rust.

Type O Negative

The Green Man is an ancient figure that has appeared in numerous religious traditions for thousands of years. He is said to represent the spirit of agriculture, superficially at least. The Green Man, who is closely linked to the Egyptian god Osiris (one of the chief deities of the Mysteries), is also symbolic of initiation.
"In all mythologies the green deities of annual renewal spend the Winter in the Underworld where they are regenerated by chthonian red. As a result, they are externally green but internally red, and their rule extends to both worlds. 'Green' Osiris was torn to pieces and cast into the Nile. He was brought to life again by the magic of 'Red' Isis. He is the Great Initiate, because he knows the secrets of death and resurrection; and thus he presides on Earth over Spring and the rebirth of nature and, in the Underworld, over the judgement of souls. Persephone came back to Earth with the first buds of Spring, but in the Autumn she returned to the Underworld to which she was eternally bound because she had eaten a pomegranate seed. This pomegranate seed was her heart, a spark of fire in the bowels of the Earth which governs all regeneration. It was green Persephone's internal red."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 454)
Osiris as the Green Man

Persephone was also a Mystery goddess, central to the Eleusinian Mysteries. Both the Osirian and Eleusinian Mysteries superficially revolve around the death and renewal of the sun, just as the myths surrounding the Great Goddess, her son, and the serpent do, as discussed above. Steele captures the essence of this beautifully in the lyrics. 
Spring won't come, the need of strife
To struggle to be freed from hard ground
The evenings mists that creep and crawl
Will drench me in dew and so drown
I'm the green man
The green man
Sol in prime sweet summertime
Cast shadows of doubt on my face
A midday sun, it's causing hues
Refracting within the still lake
Autumn in her flaming dress
Of orange, brown, gold fallen leaves
My mistress of the frigid night
I worship, pray to on my knees
Winter's breath of filthy snow
Befrosted paths to the unknown
Have my lips turned true purple?
Life is coming to an end
So says me,me Wiccan friend
Nature coming full circle
I'm the green man
The green man
Steele heaps praise on the Goddess like the bards of old and takes us through the Green Man, or Sun King's, four seasons, even darkly alluding to the tradition of sacrificing the king in the Sun King's place at winter time. Perhaps it's not quite what Robert Graves meant when he claimed only true poetry could be inspired by the Goddess, but it captures the essence of her Mysteries none the less. Steele would continue to inject psychedelia into the underground metal scene all the way up to his death in 2010, by which time it had become prevalent.

And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. Now that we've gotten some of the more copious metal gernes out of the way, I will be able to focus on the psychedelic gold of modern heavy metal in the next installment. Stay tuned.