Song Writing

Does Jimmy Page Worship The Devil? A Look at Satanism in Rock

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; in the 1950s, the Devil created Rock 'n' Roll. Even before its proponents could develop "impure" habits of alcoholism and drug addiction, now stereotypical rock mythology, Rock 'n' Roll was labelled "The Devil's Music." It was preached against mainly for its sexualized lyrics and its beat, supposedly the cause of teenage delinquency, the birth of rebels without causes.

But as older generations began to embrace rock music, so did the music begin to embrace its Satanic origins. The pioneering Rock 'n' Roll of Bill Haley and Little Richard sounds positively cutesy compared to the Rock that developed during the late '60s and early '70s. With British bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, the guitars became dirtier and the beat more aggressive. Now it was the artists along with the music that were deemed Satanic.
Black Sabbath went through a series of band names (notably, the strikingly un-demonic The Polka Tulk Blues Band). They were a self-described hard rock blues band before vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler watched Mario Bava's 1963 horror anthology film Black Sabbath and wrote a song of the same name, which birthed their signature sound. They then changed their name to Black Sabbath and released the track on their self titled debut album.

This unprecedented horror trope gave the media cause for concern, not to mention the apocalyptic lyrics of "Satan smiling" and "coming round the bend," and the ghoulish album cover, with the inverted cross in the gatefold. According to Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, the album cover and gatefold were chosen by the record company, and the group were not best pleased, despite their dabblings in occultism.

The Satanic connotations are, however, more subtle than you might think, and grounded in music theory. The main riff, as with many subsequent Sabbath songs, employs a diminished fifth in the movement from G to C#. This tritone has been known since the early 18th century as "diabolus in musica" (the devil in music). With the lyrical focus on Satan, the words are married to the dissonant music in much the same way that Leonard Cohen actively describes the musical progression in his song "Hallelujah." This device has been used by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt in his "Dante Sonata" and by George Harrison in several of his Beatles compositions; for Iommi, however, the device and its devilish connotations were entirely subconscious. "That was just something I liked. I never even thought about. I never even knew about it... when I first did it. And then later on: 'oh, you shouldn't be playing those notes.' Why? I mean I didn't understand all that." (Hardtalk, 2013).

Another curious case of unconscious devil worship supposedly occurs in Led Zeppelin's magnum opus "Stairway to Heaven." According to a 1982 program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network investigating alleged Satanic backmasking in popular songs, the cryptic, Tolkien-inspired lyrics are apparently less confusing when reversed. Reversing the verse following the introduction of John Bonham's drums (that begins "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow...") apparently reveals Satanic messages:
Oh, here's to my sweet Satan,
The one whose little path made me sad,
Whose power is Satan. He'll give those with him 666.
There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer,
Sad Satan.
Here, the personification of evil apparently assumes the incarnation of a depressed blacksmith, but still Republican politician Phil Wyman advocated a California state law that records with backmasking would require a warning label. Vocalist Robert Plant, who penned the lyrics, expressed his annoyance in Musician magazine: "'Stairway To Heaven' was written with every best intention, and as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that's not my idea of making music."

Deflecting the allegations wasn't exactly easy considering co-writer Jimmy Page's apparent obsession with British occultist Aleister Crowley. Page was something of a Crowley scholar, owning manuscripts, artwork and even buying Boleskin house, where Crowley lived for 14 years. Pressings of Led Zeppelin's third album are inscribed with the phrase "Do what thou wilt," a tenet of Thelema, a religion Crowley developed.

Though not a confirmed Satanist, Page never really denied it either. He told Rolling Stone: "I don't really want to go on about my personal beliefs or my involvement in magic. I'm not interested in turning anybody on to anybody that I'm turned on to. If people want to find things, they find them themselves."

Arguably, Stairway-gate is the consequence of unfortunate phonetics, though there are instances where bands have admitted to Satanic backmasking. British metal band Cradle of Filth included a backwards recording of The Lord's Prayer on "Dinner at the Deviant's Palace." A backwards reading of the Lord Prayer is a significant moment in Black Mass, a parody of Catholic Mass, as a means by which to reverse the effects of Christian indoctrination. The band's Satanic imagery is largely attributed to shock tactics rather than genuine beliefs; in 1998, the band were arrested during a photo shoot in Rome whilst wearing dog collars and "I love Satan" T-shirts.

Indeed, Satanism does appear to be a profitable marketing tool. The American rock band KISS became well known for their elaborate stage shows featuring fire breathing, elevating drums, and, of course, bassist Gene Simmons' famous blood spitting routine. Former lead guitarist and founder Ace Frehley explained: "What do kids love more than anything else? To see good horror films. Religious fanatics, when they see the show or they see pictures, equate us with the Devil. Which is ridiculous. That's like saying Frankenstein or old horror movies are sinful. It's ridiculous."

In his autobiography Kiss and Make-Up, Simmons reveals a lot about the band's flippant attitude to the media's moral panic: "misinformation about the band began to spread in the southern Bible Belt states, including a rumor that the name KISS stood for Knights in Satan's Service, and that the four of us were devil worshipers. Ironically, this rumor started as a result of an interview I gave in Circus magazine after our first album; in response to a question, I said that I sometimes wondered what human flesh tastes like. I never wanted to really find out, but I was curious intellectually. Later on, this comment seemed to ignite the whole idea that in some way KISS was aligned with devil worship. When I was asked whether I worshipped the Devil, I simply refused to answer for a number of reasons: the first reason, of course, was that it was good press. Let people wonder. The other reason was my complete disregard for the people who were asking."

Of course, Satanist imagery can be for more noble, aesthetic reasons than sheer marketing. In 1979, Black Sabbath replaced Ozzy Osbourne with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Ozzy famously used the peace sign at concerts, and Dio eagerly sought a hand gesture to get the crowd on his side. He chose a gesture taught to him by his Italian grandmother that in her culture was used to ward off bad luck. The sign of the horns became a heavy metal hallmark, but its Satanic associations are not what Dio intended: "It was a symbol that I thought was reflective of what that band was supposed to be all about. It's NOT the Devil's sign like we're here with the Devil. It's an Italian thing I got from my Grandmother called the Malocchio. It's to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it. It's just a symbol but it had magical incantations and attitudes to it and I felt it worked very well with Sabbath." (Metal-Rules.com, 2001).

Dio's association with Satanic imagery is not an accident, as his classic song "Holy Diver" will demonstrate, but in the case of AC/DC they embraced (to a point) the media's interpretation of Satanism in their sound. Asked about the album cover for Highway to Hell, which features lead guitarist Angus Young wearing devil horns, he said: "That was a result of being asked what we'd call one of our tours, and I replied 'a highway to hell!' It was a joke again! When we arrived in America, I didn't know what a fundamentalist was, and I didn't really care. All that Satanic stuff is more groups pretending because it goes with their image." (Auckland Star, 1990).

Indeed, AC/DC went on to pretend with "Hell's Bells," the opening track from their hugely successful album Back in Black. Like "Black Sabbath," the song opens with an ominous bell toll, but rather than an ambiguous reference to Satan, the lyric seems to take on the voice of Antichrist:
If you're into evil, you're a friend of mine
See the white light flashing as I split the night
Cos if good's on the left then I'm sticking to the right.
Back in Black was AC/DC's comeback record following the death of lead singer Bon Scott. The bell, no doubt, represents a funeral toll, but the Satanic lyrics may not simply be Rock Star posing, but an expression of anger towards a God perhaps responsible for the death of their bandmate.

There are times, however, when a band's commitment to Satanist imagery starts to raise eyebrows. Norwegian Black Metal band Gorgoroth has yet to release an album without an anti-religious or Satanic title (consider their debut Pentagram, the follow-up Anti-Christ, or their more nuanced 2003 effort Twilight of the Idols). Surprisingly, their former bassist worked as a primary school teacher during his time with the band, but their media image was far less wholesome.

In the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Gorgoroth's former lead singer Gaahl made slightly controversial comments about church burning: "Church burnings and all these things are, of course, things that I support 100% and it should have been done much more and will be done much more in the future. We have to remove every trace from what Christianity and the Semitic roots have to offer this world. Satanism is freedom for the individual to grow and to become Superman. Every man who is born to be king becomes king. Every man who is born to be a slave doesn't know Satan."

The Dark Side seems to be working well for Gaahl, but not every Devil-worshiping rocker emerges unscathed. In his Songfacts interview, Bobby Liebling of the band Pentagram earnestly explained: "I was real deep into Satanism, which is the wrong way to go." Liebling's deal with the Devil left him destitute and depressive; Robert Johnson at least got The Blues for his soul.

Clearly, Satanism in Rock is a broad spectrum; the irony is, however, that whilst Rock artists increasingly embrace Satanic imagery, the media has become increasingly indifferent to the effects of the "Devil's Music." As The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger noted in an interview with Creem magazine, when they were perceived as devil worshippers, he thought it odd. "It was only one song, after all," he said. "It wasn't like it was a whole album, with lots of occult signs on the back. People seemed to embrace the image so readily. It has carried all the way over into heavy metal bands today."

True enough, even when Jagger introduced himself as the Devil, it was more the media who cast him in that mould, suspecting the band of indulging in the occult. Today, Kanye West can rap about a "Devil in a New Dress" without being accused of promoting Satanism. Beth Orton can sing "Devil Song" and there is zero controversy. It took a long time, but the media finally accepted that rock will always have some sympathy for the Devil.

~Richard Law
July 31, 2013
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Comments: 26

  • Reymundomartinez666 from El Paso Tx.79938Were on last days. we can all see ,understand. Satan has little time left . shose your God. be truthful to yourself, go down with dignity. even if I'm not perfect, I shose peace, love, hope.
  • Peter from New York"What I know, Jagger is not a satanist." How could one possibly know that? Denial is often used as a tactic to relieve existential anxiety. The problem with humans is that they know what they think they know :-).
  • Ron from SwedenWhat I know, Jagger is not a satanist. OK, they wrote the song "Sympathy For The Devil" but the concept is from a book that Jagger read and the song describes the devil as a manipulating evil being, not as some you should worship.
    And after writing that song, Jagger started to wear a crucifix for a very long time, as if he wanted to protect himself from the evil.
    Richarsd seem to me as a man of Christian faith, despite his former life with drugs. There is nothing anti-Christian in his biography. On the contrary, he seems to have a good knowledge of the Christian faith and is married to a Christian American woman.
    The only person involved with the Stones who dabbled in occultism was obviously Anita Pallenberg.
    As for Iron Maiden, I don't think they are satanists. Nicko, their drummer is a Christian and most of the Maiden songs are about history or adventure. In fact, a song like "The Number Of The Beast" doesn't stand up for or defend the evil, rather is going against it.
    As for Jimmy Page, I'm more suspicious. I used to listen a lot to Led Zeppelin before but I've more and less turned my back against them since I do think there are too much of strange things in their songs.
    I'm a bit suspicious about Dio too.
    Black Sabbath? I don't think they are satanists but I do think they've taken that gimmick too far.
    AC/DC, well they are more like a bunch of hooligans than real satanists. I thik hey used that "Highway To hell" moniker just to p*** people off.
    But don't forget that there are a lot of rock musicians with a Christian faith too. People like Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Dion, Alice Cooper, Rick Derringer, Dave Mustain and many others.
    Rock music is not the devil's music!
  • Liam from GlasgowI was into all the Crowley stuff and black magic when I was younger and I got into it by listening to bands like, Iron maiden, venom, Ac/DC, black sabbath, the rolling stones and of course Led Zeppelin. I was misguided and lived my life for the day and with little regard for anyone else. There is a darkness that comes with that way of thinking and living I found it to be an empty path spiritually. My point is love the music and don't take all that satanic s--t too seriously, it can mess you up.
  • Ben Duckett from Davis,wvIve been listening to all the bands and more you mentioned.Dont believe a word of ur s--t.Are u sayin people who listen to this music are devil worshippers,ur wrong.I dont know what i believe in but i dont believe in ur s--t.All the types of music is just a different genre of music.
  • Don from IdahoMan, if you really looked into the life of Jimmy Paige, you will find that he really is a Satanist or Luciferian. Don't be fooled by this..Oh, we did it as a promotion..Not with Paige. Take a look at his involvement with Anger and the movie Lucifer Rising (just one of many facts readily available to anyone)..No one talks about that. Jagger is too. There are definitely some who are not and my use satanism or demon worship as a gag but their are some who like to hide under that umbrella in order to more openly express how they really feel. (This is coming from someone who escaped a horrible family of Luciferian's )
  • M. Quigley from HoustonWho cares about kanye west anyway's? He's a racist and he's not even a musician. His "music" (if you can call it that) has no heart at all.
  • Tarzan from Rowville AustraliaI believe that the devil, demon's etc. can are a being used for marketing reasons. It is obvious that some will follow the devil and some will follow God. It's impossible for the ordinary human to know the difference. Each individual is accountable individually to the creator. Well researched , informative and unbiased article.
  • Charley Ghanem from TorontoThis is all bunk. Most of it is based on rumours and conjecture. These bands are a marketing gimmick. Nothing more.
  • Robertcubinelli@gmail.com from RomeWow i enjoyed this hearty read.....not that it was a surprise to me though hehehe :)]♥
  • Stuart Eddy from Reisterstwn, Md.How do artists connect to the energy they all sing about?
  • Kat from U.s.Fear no evil
  • Stephen from UsaFoolishness. Jesus is the answer and these people will find this out in the end, I believe.
  • Rs from Ukdont get over excited, hey, its the devil, so what!

    6, And now ye understand what holds fast to the end that he might be revealed in his own season.
    7, For the secret of lawlessness doth already work actively: only now there is one who holds [Satan] fast until he is ejected by Michael out of the midst of the heavenlies.
  • Shiloh Noone from Cape TownAs a rock author and with a firm belief that Jesus is the messiah, man can give power to all inanimate objects , even more to music that comes from the soul and goes back to the soul, naturally polluted with that vessel's imperfections. Certainly Jimmy Page dabbled possibly a bit deeper than say most and the karma of that effected the band , even took a life or two . Take fans of The Who who were more battered physically than spiritually , I say take the meat and spit out the bones , even them devil bones Life is a journey and only the traveler can discern
    ..........
  • Andrea from JohannesburgI would like to know if satan worshippers still pray on tape and leave them at robots or in streets where they would like to curse or want accidents to happen?
  • Gary from Marion, ScAs a 14 year old i do listen to some rock'and'roll. but i am carefull that the song doesn't involve satanism. i ussually just listen to it for the beat.just like any other teen boy i love dubstep by itself without lyrics. also dosedowser God does exsist how else would we even be alive, how can something come from nothing without God
  • Almapurcell from West VirginiaAs a Christian and a worried parent, I have to say that there is something is VERY wrong and very satanic with that damn band Stone Electric. My daughter has changed the way she dresses and has started behaving like someone I don't know. Check what downloads and CDs your kids get from their friends!
  • Sundown from New York CitySome artists cross the line, some don't, they really don't have to, therefore they choose to. My son is a musician, we are Christians so he won't cross that line..it's not all cotton candy and pretty clouds this life of love, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but one doesn't have to dive head first into hell either. To me, there is rather a large gap between someone like Ozzy and someone like marilyn manson. An why don't they say anything about Kanye? Or about the cluster-flip of rap-artists that demean women and the law and just about everything in life? Because that would be racist of course!
  • Sam from Phoenix, AzThe story with the Black Sabbath gatefold cover is that the band had no awareness that it was put inside their record as told by Geezer Butler. When Geezer's mother saw the record, she questioned him, but he was confused about why they had put that in the record. Obviously the song "Black Sabbath" had lyrics involving Satan, but really the lyrics are anti-satan, as they are calling upon god for help. Satan obviously scares the [*oops*] out of them, so they don't want anything to do about them. Black Sabbath is not a satanic band. AT ALL. Lord of this World is pretty much Satan talking to a human, but he encourages the listener not to follow him.
  • Tameron from Taft , CaMarylin mansons antichrist super makes me think strange things...
  • Chris from ChicagoIt's amazing that a God-given sexual desire (common to us all) could be targeted as evil by a profiteering church and state. Those dark ages are over. Thank God
  • Jim from North Billerica, MaFunny, The only time I heard "Stairway to Heaven" played backwards I could have swore I heard "My car is filled with chocolate fudge". I guess people can hear anything out of gibberish.
  • Doug from Birmingham, AlNothing on King Diamond? Sloppy.
  • Dosedowser from Usa Obviously, music can be inspired by many factors (muses, experiences, philosophy, hopes and fears) but it has never been the devil's, nor heaven sent. There is no satan, .... just like there is no god. Music is a Science and most definitely an Art.
  • Tom from Mesa, AzHow about "El Diablo" by E.L.O. in reverse. It sounds like it's saying "Christ is a nasty bugger..He is the infernal one". Fact or fiction? I mean,you will probably hear all kinds of B.S. in something played backwards if your mind is telling you it must be in there somewhere. Some say yes, others say no way. It's kinda like stareing at clouds and seeing shapes that look like this or that while others are looking at the same clouds and seeing something totaly different.
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