Inverted crosses, the skeletal remains of burned-down Christian churches, pig’s blood, and goat skulls: all of these symbols have been used by the heaviest of black metal bands as a sign of their allegiance with the prince of the power of the air himself (Ephesians 2:2). The bond forged between black metal bands and Satan goes back to the earliest forms of the genre, but there’s a huge disconnect between what black metal defines as Satanic and what the Church of Satan stands for. Reverend Bill M. is the host of the weekly online radio show Devil’s Mischief and a member of the Church of Satan since 1997, and we talked to him about some of the more infamous Satanic references in metal. He sets the backmasked record straight–and makes bands like Watain look like a bunch of posers in the process.
By their own definition, Watain plays “rock and roll as the Devil once intended” and they stick to it. At their show in Brooklyn earlier this year, the band presented a goat’s skull full of pig’s blood during their set, then proceeded to pour said pig’s blood onto the crowd. Some people screamed. Some people vomited. Some people just accepted it as normal everyday thing for a band that refers to its shows as “rituals.” But Reverend Bill says that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“The Church of Satan does absolutely no animal sacrifices or anything involving blood,” he said. “Satanism to us is about embracing the carnal natural of mankind, and to sacrifice an animal is anti-Satanism.”
Leave these guys alone.
So, if you were at the show and got a little pig’s blood splattered on you, you’re really weren’t participating in an authentic satanic ritual (sorry Watain). But Reverend Bill did offer some examples of what might be in a Church of Satan-approved ceremony.
“As far as ritual tools go, you might see black candles or a pentagram on display,” he explained. “Rituals may also include maybe a sword or altar bell, but certainly nothing involving animals. We view rituals as a psychological tool of catharsis and perhaps a band performing for the sake of performing as a release is a ritual itself. It’s an emotional outlet.”
Reverend Bill quickly debunked the myth of Satanists performing animal sacrifice and using blood in rituals, but what about backmasked messages? Led Zeppelin, Motörhead, and Darkthrone have all been accused of using the technique to etch subliminal Satanic messages into listeners’ minds, but Cradle of Filth took it a step further on their 2001 EP, Bitter Suites to Succubi. The track “Dinner at Deviant’s Palace” is the Lord’s Prayer recited backwards, set to some spookily ethereal music and the rumbling sounds of thunder.
“That’s something that does show up,” Reverend Bill said. “There’s an older ritual called the Black Mass which was practiced several centuries ago. It was more of a parody of the Catholic mass, so you would have the Lord’s Prayers said in reverse with crosses inverted. It was mostly practiced by bored aristocrats looking for an excuse for blaspheme.”
“But, we don’t recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards, the only time it’s referenced is in LaVey’s book, The Satanic Rituals,” he said. “So, there is a Black Mass and it does involve that part, but the only point is to sort of emotionally purge yourself of any previous religious indoctrination.”
Norwegian black metal band Darkthrone also recorded a backmasked message on its 1994 album Transilvanian Hunger. When played backwards, the track “As Flittermice as Satans Spies” has a message that states: “In the name of God, let the churches burn,” written by Varg Vikernes, who was notoriously charged with arson for allegedly burning down the Fantoft Stave Church in Bergen, Norway. But Reverend Bill explains that church burnings don’t align with the guidelines of the Church of Satan.
“No, we’re strictly against vandalism or any acts of any kind,” he said. “We believe people have the freedom to believe what they want as long as they’re not pushing it on other people, but there’s nothing Satanic about burning somebody else’s property.”
“I think Satanism is much, much more than just a rebellion against Christianity, Satanism is as anti-Buddhism and anti-Judaism as it is anti-Christian and anti-religion. Burning down Christian churches isn’t wise because it’s not just about inverting Christianity. The Church of Satan are atheists, and we take Satan as a symbol.”
As far as Reverend Bill is concerned, there’s no evidence of a band actually calling itself Satanic before 1966 when the Church of Satan was formed. And even though devil worship has been around for centuries, to him, it doesn’t make any sense at all to apply that same label of Satanism to practices and symbols used by black metal bands that contradict the church.
“Indulgences, pride, and humor I think are very Satanic elements that definitely get lost in actual Satanic ideology,” he said. “Yeah, there’s certainly been bands over the years who have done things for shock value, stealing symbols like the sigil of Baphomet. But I haven’t seen too many people take real ideologies from Satanism, I think it’s more about anti-Christian stances.”
Reverend Bill explains that instead of inverted crosses, the Church of Satan usually sticks to inverted pentagrams, Baphomet and goats as the preferred symbols of Satanism because the church doesn’t define itself by what it doesn’t stand for, but rather what it does stand for.
Worshipping Satan: You're doing it wrong.
“Typically speaking, goats are sort of a symbol of non-conformity, especially contrasted with sheep in the gospels. The difference between goats and sheep are sheep symbolize conformity and the goat archetype is more about independence and has also been associated with more animalistic carnal aspects.”
But even if bands like Goatwhore and Eyehategod don’t align themselves with the actual ideologies of Satanism, the use of egregiously blasphemous names are fine with him.
“I think if they’re doing all of these stage theatrics just in the name of theatrics, then I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be somebody listening to them who agrees with the Satanic bible off-stage,” he said.
“But the only thing about these bands that strikes me as Satanic is the clever marketing,” Reverend Bill said. “Certainly, we are all in favor of individuals furthering their careers.”
The best way to get into some real authentic Satanic ideologies in music, he said to turn to the bands from actual Church of Satan members, or bands like Down Among the Dead Men and the Quintessentials. But he said only real way of learning Satanism comes from reading the Satanic Bible. Or if that’s too hardcore, just leave the church burnings to the Norwegians and go to a show.
Emma Hernandez is on Twitter - @heycoffeeeyes