This is a guest post from the mighty Joe Koza from koejoza.com/. If you enjoy this post be sure to go check out his site!
As we forge ahead through what is perhaps the strangest year in recent memory, it’s hard to believe Brimstone season is here! With the most wonderful time of the year at our doorstep, what better way to celebrate all things evil than an exploration into the occult and its influence on the wonderful world of heavy metal.
Occultism, in simple terms, may refer to “theories and practices involving a belief in and knowledge or use of supernatural forces or beings”. Its themes have long been associated with elements of mysticism and that which can be felt but not necessarily explained with any certainty, nor aligned with science or organized religion. These loose definitions have lended themselves nicely to the textures of various artforms throughout history, and one would be remiss to not mention the movement’s profound impact on heavy metal. In part one of this short two-part series, we’ll be focusing on 1970 onward - more specifically, the year Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut was released and everything changed - to set the stage for essential occult-inspired albums you should be listening to.
From the first few notes played by guitarist Tony Iommi over the backdrop of steady rainfall and the ominous echo of church bells in the distance, listeners immediately feel a tingle down their spines, a feeling that is equal parts excited and petrified, and one that is arguably yet to be outdone to this day. Black Sabbath’s debut wastes no time in, er, scaring the shit out of you, immediately setting a new standard for occultism at work in music. Vocalist Ozzy Osbourne expresses the following:
If your elders have ever referred to heavy metal as the work of the devil, this album is probably the first and biggest culprit - the birth of a new movement of devilish delight in music. Black Sabbath’s influence on metal is entirely too long and complex to discuss in its entirety here, but if you’re a fan of anything involving distorted guitar and the devil at work, I highly recommend studying up. The band paved the way for every metal band that would unite after them, a presence that is undeniable to this day.
As the years went on, metal and its love affair with demons and black magic was brought to further extremes, pushing boundaries to not only what was considered sane but also the brink of what is sonically tolerable. From bands filled with an inappropriate amount of fuzz to others that craft songs with little to no conventional structure (read: black metal), their appeal is often found in the details, listened to at loud volumes with a reliance on proper atmosphere in mind.
Occultism has no one main idea or point to prove - it’s a collection of beliefs in certain phenomena that cannot be explained or defined. The music follows suit. There is no standard or common denominator for heaviness, lyrical content, or song structure. Rather, it is a combination of a variety of tonal and atmospheric factors that when combined provide the aesthetic landscape in which the occult thrives. When executed properly, you feel it, perhaps so powerfully due to the essence of the occult relating to life in more ways than one. Not limited to the confines of any certain set of subgenres, occultism continues to run rampant throughout metal culture to this day, from its imagery and lyrics to its brooding tones and melodies.
Part II will provide a top ten list of definitive occult-themed modern metal albums you will want to throw into your listening rotation this fall.
Article written by Joe Koza. For more information, visit https://koejoza.com/.