The Return of Occult Rock

 

“We’re back to the black magic, but this time we wanted to show that black magic can be fun. It’s not all worshipping the devil and sacrificing sheep.” Clive Jones, frontman of occult rock group Black Widow.

A recent article in The Guardian looks briefly at the revival in popularity of occult rock, a niche musical genre whose heyday was in the late 1960s-early 1970s. The article concludes,

Whether it’s a heartfelt expression of devilish beliefs or simply a good excuse to wear a spooky mask and annoy a few Christians, occult rock can hardly fail to provide a welcome antidote to an increasingly soulless and cynical music world that prizes profit over atmosphere, and perfection over power. Perhaps more importantly, its newest exponents seem to have abandoned shock tactics in favour of a subtle, persuasive approach worthy of Eden’s duplicitous serpent himself.

Occult rock has always been a small niche, but its greatest impact has been in popularizing the use of occult iconography in more mainstream entertainment. This has certainly been the case with mainstream heavy metal music, but has also been the case in the far-less-directly related Goth music scene, as we noted in a 1998 issue of The Watchman Expositor:

The Gothic (or Goth) movement started in 1981 at a London nightclub called “‘The Batcave.’ Goth devotees, named after the medieval Gothic period, “˜were pale-faced, black-swathed, hair-sprayed nightdwellers, who worshiped imagery religious and sacrilegious, consumptive poets, and all things spooky.’ The movement reached the height of its popularity in Great Britain in the late 1980s, when such “˜pop-Goth’ bands as the Cure and Depeche Mode created a synthesis of pop music and Goth-inspired attire, topping music charts and filling stadiums for their concerts.

The action-horror movie, The Crow (released in 1996), is an example of stereotypical Goth imagery: actor Brandon Lee wears black leather costumes, has long black hair and black eye shadow, and has his face painted a death-masque white. He frequented a dank, mausoleum-like abode (redolent of the haunts of the vampires in Anne Rice’s novels) lit with ornate candelabra and punctuated with religious iconography.

The Goth movement, while somewhat reduced in popularity, is still a thriving countercultural niche for many teens. In its most basic form, Goth is an expression of alienation from societal expectations. J. Gordon Melton explains, “‘The goth culture is made up of a lot of people who are wounded souls, who feel alienated in some way.  The attire, musical themes, and decor are an expression of nihilism; Goths ‘celebrate the death of things like dreams and hope and humanity for our culture.'”

As the Goth aesthetic has crept into the mainstream, it has divided into three cliques. The first and smallest clique are those described above, for whom Goth is essentially an existentialist statement. The second and most visible clique are those who have temporarily adopted Goth music and attire as a rebellion against the expectations of their parents and community leaders. The cynical cultural index, Alt.Culture, describes the orientation of these individuals by claiming that Goth provides “‘a highly stylized, almost glamorous, alternative to punk fashion for suburban rebels, as well as safe androgyny for boys.'”  This is the market towards whom Marilyn Manson targets his act. Despite a “‘Marilyn Manson Awareness’ training seminar being offered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which claims that Manson and other Goth and pseudo-Goth adherents should be classified as gang members, police and school districts largely consider the “‘suburban rebel’ clique of Goth to be innocuous.

We concluded, “It is the third clique that poses the greatest concern: the small number of Goths who, inspired by the imagery of religious decay they have adopted, begin to dabble in vampirism and the occult.” Christians must avoid overreacting to musical and cultural niches like occult rock and Goth music and dress: while we of course lament any movement that mocks our God and our lives in him, we must also remember that most individuals who participate in these groups are engaging in a temporary – and usually very superficial – expression of alienation from the culture around them. At the same time, however, we must also be aware that such groups can serve as an entryway into the far more dangerous world of the occult.

You can learn more in our article, Youth and the Occult, as well as from our books and discs on the occult.