How Voodoo Helped Shape the Sound of Rock & Heavy Metal

Rock and heavy rock music have long been associated with voodoo symbolism, magic and mythology. In fact, the roots of such imagery in music go back even further to the days of the delta blues and beyond. Back then, blues legend Robert Johnson sang “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Hellhound on my Trail” and the same era gave rise to the myth musicians of the time could achieve musical greatness by selling their soul to the devil at a deserted crossroads. This was the ultimate fusion of music and voodoo power.

The voodoo baton has since been handed down from blues to jazz to rock and heavy metal. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Jim Morrison, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath all brought elements of voodoo to their music. Morrison was shaman-like in the way he performed, as if he was connecting the audience to another world. Led Zep’s Jimmy Page cited famed occultist Aleister Crowley — whose motto “Do What Thou Wilt” was inscribed on the vinyl of Led Zeppelin III (1970) — as an influence, and Black Sabbath took the darkness to a whole new level with their eponymous debut album. Singer Ozzy Osborne later released his own ode to Aleister Crowley (“Mr. Crowley”) on his debut solo album Blizzard of Ozz (1980).

Led Zeppelin Promo Photo” (CC BY 2.0) by Led Zeppelin’s Cadillac

It was clear that voodoo, and themes of darkness and evil, were very marketable amongst consumers of popular culture. Even today, there is a huge demand for movies, music and video games based around these tropes. From gaming sites like Voodoo Dreams, which features titles such as the book of dead, to movies such as the Resident Evil franchise, there is a never-ending appetite for darkness.

Early pop bands that trod this line gained huge followings. Even artists such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones flirted with darker themes during their more creative spells. Crowley popped up on the cover of The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Mick Jagger sung as Lucifer himself on 1973’s Sympathy for the Devil.

By the ’80s, these themes had become less shocking and were almost expected in the heavy rock and metal genres. As result, the evil seemed less frightening and more comic book-like. Much of this could be attributed to the ’70s glam/metal crossover period which included artists such as Kiss and Alice Cooper who came from a more theatrical angle.

Iron Maiden embraced the comic book tone by creating their own zombie/corpse-like character known as Eddie. The figure has appeared on every album cover they have released since 1980.

Later in the ’80s — and perhaps as a natural response to the theatrical tone that had become commonplace — a new era of thrash, death and doom metal was born in which the music and lyrics took an even darker turn. Since then, bands such as Napalm Death, Sepultura, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost and Cannibal Corpse and those they’ve influenced have since kept the flame of evil burning in music’s darkest recesses.

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