For a series of guest blogs I’ve persuaded the four members of Toten Herzen to take time out from their recording schedule (and singing lessons) to put a few thoughts down on paper. First up to the mark is drummer Rene V. The subject: The Devil’s Music.
It looks like the usual media rubbish has caught up with us. This is a summary of what’s been reported about Toten Herzen recording our comeback album in Cumbria in the UK:
‘Ever since a local taxi driver had revealed that Toten Herzen were ‘amongst us’ the mystery of the talking sheep fell into place. Of course, it all made sense now. Talking sheep, a car crash on the A591, ale turning sour at the White Lion in Hawkshead, a dead duck found near Glenridding, a glove abandoned on the edge of Loweswater, the list went on. Thunder in August, a heatwave in July, less rain than usual at Seathwaite. Lost keys at Brantwood invoked an evacuation and almost caused a delegation of Chinese artists to stampede. A man falling ill in Newby Bridge was blamed on vampiric toxins, and an outbreak of coughing and sneezing at a pig farm near Witherslack had farmers fearing for their own livestock.’ (Toten Herzen Malandanti)
But we’re not the first band to have all the evils of the world blamed on us. Motley Crue shouted at the devil, Ozzy Osbourne barked at the moon, during a tour of the US AC/DC curdled someone’s milk, and Diamond Head asked am I evil. (Not me, I’m paraphrasing.) No one told them so Metallica asked the same question and no one told them either, but the consensus in most god-fearing, bible-bashing, tub-thumping belly-aching communities was an emphatic yes. Heavy metal is evil. Verily it is the devil’s music.
I blame Iron Maiden. They released an album in 1982 with the cryptic title The Number of the Beast. They wanted Vincent Price to do the intro, but they couldn’t afford him, so they used the voice of Barry Clayton instead. He didn’t die in a satanically coincidental accident, and neither did any members of the band for that matter, so the devil obviously had better things to do with his time. But if anyone pointing a pious finger at the band took the time to listen to the lyrics of the title track they would hear a story of murder and fear and not a lumpen celebration of Beelzebub’s vicious streak.
Come to think of it let’s not blame Iron Maiden, they only wrote the one song, anyone would think they were some sort of East End subset of the Church of Satan. No, let’s blame Venom. The Geordie lads called their second album Black Metal and introduced the name of a whole subgenre that ultimately led to Black Metal, Black-Doom, (Blackened Doom), Blackened Death Metal, Unblackened Metal. . . the list goes on. Venom used an upside down pentacle as a logo and were so evil Mike Reid, in the early 80s, refused to play Warhead on the Radio 1 breakfast show, even after rock DJ Tommy Vance offered to donate money to charity. Eventually Reid relented and millions threw themselves to their deaths from rooftops, sterling collapsed, babies were born with no heads and Margaret Thatcher won another general election. The devil really did run amok, but as I type this someone has just whispered in my ear ‘what about Black Sabbath?’
Of course, back in the day they were shamelessly wandering about with a name that made it quite clear where their allegiances lay. And the lyrics . . . ‘What if you found the Pope on the end of a rope. . .’ well, I can’t answer that, but if anyone thought rock was the devil’s music Black Sabbath must have been the devil’s band. But let’s be honest I can keep going back in time and I won’t arrive at the first band or artist to attract scorn and diabolical insult. People thought Paganini had made a pact with the devil because he could play the violin so fast. Maybe it isn’t just heavy metal that attracts the ire of the weirdos.
Did I mention black metal? If I did maybe I shouldn’t because there is a subgenre of metal which devotes itself to devilish activity. Inspired by earlier bands like Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost a largely Scandinavian movement grew up with fjord-length chips on shoulders about misanthropy and Christianity, burning down churches and killing each other over contractual disputes. The biggest crime was not that they burned down churches but that they burned down very attractive historic buildings. Eventually Dead from the band Mayhem took his name too seriously and killed himself, but not wanting to waste his friend’s monumental gesture, guitarist Euronymous took a photo of the body and used it on the cover of the album Dawn of the Black Hearts. (Waste not, want not!)
Eventually Norwegian plod caught up with all the arsonists and killers and the prison sentences were handed out. The devil didn’t show up to pay the bail bonds, didn’t even pay for a decent attorney, but that’s the devil for you; never there in a crisis. He’s caused a few: backward recordings, school shootings, any old bit of murderous mayhem by proxy. He does his stuff and scarpers and heavy metal is left to carry the can.
And so in the 21st century young uns still turn up on Yahoo asking: is heavy metal satanic? Well, ladies and gentlemen and all good parents (don’t forget to read to your kids. . . ) use this handy template next time you get asked by your little darlings if heavy metal is evil.
Now then, little Tamarinthia/Obediah (insert hip and trendy child’s name as appropriate), don’t go listening to all that mumbo jumbo about heavy metal being the devil’s music. Just remember, no member of a rock band ever walked into a crowded market and blew himself up; rock bands don’t stand on pavements and hurl abuse at people attending the funeral of a soldier; rock bands might ask you for your email, but they won’t spy on you sending mucky pictures to your boyfriend/girlfriend/boss/mistress. And heavy metal didn’t cause the financial crash in 2008. Now stop asking silly questions and listen to this children’s fairy tale about a dark forbidding forest with a house lived in by a hideous old crone with two heads and a huge vicious cat. . .
Rene van Voors
And more info will be found in the second part of Toten Herzen’s authorised biography: Toten Herzen Malandanti. Published June 21st 2014.