Ghost and other devilish acts who sold their soul for rock ’n’ roll

The devil is not in the details, he’s in your record collection — you know, if it’s any good.

Perhaps comedian Bill Hicks put it best in a bit taken from his classic posthumous album “Rant in E-Minor,” when he imagined himself as a young orphan about to be adopted by Christian parents.

“Please, give me the Satan-worshippin’ family down the block,” he pleaded, “the ones that have the good albums.”

Yeah, Hicks was being facetious, but, like pretty much all good comedy, there’s also more than a little truth to his words. From the jump, rock ’n’ roll was fingered as the devil’s music, not because it was overtly Satanic — that would come later, in some cases — but because of what it represented: rebellion, sex, living dangerously, doing your own thing, all the good stuff. From early 20th century blues progenitors to modern-day metallers, plenty of bands have recognized as much and given a nod to the Goat Lord.

Take Swedish hard rockers Ghost, for instance, one of the more recent bands to embrace a Luciferian bent.

With Ghost coming to Brooklyn Bowl this weekend, let’s examine the role that ol’ Beelzebub has played in music throughout the years, beginning with the band in question:

Ghost

Sample lyric: “Say, can you see the cross? / Inverted solemnly / Symbol for the goat / Of a thousand young / Six, six, six / Evoke the king of hell” — “Death Knell”

Satanic bona fides: Well, their frontman does dress as a demonic pope complete with a papal mitre adorned with an inverted cross and the rest of the band are Nameless Ghouls in devilish masks, so there’s that. This being said, Ghost’s Blue Oyster Cult-indebted blasphemy is largely delivered with forked-tongue-in-cheek. Sure, they’ve got plenty of songs singing the praises of Mephistopheles, but it’s all done with a wink. This bunch is as down with ABBA, whom they’ve covered, as they are with the Antichrist, though one could argue they both belong in the burning depths of hell.

Degree of devilry: 4

Rolling Stones

Sample lyric: “Just as every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints / As heads is tails / Just call me Lucifer / ’Cause I’m in need of some restraint” — “Sympathy for the Devil”

Satanic bona fides: Yeah, these rock ’n’ roll grandpas no longer convey any more menace than a mildly disgruntled septuagenarian who’s just been informed that there is, in fact, no senior discount at Carl’s Jr. But as harbingers of a darker, more libidinous strain of rock ’n’ roll in the early ’60s, the Stones catalyzed plenty of “Footloose”-levels of hysteria among parental units back in the day, especially with “Sympathy for the Devil,” a doomsday narrative written from the perspective of the Dark Lord himself.

Take it, Mick.

“(When people started taking us as devil worshippers), I thought it was a really odd thing, because it was only one song, after all,” Mick Jagger said in an old interview with Creem magazine, reflecting on the tune in question. “It wasn’t like it was a whole album, with lots of occult signs on the back. People seemed to embrace the image so readily, (and) it has carried all the way over into heavy metal bands today.”

See: Ghost.

Degree of devilry: 1

Mayhem

Sample lyric: “Rex Sacrificulus Mortifer / In the circle of stone coffins / We are standing with our black robes on / Holding the bowl with unholy water / Heic Noenum Pax / Bring us the goat” — “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”

Satanic bona fides: Talk about the Big Gulp of sacrilege, the Royale with Cheese of heresy, these Norwegian black metal forebears are the real church burnin’ deal. Their members have set chapels ablaze, committed murder and, while we couldn’t confirm this as of press time, we’re pretty sure they’ve torn the tags off their share of mattresses. Even Satan’s all, “We get it, dudes.”

Degree of devilry: 10

Motley Crue

Sample lyric: “My head’s spinnin’ ’round and ’round / But in seasons of wither / We’ll stand and deliver / Be strong and laugh and / Shout, shout, shout / Shout at the devil” — “Shout at the Devil”

Satanic bona fides: With their pentagram-heavy imagery in the early ’80s, Motley Crue certainly looked the part of devil’s disciples — you know, if Satan’s minions favored hairspray over hellfire and groupies over goat sacrificing. Despite the demonic overtones, though, the Crue never wanted to steal your soul. Your girlfriend’s undergarments? Different story.

Degree of devilry: 3

Deicide

Sample lyric: “Suicide sacrifice, thrust of evil deep inside / Lucifer never lies, take away thee mortal life” — “Sacrificial Suicide.”

Satanic bona fides: When these Floridian death metal nasties emerged in the early ’90s, they set the bar for blasphemy: not only did the band pose for press photos with faces doused in pigs blood, but frontman Glen Benton branded an upside-down cross into his forehead. Ouchy!

The band’s self-titled 1990 debut remains a monument in Christian-baiting malevolence, the musical equivalent of a gargoyle emptying his bladder in the holy water. In more recent times, though, their impiety has become pretty boilerplate with a lot of half-baked sacrilege (see: “Christ Don’t Care,” “Mad at God,” “To Hell With God,” etc.). Sample song titles from their next record: “Who Farted? Jesus Did,” “Christ Shops at TJ Maxx,” “The Holy Ghost Totally Left the Toilet Seat Up.”

Degree of devilry: 8

Robert Johnson

Sample lyric: “I got to keep movin’ / Blues fallin’ down like hail … / And the days keeps on worryin’ me / There’s a hellhound on my trail” — Hellhound on My Trail”

Satanic bona fides: It’s one of the great legends in music history — but we’re not here to recount the glorious rise of the great Dewey Cox. Instead, let’s talk about the storied tale of “The King of the Delta Blues Singers,” Robert Johnson, the Mississippi-born pioneer of the genre. As we learned from Ralph Macchio in “Crossroads,” Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil for his prodigious guitar chops. What a deal! And here all we got were these awesome writing skills.

Degree of devilry: 5

Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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