Rumor has it that it started with the ominous sounds of a storm – rain draping over the background with the occasional rumble of thunder. Then came the sound of a bell, a singular desolate note hinting at the dread that was to come not only for the album with the seemingly levitating woman on the cover but for the music world as we know it. Four young friends from Birmingham, England, had created a masterwork that would undoubtedly change not simply the compositional spectrum of heavy music but, perhaps more importantly, the aesthetic and atmosphere in which that music was presented. Of course there was Zeppelin with Jimmy Page’s well known ventures into the occult as well as their seeming obsession with all things Tolkien and Norse Mythology, but Black Sabbath made music something to be feared – something that loomed over the listener with an ever watchful eye, relentlessly and slowly pounding whatever inhibitions into the dust of tradition. But this isn’t about Black Sabbath. And Black Sabbath weren’t the first to introduce occult imagery into their music – they simply perfected the art of selling it.
The occult has always found its way into the annals of heavy metal and rock and roll, for that matter. Why? What’s the obsession with those darker themes that bring fans and critics alike in droves to wonder at the spectacle? To be honest, there isn’t some singular answer. Even going back to Robert Johnson’s purported deal with the devil to Jay Z supposedly being a member of the Illuminati (laughable as the Illuminati has been defunct for well over a century now), secular music in general has a wellspring of occult and mystic rumor – sadly enough, it is most often used to simply sell a record or an artist’s image. In the fray of all the performance and mystique, however, there are those elements of inescapable truth and balance that can be observed. You only need to look. The intent of this essay is to discuss those elements of the heavy metal aesthetic that are far less about selling a record and far more about promoting an idea. As a Freemason, I’ve personally had to listen to some of the most hilarious and misguided interpretations of the occult and its place within music, especially the heavy metal genre.
My first experience with this was at a Tool show in 2001. There was an appropriate downpour as the band effortlessly weaved their way through the song Aenima when I heard a person next to me say (as eerily hushed as he could with the noise): “You know Danny’s a Satanist. That’s why he can fucking slay like he does.” I had to laugh at this and not out of pretention but simply because I couldn’t get past the fact that this obvious fan of the music was giving credit to a myth and not a man. Danny Carey plays the drums so incredibly well (or “fucking slays them”) because he’s practiced and practiced and practiced and then some. To give credence to some conceptualized myth, especially the long-dead horse topic of Satan, is an insult to what someone like Danny Carey does. It wasn’t long after the same show that someone else incorrectly made the statement that Carey was a Freemason. Though their reasoning had a little more evidential assumption, this fan and many others are incorrect to assume that just because certain symbols and imagery are used that those using them adhere to their sacred tenants. Oftentimes the use of a symbol or sign boils down to the artist simply liking the way it looks or, better yet, respecting those beliefs from which it is derived.
Sacred Geometry symbols have been used for ages in all facets of music. A simple Google search will lead you down endless paths of information, both good and bad, concerning the viable tenets and infrastructure of the ancient system of mathematics whose origins are oftentimes attributed to Plutarch but go even further back to Judaic practices of architecture found in the mythology and somewhat factual construction of Solomon’s temple as found in the Old Testament. The trouble here is that many will use the concept of Sacred Geometry as a platform to “prove” the existence of a god or gods or, worse yet, to push an organized religious agenda onto the unsuspecting and curious reader. Much like Freemasonry, while the roots can be found in religious belief systems, the core truth of Sacred Geometry is purely mathematical. This is an important note to grasp as the underpinnings of so many fascinating scientific discoveries are unfortunately paralleled to the misunderstanding and outright foolishness of giving credence to the gap filler known as god. Sacred Geometry is nature’s blueprint. Plain and simple. The fact that many heavy metal bands choose to use its imagery and even its teaching in their music serves only to showcase the incredibly mysticism and, quite frankly, the fascination less with what we know about the universe and far more about what we do not.
Symmetry is an all-encompassing concept. A theory proposed by the 17th century lexicographer Stephen Skinner stated that symmetry existed in every facet of nature. Pythagoras himself posited that music was the greatest way in which one could observe the beauty and mystery of Sacred Geometry. At any rate, the cyclical nature of music – from time signatures to complexities of composition – gives a perfect picture of not simply what Sacred Geometry is but why it is so vital to the composition of music itself. While the ever growing field of religion and spiritualism and other belief systems continues to weave itself into humanity, perhaps now more than ever the truly awe inspiring conceptualization is that music, the clichéd but still universal language, is that which binds us. The rhythm you find yourself tapping your foot to or banging your head to, the bass line synching up perfectly with the percussion while the guitar wails a descant over the chaos is a small picture of the universe itself – chaos in form, chaos and disruption brought together, if only briefly, to manifest the fury and precision of mathematics.
A filet of sorts when it comes to Sacred Geometry is this: there are five Platonic solids which are, essentially, three dimensional forms all with similar faces. To some, these solids represent the basic foundation of “creation,” however creation has little do with this as these are observable components of nature itself – devoid of any “intelligent” design. The tetrahedron represents fire, the cube represents Earth, the octahedron represents air, the dodecahedron represents ether, and the icosahedron represents water. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Sacred Geometry’s implementation in the heavy metal genre is the fact that no other genre encapsulates its features so purely and so relentlessly. Much of Sacred Geometry can be seen in the percussion section of metal bands seeking not simply to pound away a rhythm but to ensnare the delicate balance of sound, mind, and the mathematical atomic makeup of our being. To this end, Sacred Geometry works perfectly and beautifully in a genre whose purpose is to balance sound, energy, emotion, and the hopeful achievement of elemental equilibrium. The heavy metal genre’s relationship to the occult is one not based in Satanism or some other nonsense. Quite simply, it is the constant search for balance and the embracing not only of the so-called good but the inevitable bad that is a just as important component of the human consciousness. The god in the radio you hear when listening to that band whose album artwork features the complexities of a geometric form or whose lyrics contain those same precepts is no god at all. It is perhaps the closest human beings can come to what may be divine as, when performed correctly, its balance is a fury to be experienced rather than understood.
- by Jonathan Dick
Jonathan Dick is an award-winning writer of both prose and poetry and devotes his time to educational research, occult studies, and his website Steel for Brains. He is currently writing a book exploring the spiritual aesthetic of auditory evolution entitled The Ecology of Sound. He currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama, where he teaches college literature and mythology.
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