“This separation of church and state, which has been driven by the secularists to remove those people of faith from the public arena, there is nothing farther from the truth…Satan runs across the world with his doubt and with his untruths and what have you and one of the untruths out there is driven—is that people of faith should not be involved in the public arena.”
– Texas Governor Rick Perry (2012)
What would a state look like if all the kooky rules Christian-right politicians and pastors spout were actually made into reality? No abortion, no sex-ed, no sex out-of-wedlock, no gay marriage or homosexuality, Christian schooling with prayer and creationism, the Bible as a source for laws and governance, and definitely no Satanic rock allowed. Satanic Hell is the story of a metal band entering that Christian dream world, or in their case, nightmare world. It’s a satirical epic that explores life under religious rule for the band as they tour through a Texas taken over by religious fanatics. Upon hearing this premise, my Texas friends jokingly asked me why I was drawn to writing non-fiction. While Texas isn’t a theocracy yet, it has plenty of nutty politicians and aspiring theocrats that made it a fun choice to host the story. So its fiction, but the story of Satanic Hell was influenced by some real-world happenings, including both current events and some from my past.
Among other things, my younger years were spent listening to metal bands like Black Sabbath and Anthrax, and weekend role-playing with games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Robotech and Beyond the Supernatural. According to some prominent Christians in the media at the time, these activities were sure ways to get yourself possessed or end up in a fiery furnace for eternity. It was during the time of the Black Scare, which was like the Red Scare of the 1950s, but instead of McCarthy going after everyone with a shade of progressive thought whom he labeled “communist,” the Black Scare involved high-and-mighty Christians going after rock, punk and metal music as “Satanic,” as in dealing with the supernatural forces of the Devil. The Black Scare, more commonly known as the “Satanic Panic,” followed the rise of fundamentalist Christianity as a force in US politics and lasted roughly from 1980-1992 when the US went through three Republican terms. Needless to say, I was shocked when I heard adults speaking on TV about the actual dangers of heavy metal through its connection to hell, demons, and Satan. Even to my young ears, it was like telling kids to avoid “The Illiad” and all that talk of sacrificing animals to Ares on the beach because Zeus might get jealous and strike you down.
Perhaps the apex of the Black Scare was in 1985 when Judas Priest was taken to court over accusations its music caused two young men to commit suicide by blowing their heads off with a shotgun. The bizarre trial, which attempted to prove the effects of backmasked songs, lasted five years with Judas Priest being acquitted. The Parents Music Resource Center, a collection of politicians’ wives, joined the insanity by attempting to get the government to label albums they deemed “harmful” to kids. The PMRC, as they were known, issued a list of the “Filthy Fifteen” songs they targeted as the worst offenders. Having teens hear music about sex was a big issue for them and so the list included mainstream superstars like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. They also targeted metal act Twisted Sister for “violence” in their fun, rebellious hit “We’re Not Gonna Take it” (anyone watching the music video can quickly surmise how dangerous that song is, but this group was not the brightest bunch).
Joining Dee Snider and friends were metal bands Mercyful Fate and Venom, targeted for promoting the “occult.” You know, playing with ghosts and the dark arts. Egged on by the PMRC, the US Senate – the same US Senate who was grappling with the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear war, and Reagan’s dictators in Latin America – held an actual hearing to discuss the mounting peril posed by music that contained lyrics dealing with conjured demons. I know you’re thinking why didn’t they just phone in Vankman and Igon or ring up Shaggy and Scooby in the Mystery Machine. I wondered the same thing. To me, this was just a more recent uproar that had long-followed counter-culture music. The attacks on music promoting sex and drugs and the usual Rock ‘n Roll machine dates back to Elvis and before that, jazz. The only thing different now was these views were being backed by a strong Christian political element that saw little to no divide between church and state.
During the Black Scare, the growing appeal of the “occult” was center stage. According to the Jesus Force, the advance of the occult could be seen in everything from heavy metal to role playing games to Ouija boards and had to be stopped. For them it was, and still is, a spiritual battle between God and Satan being played out on earth. By the way, that Ouija board they are afraid of is made by Hasbro, the same demonic toy company who brought you My Little Pony and Mr. Potato Head. So, yeah, when I see the word “occult,” I think imaginary. As the rise of the religious right occurred throughout the 1980s and early 90s, the hypocrisy of the movement was being exposed with religious nuts being caught for embezzlement and sex affairs like flies on sticky paper. Metal bands responded to the attacks from Christian groups with songs such as Iron Maiden’s “Holy Smoke”, Suicidal Tendencies’ “Send Me Your Money,” Slayer’s “Jesus Saves”, and Gwar’s “Morality Squad.” Punk rock also reacted with classic albums like the Dead Kennedys’ “In God We Trust, Inc” and Bad Religion’s “Suffer.”
It was during this time that I came up with Satanic Hell as reaction to the insanity. It was a hyperbolic name to poke fun at religious hysteria. Back then, the actual band I drew and their story was different than the current incarnation. Originally, Satanic Hell was a metal band in a skate-board gang that was killed in a gang war. They went to hell, made a deal to work for the Devil if he would send them back, and so they returned as half-dead skeleton rockers. Looking at it now, it sounds like an episode of Axe Cop written by King Diamond. Satanic Hell originally appeared in the underground comics I made with some other friends. To be honest, those original Satanic Hell stories weren’t great and I was never happy with them. The idea for a new beginning for Satanic Hell came in 2004 after the Bush 2.0 presidency and the rising prevalence of these Christian mullahs being elected to public office and making their way back onto mainstream TV. They’re busy as ever, fighting against gay marriage, birth control, evolution, and the existence of global warming. The reimagined story features band members Death Priest, Dante, and Exodus struggling as a band in LA when they get a last-chance shot at success with a tour through a dystopian Texas. It turns out Satanic Hell has a following in the Holy State. You can check out the story on Comixology from Alterna Comics. Part 2 of the Black Scare looks at my friend Ron’s story living in an Assembly of God home.