By definition, folk music is music by and for the people. The songs are more about the simplicity of the melodies than the complexity of the arrangements and the lyrics often relate tales of struggle and protest. But while most folk heroes have passed down an oral tradition of peace and a strong sense of community, there have also been more transgressive and rebellious musicians that have fueled their anger with confrontational, subversive and blasphemous songs. In the 1920s, Samuel J. Wishbone recorded what might be the first Satanic folk song, “The Devil Made a Man out of Me,” which includes the line, “He doesn’t mind your cursin’ or sacrificing virgins/ Oh, the Devil made a man out of me,” and ends with cheers that turn into volleys of screams accompanied by the sounds of crackling flames and gunshots.
As dramatic as Wishbone’s ode to the Prince of Darkness was, the first well documented devil music came from American blues singer Robert Johnson, who, according to legend, was an unskilled musician who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for talent and fame. In the years that followed, he became a sensation, but died of mysterious causes at age 27.
The dark (but not explicitly Satanic) songs of Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits inspired a wave of British ’80s martial folk bands, which incorporated elements of early industrial music with acoustic folk strumming, militant beats and lyrics about death, the apocalypse and the devil.
With black candles positioned in a pentagram around our speakers, eMusic delved into the history of evil, politically incorrect and murderous music to assemble the 13 best Satanic folk songs.
Weaving otherworldly samples and spare, haunting piano between acoustic folk strums, Luxembourg native Jerome Reuter followed the lead of the martial folk pioneers to create bleak, shivery odes to death and pain. "Fester," the title track from Rome's 2012 EP, opens with pulsing, droning guitars and female whispers, then evolves into a muted acoustic strum that gradually builds into a deceptively chiming strum.
Satanic Verses: "Here comes the chopper to chop of your head/ Chip-chop, the last man is dead" (taken from the British children's nursery rhyme and singing game "Oranges and Lemons").
Backworld, “Holy Fire”
Gothic keyboards, jarring sound effect, spare reverberant percussion and teary strings accompany melodic guitar strumming and despondent vocals on the title track of Backworld's 1996 debut. The tones are very European, especially the English-sounding vocal, but the group is actually the brainchild of Nebraskan born, New-York-based multi-instrumentalist, Joseph Bude Holzer, whose experience working on theater and film music with Lydia Lunch, Foetus frontman JG Thirlwell and Richard Kern reflects in his atmospheric compositions.
Satanic Verses: Holy fire is burning as the world is turning/ As the world is burning/ Holy fire is churning."
Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, “Lucifer in Love”
Formed in Stockholm in 1993, Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio write brooding songs inspired by Aleister Crowley, William Blake and Ayn Rand, sounding at times like an acoustic Joy Division. "Lucifer in Love," from the band's 11th and latest album, Songs 4 Hate & Devotion, is a sorrowful ballad built around a framework of piano, strings, horns and near-monotone vocals.
Satanic Verses: "The angels are feasting on blood of the meek/ In blossom with treason I play with the weak/ Fading roses cover me/ and semen makes my spirit free."
Swans, “Song For Dead Time [M.G. Version]“
While Michael Gira's Swans have masterfully delved into apocalyptic folk, it's just a small piece of their musical puzzle, which includes post-punk, experimental noise, goth, country, modern orchestral and art-rock. "Song for Dead Time" comes from the group's compilation album Various Failures: 1988-1992, which features a variety of material from out-of-print releases. Originally a B-side, "Song For Dead Time [M.G. Version]" is the starker, more stripped-down of two versions on the album. The song is composed of melancholy baritone vocals, repeating guitar arpeggios, two-and-three note passages and a strummed chorus, all atop slow, thudding percussion.
Satanic Verses: "Now the earth bleeds cold water in my open hands/ But their bodies bleed poison and they swallow the sand/ And we'll walk to the river, where we will die of a thirst/ And my fate, it's no question: every fool he is broken beneath the same holy curse."
Neither/Neither World, “Devil’s Lullaby”
Taking their name from a trance-inducing practice by English magician Austin Osman that supposedly allows patients to recognize their atavistic impulses, Neither/Neither World write striking gothic folk songs about death, murder and their favorite serial killers. "Devil's Lullaby," from their 1996 album Alive With the Taste of Hell, is blends lazy acoustic strumming, creepy piano, spare clinking harpsichord and the baleful vocals of Church of Satan devotee Wendy Van Dusen into a delightfully nefarious brew.
Satanic Verses: "The devil starts crawling at night and the feeling of evil's so right/ Yeah, come on walking again towards the sweet, sweet smell of sin."
Blood Axis, “Bearer of 10,000 Eyes/Lord of Ages”
The musical outlet of Satanist and author Michael Moynihan (Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Black Metal Underground), Blood Axis adopts the controversial ethos of martial folk forbearers, including Death in June and Current 93. "Bearer of 10,0000 Eyes/Lord of Ages" is a haunting number driven by hollow violin, a simple bass drum beat and chanted vocals, the incantations of which are repeated as whispers. Halfway through, the song turns into a militant march embellished with melodic Medieval sounding horns. The track comes from Ultimacy, a collection of the group's singles and compilation tracks.
Satanic Verses: "You must conduct the rite through clouded times together/ And here as the first the ram runs exactly on his course/ And you saved us after having shed the eternal blood."
Sol Invictus, “Angels Fall”
Ex-Death in June member Tony Wakeford formed Sol Invictus after dissolving his controversial fascist-themed outfit Above the Ruins. With Sol Invictus, Wakeford abandoned neo-Nazi ideas, replacing them with anti-Christian and anti-materialism dogma. "Angels Fall," from the band's 1987 debut EP Against the Modern World weaves galactic effects and descending keyboard sounds through a framework of acoustic strumming, spare bass drum strikes and sing-songy vocals.
Satanic Verses: "We're here to witness the coming of the end/ We shut our eyes and we try and laugh/ But we know full well that it's all falling apart."
Death in June, “Jesus, Junk and the Jurisdiction”
Forefathers of martial folk, Death in June launched in the early '80s fueling their music with industrial and post-punk rhythms. As the years passed, their approach became more folk-based, but no less inflammatory. Their controversial production has included imagery from the Third Reich, and original member Tony Wakeford had fascist leanings, but co-founder Douglas Pierce is openly gay and he has performed with Jewish musicians. After Wakeford was fired in the mid '80s for his beliefs, Death in June has been primarily a solo project. Released in 2008, The Rule of Thirds combines folk guitars with psychedelic and industrial underpinnings. The dualistic "Jesus Junk and the Jurisdiction" with starts with an echoed, repeated spoken word sample, then locks into a three-chord acoustic rhythm interjected with heavy breathing and a faux-cheerful "ba,ba-ba,ba" chorus.
Satanic Verses: "The guilt, the Christ, The caned and bound/ With nothing more from nothing less/ This is how you end our ritual best?"
Current 93, “Lucifer Over London”
Borrowing his band's name, Current 93, from an Aleister Crowley text, frontman David Tibet has recorded more than 20 albums since forming the band in 1984. A peer of Death in June, Current 93 combines folk strumming, industrial sound effects, occult lyrics and occasionally fascist imagery to create haunting modern folk. "Lucifer Over London," from the 2004 compilation SixSixSix: SickSickSick, opens with a sample from Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," then segues into a droning number driven by monochromatic guitars, acerbic rants and melodic background vocals.
Satanic Verses: "Lucifer flickers all around me, his hooded eyes alight/ In the smoky musk, look into him just a little longer/ See the true face of the moon."
Of the Wand & the Moon, “Lucifer”
After leaving Danish doom metal band Saturnus in 2000, guitarist Kim Sindahl devoted himself to his apocalyptic, experimental folk group Of the Wand & the Moon, which he formed in the late '90s. "Lucifer" is the title track of a bleak b-sides collection released in 2003. The song starts with 60 seconds of harrowing ambient noise, then becomes a trudging acoustic folk song with a blackened theme.
Satanic Verses: "Lucifer walk with me, Lucifer enflame this heart/ Lucifer embrace this soul for I am fallen just like you."
King Dude, “Lucifer’s the Light of the World”
The strummy track from King Dude's second album Love, "Lucifer's the Light of the World" is lyrically dark, yet musically uplifting enough to invoke wide-grinned singalongs. Structured after the Son House's spiritual "John the Revelator," the song tells the story of The Garden of Eden from the perspective of the Devil.
Satanic Verses: "Eve walked down to the garden, Serpent said, "Shall we begin?"/ If the God up above wants you so dumb, what the devil does that make him?"
Charles Manson, “Devil Man”
No music is more sinister than the demented ramblings of a convicted mass-murderer. Charles Manson always considered himself a gifted artist, and might have made a tiny dent in the California music community had he not been arrested for ordering members of his Manson Family cult, to commit a slew of murders that he believed would precipitate a race riot, which never came. "Devil Man," from Charles Manson: The Ultimate Collection, is a raw demo that features repetitive, rapidly strummed chords, insane laughter and ends with a bizarre spoken word segment interspersed with bluesy guitar noodling.
Satanic Verses: "She'll take you where you're free to drink, Down in the pit where sin is fake/ â€¦Keep your gold/ all we want is your evil soul."
Robert Johnson, “Me and the Devil Blues”
Though his music is more clearly defined as blues than folk, there might never have been a Satanic folk movement if Robert Johnson hadn't given the horned beast a prominent role in his compositions in the 1930s. "Me and the Devil Blues," from the album of the same name, is a prototypical example of Johnson's simple (and in this case violent) storytelling, and the choppy guitar strums and emotive string bends that accompanied his soulful vocals are captivating and groundbreaking.
Satanic Verses: "Early this mornin' when you knocked upon my door and I said, "Hello, Satan, I believe it's time to go"/ Me and the devil, was walkin' side by side/ Me and the devil, ooh, was walkin' side by side/ And I'm goin' to beat my woman, until I get satisfied."