Throughout its history, rock and roll has always courted with danger. It’s imbued with a sense of the unpredictable, notion that anything could happen at any given moment. It has a reputation as rebel music, its key players non-conformers to the conventions of societal norm. They are the wild cards in a pack that is otherwise characterised by boredom and predictability. Some define themselves by being hedonists, some sex gods, and others activists. There are those, however, who choose to play a very different game; one that involves striking fear into the hearts of their unsuspecting audience. They are the brutes, the creeps and the weirdoes of rock and roll, the ones who get their fans off by sending a shiver down their collective spines. This Halloween, Ultimate Guitar is taking a look at some of the freakier figures that have characterised the genre. Read on, if you dare...
Picture the scene. It’s 1970 and the peace and love ideals that characterised the late sixties counter culture are all but forgotten. Hendrix is dead, Joplin along with him and Jim Morrison is soon to follow. The Manson Family murders have shocked the media world to its core and the war in Vietnam rages on. Times are uncertain, times are scary... the time is right for Alice Cooper. With his death mask, grease paint makeup, there’s no way that Alice Cooper would be going in for all that flowers in your hair crap. He was all about fear, a macabre spectre on the 1970s music scene. He released songs about killing sprees (Under My Wheels) and outlaw murders (Desperado). He also bothered a lot of people. In 1971, English morality and decency campaigner Mary Whitehouse got the BBC to cut the video for School's Out from its programming. There was even a parliamentary petition to have Alice banned from performing in the UK. It was all fuel to Cooper’s creative fire. As stage shows became more gruesome, his reputation soared. By 1973, you could expect demon children, dental psychosis (complete with dancing teeth) and the front man’s execution by guillotine, all within the space of a two hour act. Audiences were in equal parts enthralled and terrified. Alice had brought the shock to rock, opening the floodgates to the many horror performers that followed and changing the game of rock and roll.
There’d been intense performers in rock and roll before Henry Rollins, sure. A youthful Roger Daltrey had a look in his eye that told you not to mess with him. Johnny Rotten had the kind of anarchic sneer that said he meant business. When Rollins took to the stage with Black Flag, however, you got the feeling he was going to snap at any moment. Chances are he’d take you with him as well. Ripped, tattooed and usually attired onstage in nothing but a pair of shorts, the young Rollins had a stare that could run an audience out of a room. Throw in his penchant for deeply paranoid and utterly disturbing lyrics and his tense, confrontational onstage persona and you’ve got the most intense performer in rock and roll. The man meant business, there was no doubt. What’s more, he was very smart. Journalists that saw fit to question his punk rock credentials were liable to get ripped to shreds by a man whose words struck like a cobra. When he formed his own Rollins Band in the late eighties after Black Flag’s demise, he just upped the intensity further. In 2010, Rollins seems to have mellowed out a bit. He’s an elder statesman of rock and a successful spoken word performer. In the 1980s however, he was the most hardcore of punk’s front men and a man not to be crossed.
Today Ozzy Osbourne is a celebrated media personality. He’s met the queen, he’s dined with Presidents and he writes for the Sunday Times. There was a time, however, when The Prince of Darkness was considered a public menace. In the late seventies and 1980s, you never knew what Ozzy was going to do next. Most of the time, neither did he. With outcry from the Christian right regarding the Satanic themes of Mr. Crowley and the supposed subliminal messages present in Suicide Solution, tabloid exposure was a frequent occurrence for Osbourne back in the mid eighties. Combine that with his oft reported tendency to bite the head off of bats, doves and just about anything else that got in his way, his famous act of public urination against the wall of the Alamo in Texas and tales of substance abuse that would make Keith Richards cringe, and you’ve got the reputation of a wild man. It was something that Ozzy courted for years and a factor that made him the nemesis of concerned, conservative parents around the globe. He might be better known now as the dad from the Osbournes, but Ozzy at his most scary was the unhinged livewire personality of rock and roll.
The James Hetfield of 2010 is a family man, a clean and sober beacon of positive energy at the helm of the good ship Metallica. In 1988 however, Hetfield was more like a bear. An angry bear. An angry bear that was full of beer. With his mane of hair, imposing figure and gruff bark of a voice, he fronted the Metallica of old with a primal energy that left you scared he was going to punch you in the face. Het had the contorted facial expressions to match the mile a minute blast of lyrics from Battery. When he growled “damage inc. Goes ripping right through you” on the ’88/’89 Damaged Justice tour, you’d thank god he didn’t tear your head off to prove a point while singing it. If he wasn’t verbally abusing the audience back in the day for not singing loud enough, not clapping loud enough or for not being as drunk as him, he was probably dousing them with beer. While 2004’s Some Kind Of Monster Documentary might have put an end to the man’s reputation by showing his more fragile side, for a long time, the mighty Hetfield held the reputation as the most imposing man in Heavy Metal.
Øystein Aarseth aka Euronymous was the father of modern black metal, a genre that in the past has courted as much controversy as it has fear. As the guitarist and figurehead of pioneering band Mayhem, head of the Deathlike Silence record label and owner of the Helvete record store in his native Norway, he was the figurehead of a genre associated with Satanism and the occult. Euronymous’s beliefs themselves became shrouded in mystery, much like the genre he represented, with ideals of Satanism, Totalitarianism and violence attached to him and his music. Corpse painted and clad in spikes and leather, his image was as imposing as the fundamental Satanic leanings with which he was associated. His murder, perpetrated by then Mayhem bassist Varg Vikernes in 1993, would further add to the morbid mystique surrounding his persona. The instigator of a troubled music scene and the victim of a bloody end, Euronymous’s story reads more like something out of a twisted horror film than a reality, his lasting impact still imforming Black Metal music’s sense of unease to this day.