Before we delve into the satanic sounds of that sinister music technique known as backmasking, I cannot say that evil does not exist in the grooves of a vinyl record.
I did have the misfortune to once endure the musical ramblings of Charles Manson’s one and only album release, Lie: The Love And Terror Cult. Nevertheless, for a time from the late sixties up until the mid-nineties, a thread of satanism ingrained itself in music. That hard rock, heavy metal sound became meshed with inverted crosses, and dark lyrics. Yes, it was yet another act of rebellion for young people to latch onto, to go against a perceived establishment of a religious upbringing, and give the middle finger to parental figures – record companies smelled blood, duly promoted it, and so the occult entered mainstream music.
In the middle of all of this, a gimmick was born called backmasking, and in many ways it was The Beatles‘ fault. At the end of their mammoth Sgt. Pepper album, after ‘A Day In The Life’ fades, there famously exists some backwards recording. It is John Lennon repeating the words “Sugar Plum Fairy”, yet The Beatles had already included backwards passages in the single ‘Rain’ and the Revolver album. It was those hidden, backward messages that became known as backmasking, and so it became a popular process for fans to look for hidden messages within music. Then all it took was occultists, satanists and the likes who inverted everything from crosses to the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ to praise Satan. Some looked for messages in the dark music of Black Sabbath, Coven and other hard rock, proto heavy metal bands.
Some fueled the gimmick, and many rumours grew about hidden messages in records. The idea being; spinning a record backwards on an old stylus will damage the vinyl grooves, and so leading to the record being bought again by the same person. Others, especially Christian evangelists scoured albums to find satanic worship phrases to censor music they saw as damaging to young adults.
The most famous is by Led Zeppelin on their classic ‘Stairway To Heaven’. It is alleged that in spinning the fifth verse backwards you can hear: “Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”
Rumors of backmasking were rife in the seventies and eighties. Approaching a record with the intent of spinning it backwards became like taking part in a Ouija board experiment – laughing it off while secretly hoping nothing would happen. Then again these evangelists claim to have found an unlikely satanic message in the hit ‘Hotel California’ ; “Satan had ‘em; he organized his own religion”.
In a time before the internet, word of mouth was the only source of information to uncover the truth around these superstitious recordings – luckily now we know the truth.
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
It may surprise many, but Black Sabbath never used subliminal messages of any kind – they were very upfront with their dark lyrics.
I have included it here because of this song, the band themselves, and their brand of upside down crosses, and demonic lyricism which became instrumental to forming Heavy Metal as we know it. However, the main riff of this song is an inversion of a tritone, known as “diabolus in musica” (devil in music). In simpler terms, it is those three notes you hear played from the start and throughout ‘Black Sabbath’ that have an eerie quality.
This type of tritone was forbidden in the Medieval ages and unsurprisingly the Catholic Church actually banned it – a sign of things to come.
Deep Purple – Stormbringer
The rock outfit Deep Purple made up that trinity of seventies, genre-defining bands alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
By 1974, the third version of Deep Purple had formed with David Coverdale (Whitesnake) and Glenn Hughes sharing vocals. Nothing really pointed to any occult nuances in their music before, but Stormbringer was something different, and they hitched their wagon to the ‘satanic panic’.
On the opening track, just as the intro changes into its main riff, a growling can be heard. What it is, according to Glenn Hughes, is backwards dialogue spoken by Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist – “Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Stormbringer”.
ELO – Fire On High
The success of Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra in the seventies owes more to melodic rock crossed with strings and impressive harmonies than Satan.
After the release of the band’s successful Eldorado album in 1974, Christian fundamentalists claimed there were satanic messages heard when the main song is reversed. According to Lynne this was nonsense, and so on the bands ’75 album Face The Music, he included some backmasking on the opening ‘Fire On High’.
When played backwards it states: “The music is reversible but time is not. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back. Turn back”.
Ozzy Osbourne – Suicide Solution
Similar to his former band, Ozzy never did any backmasking, granted he did a ‘joke’ one on the track ‘Bloodbath in Paradise’ from the No Rest For The Wicked album.
On his debut solo work Blizzard Of Oz, along with a song about well known occultist Aleister Crowley (‘Mr. Crowley’), the album also includes his most controversial song ‘Suicide Solution’. Not for the faint hearted, this is a song about self destruction, and at midpoint you can hear Osbourne chant “Satan, Satan, Satan” – it is done in a subliminal way and sometimes people actually miss it.
Osbourne and CBS Records were unsuccessfully sued when the song was blamed for the suicide in October 1984 of John McCollum.
Dio – Shame On The Night
It is no surprise that the singer who replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath had an interest in the occult, or the image of one at least.
The late Ronnie James Dio did enjoy injecting images of demons, dragons, and all things macabre into his lyrics. He also promoted the ‘devil horns’ symbol, formed by extending the index and little fingers while holding the middle and ring fingers down. You can see three 6’s when you do this and 3 fingers pointing down ‘supposedly’ means down with the holy trinity – though some religions see its use as a way of warding off evil.
Nevertheless Ronnie made it cool and popular amongst metal heads – no surprise then how some backmasking appears on his solo debut Holy Diver, in which he states: “Crucify the diver”.
Styx – Snowblind
The progressive hard rock outfit Styx found themselves in extremely hot water after the release of their mega-hit Paradise Theatre in 1981.
Through no fault of their own (allegedly), on the song ‘Snowblind’ it is said that you can hear “Satan move in our voices”. To make it easier to understand how that happened, here is a video of the alleged backmasking:
To be honest, like ‘Hotel California’, if you go looking for something you might find it – but then again, everything spun backwards has a quality of distorted evil about it.
In the case of ‘Snowblind’ it is the easiest one to hear. The band have dismissed the claim, but Tipper Gore, wife of once vice-president Al Gore, declared the song as ‘satanistic’. All this did not stop the album reaching #1 on the US album charts, making it the band’s most commercially successful outing.
Iron Maiden – Sill Life
Surprisingly Iron Maiden’s groundbreaking and highly influential Number Of The Beast album contained not a shred of backmasking.
Of course, given the title, artwork and indeed content, along with the actor Barry Clayton quoting Bible passages (Revelation 12:12 and Revelation 13:18), religious groups jumped all over the band. They claimed the album was rife with hidden messages and satanic chanting. Getting pissed off with the unwanted attention, the band set things straight with some backmasking on their follow-up album in 1983 Piece Of Mind. According to the band’s drummer Nikko McBrain: “We were sick and tired of being labelled as Devil worshippers and all this bollocks by these fucking morons in the States”.
So on the track ‘Still Life’, the band gave the evangelists something to put their knickers in a twist – “What ho said the t’ing with the three ‘bonce’, do not meddle with things you don’t understand”.
Judas Priest – Love Bites
Judas Priest was a part of one of the most high profile cases in history where subliminal lyrics and backmasking was involved.
It involved a civil action suit concerning the attempted suicide of 20-year-old James Vance and the suicide of 18-year-old Ray Belknap in 1985. It is claimed Priest’s cover of Spooky Tooth’s ‘Better by You, Better than Me’ from the 1978 album Stained Glass, held a subliminal message to “do it” which triggered the young pair to want to commit suicide.
The lawsuit was eventually dismissed in 1991. Nevertheless, Judas Priest did include backmasking on their Defenders of the Faith album in 1984 during the song ‘Love Bites’: “In the dead of the night, love bites”.
Motorhead – Nightmare/The Dreamtime
Perhaps the last of the backmasking examples from the classic era of metal.
By 1991, CD’s were the go-to source of music, and the industry slowly tried to delete the vinyl format. During the recording of the 1916 album (a tribute to the fallen soldiers of World War 1), Lemmy Kilmister and the rest of the band were locked in a legal battle with their former label (GWR).
On ‘Nightmare/The Dreamtime’ Lemmy took to backmasking to highlight his disdain at the record company. “Now tell me about your miserable little lives. I do not subscribe to your superstitious, narrow-minded flights of paranoia. I and people like me will always prevail! You will never stifle our free speech in any country in the world, ’cause we will fight forever”.
Pink Floyd – Empty Spaces
Surprising perhaps, but Pink Floyd put something subliminal on their 1979 groundbreaking and final opus The Wall.
Some felt it was an industry ploy to sell more copies and appeal to another audience. However others rightly pointed out it is a tribute to their one time leader Syd Barrett, whom their classic albums Wish You Were Here, Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall itself were influenced by.
The backmasked message reads; “Congratulations. You’ve just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the funny farm, Chalfont…”
Slayer – Hell Awaits
Yes, Slayer dipped their toes in the eternal fires of backmasking.
Like an eighties version of Black Sabbath that led the field in thrash metal, Slayer were exciting, rebellious, energetic and maybe even devil worshippers, but nobody cared. Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax were the big names in thrash, but for pure balls alone Slayer eclipsed them all.
On their second album in 1985, the band examined themes of satanism and hell, and of course slipped in a bit of subliminal messaging for the fans on the opening track – “Join us” is repeated multiple times and “Welcome Back”, not as scary as one thought at the time.
Listen to the complete playlist below if you dare!