Classic Rock Crate Digger: The Modern History of Shock Rock
Fellow Rhapsody scribe Chuck Eddy recently charted the roots of shock/horror rock. My aim is to pick up where he left off with Alice Cooper in the 1970s and deliver the genre to the 21st century.
After Cooper's transformation into a pop icon, right around 1972 or '73, somewhere between the release of the albums School's Out and Billion Dollar Babies, shock rock became deeply intertwined with heavy metal. Though punk bands like The Plasmatics, The Sex Pistols and The Misfits employed shock-like tactics in both their stage performances and headline-grabbing media shenanigans, it was bands such as KISS, and in the 1980s Venom, King Diamond/Mercyful Fate and W.A.S.P., that truly embodied the genre's core aesthetic: overblown theatrical absurdity. Venom in particular played a vital role. By filtering this theatricality through Satanic imagery and a sonic assault that made Judas Priest and Iron Maiden sound like Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, respectively, the gnarly British trio laid the groundwork for black metal, one of two genres to help carry shock rock into our current era. The other is industrial. Closely tied to metal since the late 1980s, industrial and its obsession with dystopian nightmares, genocide and such modern-day bogeymen as serial killers and dictators offered shock rockers like the Alice Cooper-inspired White Zombie, Marilyn Manson and, of course, the infamous GWAR a whole new spectrum of themes to explore when attempting to freak out pop audiences.
Sonically speaking, modern shock rockers like GWAR and black-metal weirdos Immortal have very little in common with creepy ancestors such as rhythm-and-blues legend Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who would rise from a coffin during performances in the mid-1950s. Yet there can be no doubt that all these artists are united in their love of producing twisted theater.