As part of our ongoing commitment to keeping music evil, Getintothis’ Matthew Eland descended into the shadowy abyss to confront Satan himself.
Where would music be without evil?
The Rite of Spring riot in 1913, Elvis gyrating his hips, backmasked messages in Judas Priest songs: there are countless examples of music having an occult, dangerous impact on people.
It’s also fertile territory for musicians. Originally this list was going to consist of songs about evil. But then we noticed something. There were lots of songs that were just called Evil, by a wide variety of bands and musicians; not just black-metal groups and doom merchants.
Of course, to learn about evil, one must be fully immersed in it. So pour yourself a pint of Satan’s black squirmy jism, sit back, and descend into the darkest recesses of the human psyche…
Oh baby baby baby baby…where better to start than with the leader of the Bad Seeds? It looks like Grinderman is truly dead, but we’ve still got two near-perfect albums to cherish, and in the middle of Grinderman 2 there’s this monster. A floating bassline chugs along amid processed noise, repeated wails and occasional outbursts of squalling Eastwood Tenor guitar. It’s hard to tell whether Warren Ellis is shouting “Evil rising” or “Evil bastard”, but I know which I prefer.
The video showcases some truly abyssal Lovecraftian horror, with a horrific Vampire squid cavorting in front of a backdrop of stars while a little tweety bird watches on. Its breath is heavy and you’re all alone.
I have a theory about longevity in bands. If you have a successful debut album, you’re best off writing your follow-up as soon as possible. It allows you to continue to ride the wave of your breakthrough success, and people won’t get bored of you when you’re suddenly headlining Reading and having to break out the B-sides (See: The Darkness).
This is what Interpol did. They found time during those halcyon Turn On the Bright Lights days to write this banger, which sustained interest and gave them a career that the post-Carlos D records haven’t entirely justified.
And it’s Mr Dengler who kicks this song off, his bassline jumping between the octaves and never sitting still until the anthemics of the chorus crash in. The band has always struggled to replace his maximalist stylings, but hey, he’s off looking like a cross between Poirot and the bizzy from Stranger Things, so at least he’s happy.
Incidentally, it’s been suggested that the song is about Fred and Rosemary West, which would make this an evil song in another sense. I’m not sure about that, but I know we’ve all woken up at 2am to find the puppet from the video dancing at the foot of the bed…haven’t we?
3. Nadine Shah
This more recent number from addresses a very topical form of evil: the recent rise of the far right. “All these folk, they think that I’m evil/Like I’m the living devil himself”, she sings in her native Geordie brogue. Her target is Islamophobia, and the subject is the difficulty of dealing with an ingrained thought. (There’s something inherently George Bush-esque about the use of the word “folk” to describe every red-faced keyboardist that I can’t help but think might be intentional.)
Shah has been compared to PJ Harvey and there’s something in this; the loud bits hint at a more unhinged side, which we hope will be explored in further albums. The juxtaposition of cacophony with calmness adds to the sensation of inner tumult alluded to in the lyrics.
4. Stevie Wonder
When Motown Records gave Stevie Wonder full creative control in 1972, the first thing he did was release Music of My Mind, which closes with this. Unburdened by the pressure of having to write a hit, Wonder sounds relaxed. Even though the song was written to reflect the societal tensions wrought by the Vietnam war, it’s a laid-back number, floating in with a full Vangelis vibe for the intro.
The most evil lyric is “Why have you taken over God’s children’s eyes”, which sounds like something the Mars Volta would have come up with.
For those of you who will not rest until every church is a gay sauna, Savages have given you a tune to get behind. This one was written in response to the protests that followed France’s legalisation of gay marriage in 2013. Like a lot of the songs on this list, its stalking, reverby malevolence is more of a call to arms and a vow of protection than a celebration of the absence of good. When Jehnny Beth sings “Evil’s on the other side/I will never let you down” we know exactly who and what she’s talking about.
Luckily the tide is turning, as we’ve seen from the aftermath of the current Pope’s visit to Ireland the other month, and the clear, powerful repetition of “Evil” in the middle eight is a curse-lifting spell more powerful than any prayer. Sinéad O’Connor would approve.
6. Chastity Belt
As we’re learning, not all of the songs on this list actually sound very evil, and this lo-fi banger is no exception. Chastity Belt come from Walla Walla in Washington, a town that sounds like it should have at least one ancient Indian burial ground underneath that new hospital or care home or Walmart that they’re building.
On Evil, from debut album No Regerts, Julia Shapiro sings about wanting to be good despite there being no good left. Well, we’ve all felt like that. It’s perhaps about trying to beat the world at its own game and getting a reputation that’s inaccurate or hard to shake; something a lot of us can emphasise within this social-media world of mirrors and illusion.
Ladytron are back, and when they play the O2 Academy in November there’ll be plenty of people hoping for this song, which absolutely stinks of La Bateau. It reached number 44 in the singles chart back in 2003. By the end you’ll have a can of Red Stripe in your hand, your feet will be sticking to the living room floor (or office: get back to work!), and you’ll be wondering if it’s time for a tactical chunder in the bogs.
8. Flaming Lips
Back in the late seventies, Wayne Coyne was a young fry cook in Oklahoma. (How he scrambled eggs from inside that zorb ball is a mystery.) One day, a gang of armed robbers ran in demanding money. The staff were made to lie in the floor. As Coyne was lying prostrate with a gun to his head, he thought to himself: This is how you die. No music, no significance…nothing.
I’d disagree about there being no music. I think this is the song you’re most likely to hear: a slow, liminal unpeeling, like an over-ripe banana skin coming away from the fabric of reality. Strings break in and threaten a more traditional Flaming Lips ballad as Coyne sings that he wishes he could go back in time…before acknowledging that no one ever really can.
Needless to say, Coyne survived. The safe was opened and the thieves took off. But it’s fair to assume that everything Wayne‘s done since has been in the shadow of this formative event, in the full knowledge of that awaiting threshold…
9. Earth, Wind & Fire
This starts off evil enough, with a peal of thunder and a crack of lightning. But then come the drum fills and piano licks, and we’re firmly in R&B territory. The sun comes out. We could almost be in the Boogie Nights soundtrack, watching a montage of one of the bits where Marky Mark is still having a nice time. But look at the lyrics: “evil running through our brain/we and evil about the same, oh yeah”.
They’re like the lyrics the metal band who practice before you might write on the rehearsal room whiteboard.
10. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine
Here we are, the last stop on your Stxyian journey through the dismal, decaying hinterlands of evil. We could have gone with a song from the Eugenius musical (Warwick Davis sings!), some angry straight-edge hardcore from Year of the Knife, or we could have given Deaf Havana‘s recent self-absorbed navel-gazing effort a deserved kicking.
Instead, we’ve alighted on much-loved Lambeth drum machine indie samplers Carter USM. This “experimental B-side gone haywire” contains the line “You’ve got to give him credit/the poor man’s Norman Tebbit” and a spoken-word monologue about the devil creating a mirror that splinters into millions of pieces that fly around the world into eyes and hearts. “He was the child catcher/he gave us Margaret Thatcher.” We’re not sure who or what the song’s about, but it certainly sounds evil.