10 metal and hard rock songs about real-life murderers, sociopaths, and sadists
By Benjamin H. Smith
Ever since Black Sabbath named themselves after a 1960s horror flick and Led Zeppelin sang “the soul of a woman was created below” (or was it Jake Holmes?), heavy metal has been obsessed with the dark side of human experience. Besides Satan, psychosis and sin, murder is about as dark as you can get. Since codifying as a distinct genre separate from previous forms of hard rock in the mid-‘70s, metal bands have been singing about bloodthirsty killers, both fictional and real. And in a genre often preoccupied with notions of authenticity, the realer the better. Or the realer the bloodier.
Here are 10 mostly metal songs – amidst a genre filled with them, based on real-life serial killers, sadists and sociopaths.
Judas Priest “The Ripper” (1975)
Birmingham, England’s venerable metal gods signaled their shift away from 1970s boogie with this rock hard ode to formative serial killer Jack The Ripper. “The Whitechapel Murderer,” as he was also known, killed and mutilated five women, if not more, in London’s working class East End in the late 1800s, and has loomed large in the popular imagination ever since.
Venom “Countess Bathory” (1982)
Bridging the gap between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the thrash hordes to come, Newcastle’s Venom paid tribute to bloodthirsty Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Báthory on their genre-naming 1982 opus, Black Metal. With ties to Transylvanian nobility (how appropriate!), Báthory was accused of abducting, torturing and killing up to 650 peasant girls, and was rumored to bathe in their blood. After being found out and tried, she was bricked into a room inside her castle, where she remained until her death in 1614.
Celtic Frost “Into the Crypts of Rays” (1985)
These Swiss thrashers kicked off their influential album Morbid Tales by misspelling the last name of the 15th-century French pedophile and child killer Gilles de Rais. A nobleman who had fought alongside Joan of Arc, Gilles later confessed to raping and murdering between 80 to 200 children, for which he was hung in 1440.
Slayer “Angel Of Death” (1986)
It’s not every band that writes a song about Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, but these Southern California speed mavens have always goose-stepped to the beat of their own drummer. The opening track off 1986’s Reign in Blood, considered by many to be the greatest thrash metal album of all-time, Columbia Records refused to distribute it due to the song’s controversial subject matter, but it’s gone on to become one of the group’s most enduring anthems, which is kind of fucked up if you really think about it. But it’s certainly in keeping with the tone of the times.
Ozzy Osbourne “Bloodbath in Paradise” (1988)
This impressionistic portrayal of the Manson Family’s late 1960s murder spree comes from none other than the self-described “Prince of Fucking Darkness.” Led by charismatic cult leader and aspiring folk-rocker Charles Manson, “The Family” spread terror throughout Southern California, killing nine, in order to provoke a global race war from which they believed they would emerge to rule over the victorious black population. Drugs make you think some pretty dumb ass shit, huh?
Jane’s Addiction “Ted, Just Admit It” (1988)
Blending metal guitars with alternative lifestyle choices, L.A.’s Jane’s Addiction named this song after serial killer Ted Bundy. Using his charm and good looks to lure women to his unassuming yet infamous Volkswagen Beetle, Bundy attacked, raped and murdered women from the Pacific Northwest to the Florida Panhandle in the mid-1970s, leaving 25 known victims and confessing to ten other murders before being sent to the electric chair in 1989.
Church Of Misery “Filth Bitch Boogie” (2004)
Since the mid-‘90s, this Japanese band has made a career out of singing about serial killers over crushingly heavy stoner doom riffs. This track off their second album pays homage to female serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men in Florida in the late ‘80s while working as a prostitute.
Bathory “33 Something” (1995)
These Swedish black metal pioneers are actually named after 1600’s serial killer Elizabeth Báthory, but on this 1995 number they sing about 1970s “Killer Clown,” John Wayne Gacy. When not running in Illinois Democratic Party circles and entertaining children as “Pogo The Clown,” Gacy raped and murdered more than 30 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978, burying many of them in the crawl space beneath his home.
Macabre “The Boston Strangler” (1993)
These Chicago grindcore sickos are yet another band who have dedicated themselves to chronicling the lives of history’s most sadistic killers. This track relates the exploits of serial rapist and murderer Albert DeSalvo, who killed 13 women in the greater Boston area in the early 1960s. Sentenced to life in prison, he was later killed by a member of Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang.
Soulfly “Jeffrey Dahmer” (2010)
Led by former Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera, these international metalheads sang about cannibalistic fiend Jeffrey Dahmer on their 2010 album, Omen. Over the course of 15 years, Dahmer raped, tortured and murdered 17 men and boys in the Midwest, often eating parts of their bodies. When he was finally arrested, police found four severed heads, another seven skulls, a full torso, a pair of severed hands and two severed and preserved penises in his apartment. He was later beaten to death in prison.