The Best Shock Rock

So long as the world is home to easily offended Christians and alienated teens addicted to horror movies and loud guitar jams, that modern day manifestation of the Grand Guignol known as shock rock will continue to be a viable pastime. As a matter of fact, the past few years have been deliciously gory ones for those unleashing malevolent riffs while smothered in freaky makeup and latex (or, in the case of the Butcher Babies, very little at all). The reigning rulers of 21st-century shock rock, Maria Brink and In This Moment, have returned with in 2017 with both a new album (Ritual—more hard rock, less Warped-brand metal) and new look. (The video for “Oh Lord” lifts its cryptic religious vibes from possession flicks like The Last Exorcism and The Witch, with a dash of Gaga’s American Horror Story thrown in for good measure.) There’s also Motionless in White, who are like the metalcore reincarnation of mid-’90s Marilyn Manson (a huge compliment, of course), and Ghost B.C., who admittedly may not be looking to shock anybody; it’s entirely possible they’re just earnest, card-carrying Satanists.

Now speaking of alleged devil-worshipper Marilyn Manson, a good deal of the shock rock that has emerged since he had evangelicals protesting his performances steers towards the grave and graphic. After all, there simply isn’t a lot of (intended) chuckles to be found in something like the Butcher Babies’ “Mr. Slowdeath” video, which basically is the groove metal equivalent of torture porn. Older shock rockers, on the other hand, are way more campy. They embraced their roles as villains and outcasts holding a cracked mirror up to our diseased society, but they did it with a nod and wink (most of the time). Mercyful Fate’s King Diamond—who needs to be credited with kickstarting the corpse paint look eventually adopted by the black-metal tribe—wails about the occult and Satanism with a lavish, theatrical flair. And if you travel all the way back to the ’70s, you run into Kiss, who reveled in comic-book absurdism even when launching into dungeon-clanking nightmares like “God of Thunder,” and Alice Cooper, whose ambitious concerts were Broadway productions topped off with guillotines, boa constrictors, and even dance numbers. The Coop may be my favorite shock rocker of all time—and he’d be the first to admit shock rock is just good, old fashioned show biz with a bucket of blood on the side.