As stated in my bio, I am a passionate fan of black metal and similar genres of dark music. Therefore, from time to time, I like to share songs that I think especially capture the spirit of Tenebrous Satanism – and/or are of especial Satanic interest in broader terms. The subject of this post, “Inno A Satana” by Emperor, fits into the latter category. Awhile ago, I ran across an article discussing this song being a “bad example” of Satanic ideology. This struck me as an unfair dismissal, and in this post I’ll explain why.
Emperor is one of those infamous 90’s black metal bands whose members went to prison, both for arson and murder. So if you are against engaging in any way with “problematic” bands, you can stop reading and go away now.
Noteworthy for this post’s purposes, though, are the spiritual beliefs of Emperor’s mastermind, Ihsahn. Some details pertaining to this that I have heard include:
- He identified as a Satanist in his youth, but later saw this as something of an adolescent phase
- His particular take on Satanism did entail anti-Christian sentiments, but also pagan-influenced elements and esoteric practices
- Though not LaVeyan, his attitude toward LaVey was somewhat respectful rather than totally disdainful
- He agreed with some of the social Darwinist elements of Satanism that many today are uncomfortable with, but didn’t really support the whole church arson thing
It seems reasonable to anticipate that someone of this description can write a “Satanic” song competently if he intends to. Not that I care much about what artists “intend” – I care more about what meanings one may derive from songs regardless. But given such a background, a too-hasty dismissal of Emperor lyrics as mere “devil worship” seems unjustified to me. And I’m not then too enamored of some takes I’ve seen on said lyrics in the academic world.
About the article that inspired this post about Emperor
An article by Asbjorn Dyrendal, entitled “Satanism and Popular Music,” discusses how black metal lyrical content compares to “actual” Satanism. Now, I don’t object to him using LaVeyanism as his benchmark, since it’s a well-established form of mainline Satanism. Nor does he deny that there also exist other, esoteric forms of Satanism. He asserts, though, that Satanic content in Norwegian black metal is typically illustrative of neither of these. It is, rather, reflective of “paradigmatically conformist” Satanism – i.e. “devil worship,” “just being a reverse Christian,” etc. And I don’t disagree with that assessment as such, since obviously there are famous examples.
What I do disagree with, though, is “Inno A Satana” being written off in this way. Essentially Dyrendal asserts three things here. One, it lacks any obvious tie-ins to LaVeyan themes like indulgence-not-abstinence, humanistic rejection of religion, etc. Two, tying Satan to all things dark, hateful and destructive obscures any glimpse of more positive aspects of “Satanism.” And three, sentiments the song expresses about “serving” Satan are most definitely contrary to ideals of LaVey’s Church of Satan (CoS).
A surface-level analysis of the song does bear this out, sure. But if one thinks about it a bit harder, reflecting on the lyrics more deeply, I assert the picture changes.
What this post is and isn’t arguing
Now, as far as fit or lack thereof with Satanic denominations go, the following is obvious to me:
- “Inno A Satana” is not in any way compatible with any form of Satanism more “uwu” than LaVey, e.g. The Satanic Temple (TST)
- “Inno A Satana” is actually pretty easy to reconcile with theistic, devotional forms of Satanism
The argument that’s actually interesting, then, is “Inno A Satana” being more compatible with CoS -type Satanism than Dyrendal recognizes.
Furthermore, the points on which it’s compatible are points that most non-TST Satanisms basically agree on. I’d argue this agreement crosses the divide between theistic and atheistic Satanisms. It thus extends to my own form of Satanism, Tenebrous Satanism – although I differ from LaVey in certain important details I’ll highlight below.
Nonetheless, it’s more of a broad point that I want to make. Namely, I disagree with Dyrendal framing Emperor’s song as just another of many “bad examples of Satanic ideology.”
Song and lyrics
Oh mighty Lord of the Night
Master of beasts
Bringer of awe and derision
Thou whose spirit lieth upon every act of oppression, hatred and strife
Thou whose presence dwelleth in every shadow
Thou who strengthen the power of every quietus
Thou who sway every plague and storm
Thou art the Emperor of Darkness
Thou art the king of howling wolves
Thou hath the power to force any light in wane
Sans mercy, sans compassion
Nor will to answer who so ever asketh the why
Thy path is capricious but yet so wide
With no such thing as an impediment to strong
Every time thou consecrate me to another secret of Thine
I take another step towards Thy Pantheon
Forever wilt I bleed for Thee
Forever wilt I praise Thy dreaded name
Forever wilt I serve Thee
Thou shalt forever prevail
Inno a Satana…
I detect four themes in this song that are reconcilable with LaVeyan Satanism. These are:
- Elevation of oneself above the herd
- Recognition of a “dark force of nature”
- Human beings as “vicious animals” and the triumph of the “strong”
I’ll illustrate each of these with a quote from LaVey, then unpack some relevant lyrics.
Self over herd in “Inno A Satana” and LaVeyan Satanism
In the Book of Satan I:5-6, LaVey writes:
Before none of your printed idols do I bend in acquiescence, and he who saith ‘thou shalt’ to me is my mortal foe! I dip my forefinger in the watery blood of your impotent mad redeemer, and write over his thorn-torn brow: the TRUE prince of evil – the king of the slaves!
And in the Book of Lucifer, “The God You Save May Be Yourself”:
When all religious faith in lies has waned, it is because man has become closer to himself… closer to the “Devil.” If this is what the devil represents, and a man lives his life in the devil’s fane, with the sinews of Satan moving his flesh, then he either escapes from the cacklings and carpings of the righteous, or stands proudly in his secret places of the earth and manipulates the folly-ridden masses through his own Satanic might, until that day when he may come forth in splendor proclaiming “I AM A SATANIST! BOW DOWN, FOR I AM THE HIGHEST EMBODIMENT OF HUMAN LIFE!”
The Emperor tie-in here is “bringer of awe and derision.”
Satan brings “derision” via the rejection of outdated ideologies, oppressive traditions and self-negating social pressures. Four, five and six of LaVey’s Nine Satanic Statements additionally entail derision for specific individuals who obstruct the Satanist’s path: ingrates, psychic vampires, etc.
Satan brings “awe” in the form of self-attainment and worldly success via assertion of the strong will. And is it not indeed appropriate to express awe at the disciplined attainment of desire (Satanic Statement 1), mighty accomplishments (Satanic Statement 2), and utter self-possession and self-honesty (Satanic Statement 3) that the Satanist achieves at their best?
I actually think this line is a impressively good capture of key LaVeyan sentiments in a very concise format.
Dark forces of nature in “Inno A Satana” and LaVeyan Satanism
In his Book of Satan III:4, LaVey writes:
Are we not all predatory animals? If humans ceased wholly from preying upon one another, could they continue to exist?
And in the Book of Lucifer’s “The Infernal Names”:
Most Satanists do not accept Satan as an anthropomorphic being with cloven hooves, a barbed tail, and horns. He merely represents a force of nature – the powers of darkness which have been named just that because no religion has taken these forces out of the darkness… It is an untapped reservoir that few can make use of…
This covers quite a broad swathe of Emperor’s lyrics: night, beasts, shadow, darkness, wolves, etc. Here I have two points to make. One: even if many LaVeyans are more focused on the philosophy, the aesthetic and ritual components of the religion do talk about Satan as a force of darkness. Two: there’s all kinds of discourse in LaVeyan Satanism about human beings as vicious animals. Satanic Statement number seven is an obvious example, and I’ll also touch on this theme more below.
Sure, these are components that might not be at the forefront of every LaVeyan’s mind. Nonetheless, one surely can’t deny that there’s a certain “wake up and smell the harsh reality” element to LaVeyan Satanism. And I do not then see any particular clash between that element and Emperor’s choice of imagery.
Strength and viciousness in “Inno A Satana” and LaVeyan Satanism
In Book of Satan V:3-4, LaVey writes:
Blessed are the bold, for they shall be masters of the world – Cursed are the righteously humble, for they shall be trodden under cloven hoofs! Blessed are the victorious, for victory is the basis of right – Cursed are the vanquished, for they shall be vassals forever!
Three relevant Emperor lines are “oppression, hatred and strife,” “sans compassion” and “no such thing as an impediment to strong.” It seems obvious to me that Ihsahn and LaVey are both bombastic Nietzsche fans here. CoS has moreover taken plenty of flack over the years for espousing Social Darwinist ideas etc. Playing down this seemingly-obvious connection frankly seems like a bit of an oversight on Dyrendal’s part to me.
Sure, Satanists get unfairly interpreted as “hateful” just because they admit an honest capacity for hatred when it’s deserved. At the same time, though… like, dude, have you read the fiery rant-fest that is LaVey’s Book of Satan? Most of it is this kind of thing! Not to mention Darwinian elements in Fordian Luciferianism, Koetting’s “Become A Living God” (BALG), Order of Nine Angles (ONA/O9A), etc…
An important note
I should point out here that as a Tenebrous Satanism, I don’t actually agree with this take.
Sure, there’s a grain of truth to it re: life’s Adventure requires a certain amount of strength and ruthlessness. And I have little patience for crying about “hard” things instead of taking what action is nonetheless within one’s reach.
I think though that the vast majority of Satanic denominations have a blind spot here. Dominated by individualistic temperaments, their members are as guilty of fleeing from inconvenient facts as members of other religions are. The inconvenient facts here being things like “human beings are social animals who flourish best amid opportunities for cooperation.” Hence Tenebrous Satanism’s proposal of empathy as a defensibly-Satanic virtue. I seek to replace childish, reality-fleeing arrogance with something healthier.
All that said, though, I do think Darkness Itself fits Emperor’s description rather well. It’s an adversarial force that drives strife via earthly existence. No, it doesn’t care whether any individual being is having a particular good time in life or not. Yes, it stands as an imposing obstacle in the path of the weak, whilst presenting welcome challenges to the strong. I thus relate to these lyrics on a somewhat different basis than a LaVeyan might. Nonetheless, I do still relate to them.
Self-deification in “Inno A Satana” and LaVeyan Satanism
In his essay What, The Devil?, Peter Gilmore quotes LaVey as follows:
I have felt (Satan’s) presence but only as an exteriorized extension of my own potential, as an alter-ego or evolved concept that I have been able to exteriorize. With a full awareness, I can communicate with this semblance, this creature, this demon, this personification that I see… I’m not deluding myself that I’m calling something that is disassociated or exteriorized from myself the godhead. This Force is not a controlling factor that I have no control over…. (nonetheless) that extension can sometimes converse and give directives through the self in a way that thinking of the self as a single unit cannot…
What LaVey is saying here is something I always thought was intuitively obvious back when I was LaVeyan myself. Do I think of the Dark Gods as separate, objectively-existing entities now? Yes, I do. In my LaVeyan past, though, I invoked such entities as Lucifer, Tiamat, Tezcatlipoca, etc. (most of whom are listed in LaVey’s “Infernal Names,” incidentally) with much the understanding that LaVey expresses here. Such practices are, in my view, consistent with a common esoteric idea of “getting in touch with your higher self.”
This idea, in turn, completely transforms the meaning of the Emperor lyrics that initially seemed the most irreconcilable with LaVeyanism: “thou consecrate me” / “Forever will I…” etc. Your better, stronger, darker self has “secrets,” which you learn via initiatory experiences, driving your evolution toward self-deification ever onward. ( “Say unto thine own heart: ‘I am mine own redeemer’” – LaVey, Book of Satan IV:3) Dedicate yourself to this inner ideal – i.e. “bleed” for it, “praise” its name, “serve” it – and it – i.e. you! – will “prevail.”
I suspect such an understanding is behind many a LaVeyan metalhead’s embrace of black metal despite its “devil worship” sentiments.
I’m not here to browbeat any Satanist who dislikes black metal generally and/or this song specifically. By all means, you do you. Hopefully, though, this helps those who “don’t get” Emperor’s attraction understand how it might yet speak to a LaVeyan. And if even a LaVeyan, then also we dark theist types, one can readily conclude. I think many such types would agree, after all, that even if we have devotional relationships with external entities, we at the same time pursue self-deification in a manner not entirely opposed to LaVey’s conception – and on many fronts, compatible with it. This kind of thing is one of many reasons why I am a “Satanic ecumenist” for the most part.
Any other black metal Satanist fans in the audience: are there songs you like, but can see being irritating to non-metalhead Satanists re: “that’s not what we believe about Satan”? Or any Emperor fans want to take a shot at other interpretations of lyrics? Constructive music discussion in whatever direction is always welcome in the comments.
This post received minor edits for stylistic consistency on Aug 24/23.