When looking back at the early days of rock n’ roll, its difficult to ever imagine that artists such as Chuck Berry, BillHaley and Elvis Presley were ever controversial enough to be signaled out by the church as being “the devil’s music.” But from nearly the moment this new form of music came to popularity in the 1950’s, the Christian church and rock n’ roll seemed to be deeply at odds. As a new and bold form of entertainment and expression embraced by a younger generation growing up in a post war society, rock n’ roll was feared by good Christian people, and no matter what the topic of the song was, the battle lines between the church and Satan were drawn. Would you spend eternity in heaven, or do you want to own all the good albums? Do you listen to Pat Boone, or do you listen to Buddy Holly? This was the eternal question with the souls of the youth at stake.
But the pioneering preachers who burnt Beatles albums while listening to Anita Bryant had no idea how dark it was going to get because at the dawn of the 1970’s one rock band would emerge out of England that would dance dangerously close to the devil, and change the face of Occult rock. No, once again it was not Black Sabbath. Established in 1969 in Lelchester, England came Black Widow.
If Coven started it all with their groundbreaking album “Witchcraft Destorys Minds and Reaps Souls,”, Black Widow was their younger British cousin. Both bands sang about similar themes, and despite having no connection at all, became pioneers of occult rock while having their own very unique but powerful sounds. If Coven was a Universal horror film, Black Widow was from Hammer Studios. If Coven was from Salem, Black Widow was Aleister Crowley. But where the two bands differed was that while Coven’s stage show was based on the public’s perception of a Satanic mass, the stage show Black Widow developed was based on actual occult rituals from ancient texts, and unlike future bands that just sang about the devil, the members of Black Widow were taking what they were doing on stage quite seriously. So seriously, that even the church of England was taking notice, fearing that Black Widow just might have the power to conjure up a demon of their own.
Originally formed in 1966, the band began life under the name Pesky Gee!, and released an album called “Exclamation Mark” in 1969. But after the departure of their lead singer soon after the album flopped, the band regrouped and rebranded themselves as Black Widow in 1970. The group consisted of lead singer Kip Trevor with musicians Bob Bond, Clive Box, Zoot Taylor, Clive Jones and Jim Gannon.
Both interested in the Occult and Black Magik, guitarist Jim Gannon and Kip Trevor began to bond over their fascination with the dark arts and, in the process, changed the direction of the band. Once a straight rock band modeled in the style of The Who or The Yardbirds, Gannon had an idea to combine rock and ritual by conducting an actual black mass on stage with Kip’s soul hanging in the balance. Gannon, who was a very creative song writer, consulted with 1960’s occult icon, Wiccan high priest Alex Saunders, in writing his Satanic musical opus – a concept album that would tell the story of Black Widow’s quest for magical knowledge in which they invite the lister to come to their sabbat where Kip is offered as a sacrifice to the Lady Demon Astaroth, hell goddess of love and sex. Gannon wrote the story in seven songs, and Black Widow’s debut album, “Sacrifice” was released quietly by CBS Records in 1970. However, the stage show that they developed to accompany the album would raise eyebrows and cause headlines when the band brought their show on the road through the British Isles. that summer.
Signing up with a London based company called Worldwide Artist Management, Black Widow became one of a bunch of groups that the company was sending out to sow the seeds of heavy rock across the British Islands in 1970. With a heavier sound coming out of basements and rehearsal spaces throughout England, the British Invasion was coming to an end, and the era of heavy metal was about to dawn, although it wasn’t quite there yet. While Black Widow certainly had a heavy sound, much like Coven before them, they weren’t exactly heavy metal. Black Widow had more of a prog rock sound, depending heavily on organs, flutes and pipes which created a mythical feel that coincided with the magik and mystery of their ceremonial content. Black Widow also featured some truly wicked saxophone solos via Clive Jones, which would be completely inappropriate on a heavy metal album. But while the music might not have been metal, the magik was definitely black.
For their initial tour, Black Widow hired an unnamed actress to portray Lady Astaroth in the show, who eventually became the most tantalizing element of the production, creating headlines and controversy through 1970.
The show begins with Black Widow welcoming the audience to the show by inviting them to “Come, come, come to the Sabbat. Come to the Sabbat. Satan’s there.” As he sings the opening songs, Kip Turner creates a protective circle on stage and stands within it before being joined halfway through the show by Lady Astaroth dressed in a flowing medieval style white robe. A battle would begin with Astaroth trying to seduce Kip out of the circle, and Kip trying to pull her into it. In their struggle for dominance, Astaroth beats Kip with a whip, but eventually Kip gains control, magically overpowering her into submission. As Clive Jones trades in his sax for a clarinet (Artie Shaw would be so proud), the band would launch into their twenty-minute finale “Sacrifice,” where Kip seduces the demon, slips off her robes and lays her down on the stage. Brandishing a sword, he flails around before finishing the final verses of the song, and as the final chords of the song is played, he thrusts the blade down on the unconscious naked demon woman before the stage lights cut to black. You can find this dark and erotic show in its entirety on YouTube, but if you type in the words “Sacrifice” and “Black Widow” you’re going to have to weed through the hundred videos of Scarlett Johansson’s death scene in the last Avengers movie. I’ve made it easy for you and you can watch the performance in the videos at the end of this story.
Obviously, the combination of nudity, sex, Satanism and ritual raised the eyebrows of the public despite the fact that it wasn’t the first-time shock rock had come to England. Arthur Brown had been appearing as The Lord of Hellfire and lighting his head on fire since 1968. But what Black Widow was doing was taking Arthur Brown’s act and dialing it to 11. There was something darker and more insidious about their show, and the band was sincere in their delivery. This wasn’t about shock or art. This was a case study in demonology.
Quickly curious spectators began to rush to Black Widow shows, only to find that it wasn’t just about the erotic spectacle. Black Widow was actually a good band, and as an album, “Sacrifice” was extraordinarily strong. Despite little promotion from the label, no airplay due to nothing on the album being remotely radio friendly and being snubbed by “Top of the Pops,” “Sacrifice” managed to climb up to 32 on the UK Album Charts. Not bad for an album that never had a hit on the Billboard Top 100.
But while the label didn’t promote the album, the press surrounding the now notorious stage show did. The British tabloids followed Black Widow from town to town, writing about their hedonistic and ritualistic show, and spreading fear to the parents who were watching their children go to the sabbat. But even more curious was that the church of England itself became concerned with the possible authenticity of the ritualistic actions on stage, and reports of actual clergy from parishes across the British Islands being sent out to Black Widow concerts to watch for actual demonic activity began to emerge. No band on either side of the Atlantic had never before caused this level of fear from the church.
By the end of 1970, Black Widow had made a strong reputation for themselves as one of the UK’s most notorious new bands. With an album that was holding its own, a strong presence in the press and a product that was rich in both content and creativity, as the band prepared for their follow up album, their obvious next step was to conquer America. However, their manager at Worldwide Artists had some concerns. He told the band that he felt their Satanic stage show would be unpopular in America and convinced them to tone it down and abandon the occult. Black Widow had their reservations, knowing that they had something unique on their hands, but they also wanted that big American break, so they trusted their manager.
Well, this was a big mistake. Their manager was a producer named Patrick Meehan, and he had another group that he was bringing up the ranks. That band was Black Sabbath. By the time Black Widow’s follow up album could be released, Black Sabbath had made their mark by introducing heavy metal to the world, and Meehan had no problem sending them out to America. Like Coven before them, Black Widow had their legacy overshadowed by the immense popularity of Sabbath. A castrated version of Black Widow released their second album with no fanfare in 1971, and went through a series of different personal changes, before disbanding in 1972 after CBS Records dropped them from their label.
Black Widow reformed multiple times over the decades and returned to the studio in 1998 with a new album titled “Return to the Sabbat.” As modern audiences began to rediscover Black Widow, a reappreciation for what they produced in “Sacrifice” began to emerge out of the black metal movement in Europe and goth culture in North America. Although never gaining the mainstream popularity they deserved, Black Widow finally developed their own strong cult following. More releases were put out under Black Widow’s name, including tracks from an unreleased fourth album that they recorded in 1972, and a live album in 2008, before two all new albums were released in 2011 and 2012. Black Widow found themselves back on the European music circuit, bringing their Satanic ritual to metal festivals everywhere, often finding them on the same bill they as their sister band Coven, hand in hand retaking their legacy as the originators of Occult rock.
Although it never found popularity in America, “Sacrifice” is not only one of the most authentic occult albums, but it is one of the best. Lyrically powerful, cleverly written and imaginatively performed, “Sacrifice” is a solid listen and although the songs might be soaked in Satanism, you can actually dance to them (it has a good beat and it’s easy to dance to it – I give “Come to the Sabbat” an 8.5, Dick). If you’ve never heard this album, it’s really worth discovering. Just be careful when you put the needle on the vinyl that you don’t accidently summon a demon into your own living room.