Music as a universal cultural past time has proved to be an indispensable medium used by musicians to convey popular attitudes prevalent in modern society and those of old. The definition of Music is largely subjective depending entirely upon an individual’s personal classification. The pressing issue we have in hand here is what are the significant factors that would lead to measures which have been created in an attempt to regulate and control controversial artistic expression within music, and more importantly the need for such measures. The crux of the discussion is freedom of expression and religion in today’s society; it is clear that in regulating and protecting society the law is inextricably linked to morality and religious beliefs as these are the very fabrics of culture.
The issue taken up for discussion in this essay gives rise to the battle between ‘free speech’ and ‘the status of religious freedom’. Although there are numerous excuses for the policing of music in some form or another, this particular piece will most closely examine the issues related to religion, such as religious politics, blasphemy, back masking, objection on religious grounds and so forth. The essay intends to explore fundamental reasons as to why religious representatives protest for control and regulation, whether they have been successful and if so what methods are employed to satisfy their objections to the industry. In contrast to this, exploration will also be focused upon the response of the artist’s and that of the industry collectively.
The dictionary defines music as “1The art of combining vocal or instrumental sounds in a pleasing way. 2the sound so produced 3the written or printed signs representing such sound.” The control and regulation of artistic expression has always been an issue of debate and will probably remain controversial phenomena for eras to come. Music has for century’s facilitated mankind with a vehicle to convey cultural expression, when measures are introduced to ban or severely restrict music it is as if the very soul of a culture is being strangled.
The justification for censoring or regulating music has to be a sufficiently serious breach of an already established pre existing right. There are a whole range of restrictions on free speech in the United Kingdom, one such example is found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that the country is a signatory to. Article 20(2) states:’ any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, shall be prohibited by the law.’ This includes any display of religious hatred within the lyrics or live performances of an artist, with reference to musical expression.
Lyrical expression is often targeted by protesters; it is one core aspect of the art that is petitioned for serious regulation. Blasphemous lyrics are those which vilify or are contemptuous of or that deny the truth of the Christian religion. They are couched in indecent, scurrilous or offensive terms likely to shock and outrage the feelings of the general body of Christian believers. Heavy metal rock is one genre which accommodates such blasphemous expression. Groups such as Wind of the Black Mountains include lyrics such as “Faith is for the weak, faith are lies And give Satan your full mortal lives, Rape religion.” such statements confirm the vulgarity opposed by lobbyists.
This in not indicative of a single piece but inclusive of a whole genre, Rock and Blasphemy are so to speak amalgamated in this sphere. Vincent Crowley, Vocalist with cult Black Metal band Acheron describes it as “Venom, the true gods of Black Metal started this whole thing. So to me, it is a music that you can take to an unholy extreme. Songs about Satanism, The Occult, Myths, Blasphemy, and Hell, takes the listener on a journey to the Dark side. Satan always is the centre of attention in Black Metal. And band members always have a dark aesthetic. But the main thing is Black Metal has to be the most demonic music ever!”. Clearly the associations of religious degradation and music together are an issue of well provoked controversy, grossly abusive material within rock has induced a religious lament for control.
Back masking is known to religious fundamentalists as the medium with which the Devil himself entices evil and evil doing. Its technical format is an insertion of backward messages into a track which allegedly entered the listeners mind without them consciously being aware of it. It was asserted that in 1991 Judas Priest (contemporary Rock Band) were partially blamed for the suicide of a teenager by placing subliminal messages onto their “Stained Class Album”. The case failed as there was no decisive evidence to prove that the group played a pivotal or substantial role in the death. Aranza, writer of ‘Backward Masking Unmasked’ 1983 argues that if a backward message is placed on a record it is stored in the unconscious part of the brain, being on the surface nonsense.
But if it is repeated several times it may later be decoded and accepted as fact. For example,” Dog si Natas” would be stored and, if repeated often enough, be confirmed as “Satan is God”. (Aranza 1983, pg 2). Blanchard (1983,p.53) brings the theory to Britain and says that the worrying factor is that messages ‘can be received, stored, unscrambled and impressed on the mind without the knowledge of the listener. Back masking has been identified as a fundamental exponent to the whole issue of Anti Religionism within the musical dominium. Godwin (ibid) speaks of the impact ‘ The single most important part of Satanism is the principle of reversal’.
Empirical examples of back masking include Prince’s Darling Nikki; ELO’s fire is High and The Rolling Stone’s Tops. The discussion of the validity of Back masking as the devils weapon is centralised around what is allegedly said when the songs are played backwards. An example where various interpretations were found is Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven, Godwin lists the first message heard as “I sing because I live with Satan”, whereas Blanchard has it as “Oh, He is my Prince Satan”. Anderson as “Satan, Satan, Satan, My Sweet Satan. Mackenzie as “Heres to my Sweet Satan”. The mere fact that such interpretations coexisted is a reflection of the view that back masking is inconclusive and a baseless conviction. Although back masking is technically possible the debate hinges on whether such conduct has an adverse effect on the unsuspecting listener.
Maloney maintains that back masking is wrong, as with no warning of content with regard to back masking you are buying’ however other writers1 note that evidence in the back masking debate is contradictory as ‘: … the scientific studies confirming subliminal influences so eagerly cited by the back masking prophets are contradicted by other studies in which no influence is detected.’ Nick Kabler, producer of ‘Venom’ a definite user of back masking on their ‘In League with Satan’ track says that ‘to put back masking on records is very easy to do’ however feels that ‘if some form of subtle suggestion, such as back masking did work, the industry would have used it to sell more records.’ in 1992 the British Psychological Society dismissed the postulated effects.
Its report said that ‘there is no evidence that the effects of subliminal stimuli can be substantial enough to induce major changes in lifestyle’2it seems thereof that although there is some incidents of back masking, they are ineffective. Other occasions where back masking is suspected may be purely coincidental, as some words sound like others when played backwards. some claim that back masking has been banned in Britain via the Broadcasting Act1973 which forbade the broadcasting of records containing back masking over the commercial airwaves, hence banning it however this is mere regularity feature and has not had an effect to destroy the practise itself.
1 Mclever 1988,(p.ge 56)
2 British Psychological Society 1992, p.2