Within the rock, metal and industrial music genres, a trend has developed over the years. A band will appear that uses horrific stage antics, theatrical props and makeup to the point of actually scaring the audience. These outlandish bands could collectively be called shock rockers.
One of the most popular shock rock bands is Kiss. With their platform shoes, leather garb and strange black and white face paint, Kiss emerged in the ’70s to the dismay of many parents. Gene Simmons’ lewd actions with his elongated tongue and reported sexual – promiscuity put the band in the bad boy limelight. Kiss’ powerful rock song “Rock ‘N’ Roll All Night” and its distinct look set it apart from the disco singers of the era.
The popularity of Kiss has not died over the years. The band used its shock factor as a media tool and created a devoted fan base called the Kiss Army. Kiss also has a huge assortment of merchandise, including t-shirts, action figures and even a Kiss casket.
While Kiss had face paint and fireworks, the Prince of Darkness emerged as perhaps the greatest shock rocker of all time. Today, Ozzy Osbourne is more known for his father-knows-best routine on the now off-air MTV reality show, The Osbournes. Yet, in the early ’80s, Osbourne was notorious for biting the heads off bats and generally disturbing his audience. His love of Satan, alcohol and drugs made him unpredictable on stage. Few have had such an influence on the metal genre. With his former band Black Sabbath, Osbourne was hailed as the father of metal and still helps promote new bands with his annual Ozzfest tours.
On an Ozzfest tour, another shock rocker emerged into the mainstream. Marilyn Manson, who launched his career by covering the ’80s hit “Sweet Dreams,” became the darling and favorite of goth kids everywhere when he proclaimed himself as the “Antichrist Superstar” in the mid ’90s. He shocked America with his gender-bending glam goth style. His lyrics were so explicit, his music was blamed for directly influencing the students responsible in the violent Columbine High School shootings.
While his actions and dress are often beyond disturbing, Manson certainly keeps fans guessing, and is the epitome of a shock rock star.
Manson’s career got a boost from Ozzfest, but his career would not have been possible without the help of Nine Inch Nails lead Trent Reznor. Reznor signed Manson to his Nothing Records label in 1993. While Manson’s shock style was of a violent nature, Nine Inch Nails took a more sexual approach to shock rock. Their industrialized sound took mainstream to a new level with explicit sexual lyrics and highly stylized accompanying videos. In the song “Closer,” Reznor sings, “I want to f*#k you like an animal.” His songs made him a favorite with equally shocking movie directors Oliver Stone and David Lynch. He contributed tracks to their unconventional films Natural Born Killers and Lost Highway.
Nine Inch Nails bring their erotically dark sound to the St. Petersburg Times Forum this Saturday. The show is sure to be packed with songs from The Downward Spiral, and the recently released, With Teeth.
The attempts to shock are publicity stunts and tend to fizzle out as the fans get numb to the shock and the bands come out of the limelight.
While all these rockers want to grab the audience with their theatrics, these stunts will only take a band so far. These are the greats in the shock rock game because their music is good enough to keep the audiences attention even after the bats head is bitten off and the makeup is removed. Keep an eye out for the future of this indefinable genre. It will surely come in a new unexpected form and hopefully with the musical chops to back it up.