Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Ghost have brought their own vision of occult rock and metal to a whole new audience. On their early albums especially, the Swedes channeled the late 60s and early 70s Satanic shenanigans of bands like Coven and Black Widow, as well as the seminal riffage of Black Sabbath and the bewitching melodicism of Blue Oyster Cult.
They might now operate under the Ghostly glare of the mainstream spotlight but there are still plenty of bands lurking in the shadows who are just as obsessed with the profane and the preternatural. Extreme metal in particular has embraced the evil side of the occult, but here we’re looking at those bands keeping the proto-metal and psychedelic roots of occult rock alive – in spirit if not always precisely in sound.
Rising stars Green Lung are very much rooted in the British Isles - both musically and thematically. Their mulchy doom-adjacent sound references Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Queen, incorporating heaviness, atmosphere and a virtuosic melodic sweep.
Their lyrics and artwork, meanwhile draw largely from British folklore and horror. Think 70s pagan folk-horror flick The Wicker Man mixed with the occult writings of Dennis Wheatley and the more recent wyrd worldview of director Ben Wheatley and you’ll be in the right haunted ballpark.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats are the numbing comedown following the psychedelic rush, evoking The Manson Family’s bloody dismantling of the Summer of Love. Their albums spiral hypnotically around cuts about cults and serial killers with an addictive mix of riff-heavy grooves and Uncle Acid’s relentlessly melodic wail.
Jess And The Ancient Ones
Like a band in an indefinite slide down the rabbit-hole, Finland’s Jess And The Ancient Ones have become ever more psychedelic across their decade or so of existence.
Their last album (2021’s Vertigo) owed as much to Shocking Blue’s pop sensibilities as Black Sabbath’s doomy heft but they can still bring out the head-squeezing acid-wash riffs and occult themes when needed. Jasmin Saarela (aka Jess) also provides some of the most powerful vocals you’ll hear in any genre.
Vocalist Alia O’Brien might be a PhD working with cutting-edge AI, but Blood Ceremony didn’t call their new album The Old Ways Remain for nothing. The Canadians hark back to a Sabbathian past and beyond, incorporating familiar elements of psychedelia, prog and folk into an eclectic mix that somehow ends up sounding like no one else on the planet.
Add a paganistic bent, a love of old horror and some absolutely killer flute and you have a unique and compelling take on occult-tinged hard rock.
Avatarium started out as a side-project from Candlemass bassist Leif Edling. He stepped back from touring and recording with the band due to ill-health however, and the band have slowly evolved, retaining elements of their early epic doom but adding more experimental and soulful notes to their already poetic style.
With their self-described 'Satanic doo-wop', Twin Temple are musical outliers but very much in the spirit of the more tongue-in-cheek occult rockers. The married duo of Alexandra and Zachary James are avowed Satanists and praise their lord through the medium of 50s bubblegum pop, wry humour and an impeccable sense of style.
Lucifer feature another husband and wife songwriting team in vocalist Johanna Sadonis and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Nicke Andersson (of The Hallacopters and Entombed). Like Avatarium, they also started on more of a doom metal footing but have gradually wandered into gorgeous garage rock and soul territory, helping prove that the Devil really does have the best tunes in the process.
Witchcraft formed in order to record a tribute to Pentagram's Bobby Liebling and former 13th Floor Elevators frontman Roky Erickson and was always destined to navigate weird waters. Pentagram’s reverb-laced proto-doom has remained the main reference point but the Swedish band have also diversified, with 2020’s Black Metal being a fragile acoustic album featuring only founding member Magnus Pelander.
Roky Erickson’s psychedelic headrush and dabblings with the occult were a big influence on a subsequent generation of bands. Bloody Hammers named themselves after an Erickson track and straddle a slew of darkness-obsessed musical genres, from metal to psychedelia and gothic rock.
They’re also based around yet another married couple in frontman Anders Manga and organist Devallia. Must be something in the occult rock Kool Aid.
You couldn’t get much more of an occult rock name if you tried and Devil’s Witches tick all the right boxes. There’s an air of mystery around the Scottish act, who were originally a one-man band founded by multi-instrumentalist Witchdoctor General but now feature a number of honorary members.
They also present a drug-laced wash of fuzzed out noise and B-movie imagery belying the subtleties at work on their magickal journeys.
Church Of The Cosmic Skull
Wait, did you order ‘occult bands’ or ‘a cult band’? Nottingham’s Church Of The Cosmic Skull serve up both, with glorious arena rock that puts the ABBA in Sabbath (their words) and a spiritual organization based on the Seven Objects.
If Justin Hawkins had run away to start a cult instead of just snuffling up the cocaine at The Darkness’ peak, it might have sounded something like this. Buy in and you’ll be well on the way to transcendence.
Ruby The Hatchet
Philadelphia-based Ruby The Hatchet ply an increasingly well-worn format. Jillian Taylor delivers vibrant, soulful vocals over big stoner rock grooves with a backwash of psychedelia and the occasional foray into harder edged metal. There are a lot of bands doing similar things but Ruby just nail it with the perfect balance of rock oomph and hazy pop sensibilities.
We’ll finish with occult metal’s heavyweights – in every sense of the word. Electric Wizard are bona fide doom metal legends and by far the heaviest band on this list. The bad-trip psychedelics and horror motifs are right at home in the occult rock circus, however.
After a period of inactivity they recently returned with a single called L.S.D., which soundtracks the low-budget film Lucifer's Satanic Daughter. There’s plenty more to the Dorset doom-mongers but that release tells you most of what you need to know.