Sunday, July 18, 2021

Journey to the Satanic Planet: A Conversation with Lucien Greaves

Remember when records scared the hell out of people?

Venom. Ozzy. Maiden. Judas Priest. Slayer. These were some of the artists who landed on the hit lists of many a devout (some would say hysterical) Christian and/or political leader during the infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Television programs and news reports regularly featured horrified parents and self-proclaimed “occult authorities” who shook audiences with tales of devil worship, murderous cults and the evil (and often “subliminal”) messages found in Heavy Metal music. Of course, such handwringing was complete and utter bullshit, but it was thrilling to know that Rock ‘n’ Roll still possessed the ability to instill the right amount of fear in the hearts and minds of those who will never understand.

So, here we are in 2021, and the real world is a lot more frightening than anything presented on a recorded work. That said, the sinister crew calling itself Satanic Planet has just unleashed one of the darkest and most undeniably devilish debut albums in years. It certainly helps that a bona fide Satanist – Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple – is among the group’s ranks. None other than Dave fucking Lombardo (Slayer/Dead Cross/Mr. Bungle/The Original Misfits/Suicidal Tendencies/Fantômas) supplies the drums and additional sounds, while Justin Pearson (The Locust/Dead Cross/Swing Kids/Deaf Club/Retox/All Leather) and Luke Henshaw (Planet B/Sonido de la Frontera) round out the quarter. They are joined on their recently released eponymous album by a slew of guests, including Shiva Honey, Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Jung Sing (Silent/All Leather), Eric Livingston (First Church of the Void), Nomi Abadi and Carrie Feller (Hexa).

At first listen, Satanic Planet sounds like a Hammer Film soundtrack LP that’s been left out in the sun for an afternoon. However, repeated spins reveal a richly complex and wildly inventive ride. Leave your preconceived notions at the door, because this is not mere juvenile shock value packaged in a spooky name.

Satanic Planet’s history dates back to Greaves’ 2019 press campaign for the Satanic Temple documentary, Hail Satan? While in England, he was asked by Metal Hammer to discuss some of his favorite music and immediately included Dead Cross – Pearson and Lombardo’s band with Faith No More’s Mike Patton – on the list.

“This interview found its way to the guys in Dead Cross, and Justin reached out to me and wanted to know if I’d do an interview with him for a podcast he does with Luke Henshaw, who is now part of Satanic Planet,” he recalls. “Justin does another act with him called Planet B. So, they came out to Salem. We were sitting around talking, doing this podcast and hanging out. Justin floated the idea that we would do some kind of album.”

The initial plan was for Greaves to perform spoken word over background sounds. However, this concept swiftly changed once he traveled to the West Coast to begin work on the project.

“When we got into the studio, we just kind of abandoned the spoken word concept and just started working full-on into music. It was a bizarre kind of dynamic we had in the studio, because we went in there without much preparatory work. We had this idea of doing spoken word, and I had some text. Then, we ended up working on music, which made me kind of abandon the text I had and start revising things. So, we were actually in the studio for a couple of weeks where we were playing around with sounds simultaneously to me writing lyrics for those sounds and rhythms we were coming up with on the spot. I would text segments of these lyrics I was writing to Justin and Luke, and Luke and I would get in the sound booth and play around with vocals and things like that. I don’t know how many bands just actually write everything in real time when they go into the studio.”

Unfortunately, no one involved in Satanic Planet knew that the entire world was about to pause.

“I had just gotten home from the studio in San Diego and went straight into lockdown. This was March 14th of 2020. We were supposed to play our first shows starting like March 23, something like that. We had the album pretty much all recorded by the time I went into lockdown and stayed in Massachusetts for the entirety of the pandemic.”

Although the virus’ arrival halted Satanic Planet’s immediate plans to perform, the group continued to collaborate remotely on new ideas and ultimately came up with an additional song, “Strangers.”

“At that point, we thought we were done with the album. [‘Strangers’] originally started as just an off-the-cuff project; I thought it might be its own independent release or whatever, but we just incorporated it into the album.”

“Strangers” – and the entire Satanic Planet project, for that matter – took on a new life once Pearson passed the track along to Lombardo to see if he’d be interested in putting down live drums for it. Before long, the Metal legend was adding his unique touch all over the place.

“He had fun working on the entire album and really liked the idea of not necessarily doing live drums. He really liked giving the tracks this kind of deep, resonating ambience and doom sound that kind of permeates the album. He really added something there.”

Clearly, Satanic Planet is not the kind of album you play for your grandparents over cookies and cake on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Although there’s little ambiguity in the message this particular release aims to send, this writer has always maintained that “Satanic” music can be found anywhere – from Classical to Country and often without horns or a Baphomet in sight. With this in mind, I asked Greaves for his thoughts on what makes a piece of music inherently in league with The Big Guy Downstairs.

“The Satanic Planet album is laden with the philosophy we’ve injected into The Satanic Temple and things like that. To that end, I wouldn’t want to put too fine a point on, ‘This is legitimate Satanic music, and this is not.’ At the end of the day, I feel like Satanism embraces art. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a heavy-handed, specific message related to Satanism in the arts; what’s important is that it makes you feel something and that it’s enriching in some way. A lot of the intensely theocratic, monotheistic religions have had a historic acrimonious relationship to art. I feel like art, in and of itself in many ways, is very much a Satanic practice.”

Now that Satanic Planet has been unleashed upon the masses, the menace captured on disc and vinyl is raising more than a few eyebrows – especially within a Metal community that is largely scratching its head (and spouting considerable online vitriol) over everything from Lombardo’s presence to the album’s overall content. (Let’s get real for a moment: Fans of Slayer’s Hell Awaits shouldn’t be too shocked over the drummer’s involvement in something called Satanic Planet, while anyone who’s genuinely surprised by Lombardo’s contributions to such esoteric sounds would do well to check out his past work with John Zorn and Bill Laswell.) While he is certainly no stranger to controversy, Greaves is nonetheless nonplussed by the response.

“I had no idea how shitty the Metal scene can be with its purists. There are people who are outright pissed off that this isn’t a Metal album or that Dave isn’t playing Slayer drums on every track. That’s bizarre to me – the insistence some people have that the music you make needs to fall within some well-defined genre parameters. That wasn’t something I was familiar with until watching people’s reactions to this album.”

Away from Satanic Planet, Greaves is of course maintaining a heavy schedule with The Satanic Temple, the first overtly political occult organization in American history. While the Temple’s headline-grabbing activities are a far cry from those of other Satanic organizations, Greaves believes that such tactics are a necessary evil.

“I had no need to join or create an organization unless it was serving some organizational function. To me, in the case of The Satanic Temple, that was fighting back against the attempted theocratic overthrow of the United States – and, by extension, the entirety of the world.”

Naturally, not everyone has welcomed this cause with open arms. Although Greaves’ various media appearances have consistently demonstrated that he is affable, articulate and quick-witted, it’s not a stretch to suggest that many reporters and viewers have mentally placed either a target on his chest or a clown nose on his face. (As just one example, check out Tucker Carlson’s characteristically histrionic exchange with the guy.) How does he respond to critics who suggest that The Satanic Temple is merely trolling at best and proselytizing at worst?

“First and foremost, I find it odd that people contrast us against the theocrats we’re obviously pushing back against and find us to be the ones who are being provocative, inflammatory or otherwise poking our noses in where they don’t belong. It drives me insane to see people hitting us with criticism that we’re just trying to insert ourselves where we don’t belong when we’re asking to put a Satanic monument alongside a Ten Commandments monument on public grounds – and that our drive to do so is merely political or trolling and not really religious. I can handle that type of scrutiny as long as it’s equally applied. They don’t look at the evangelical groups that are fighting to have these monuments that open the door for us to have our monuments and ask, ‘Well, are they just being provocative against secularists? Are they just trying to spit in their eye? Are they just trolling to get their evangelical advertising all over public grounds?’ People are just kind of inert to this idea that [evangelicals] deserve placement there and any other claim to equal representation can’t actually be something that is reflective of somebody’s deeply held belief. They see what were doing as just something that is meant to offend the Christians; it doesn’t matter if what they’re doing is offensive or not. To me, that’s just really bizarre […] I just don’t understand what people don’t understand about what we’re trying to do here and how it goes well beyond being some kind of prank or just mere trolling.”

Considering the political and social divides in our country these days, it comes as no surprise that conflicts of opinion often exist within The Satanic Temple’s membership. (A Satanist myself, I have misgivings about the potential unintended consequences of some of the Temple’s legislative endeavors, but that’s a topic for another time.) What is surprising is that these squabbles don’t faze Greaves in the least.

“I think one of the good things about us is we don’t demand that everybody agrees with everything that we do. We try to keep things flexible so that there can be internal debate, and we’re not cult-like; we don’t prevent people from affiliations with any outside groups or ex-members or anything like that. Sometimes, people look at the disagreements we have internally and think this is a sign of weakness or our impending collapse. In fact, I think it’s a sign of our strength and our dedication to leaving those avenues open and leaving people to free inquiry.”

As for the future of Satanic Planet, Greaves confirms that a second album is currently being composed via filesharing, adding that Lombardo is taking an active role in the initial creation of the tracks this time around.

“The kinds of files that we’re exchanging back and forth right now indicate that this one’s going to sound a little different, but it’s also going to have a lot of that same complexity to it. I’m really excited about it.”

The group also hopes to make its long-delayed debut on the live stage in the coming months.

“We’re looking at our prospects for playing live sometime in the near future. We don’t have anything set yet. I guess the shows we were originally going to play were delayed for a while and listed as ‘postponed,’ but I think they’re considered canceled at this point. Last I heard, the festivals just aren’t booking anybody new right now, because they’re catching up from what they didn’t [have] during COVID. It looks like most of the festivals put their lineups together before we even recorded our album. But I think by the fall, we’ll certainly be playing shows.”

Although Greaves has built a deeply polarizing public-facing life for himself, there is no denying that Satanic Planet represents his ability to attract sonic collaborators of the highest caliber. Despite its faux fretting, the world truly loves a good fright, and the album provides a fun – and ultimately harmless – way for folks to indulge in this fetish.

Happy listening – and see you in Hell!


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