When you play Wagner backwards, it goes, “I LOVE SATAN”

May 4, 2006 – 10:15 am

A new documentary about heavy metal music history explores the musical phenomenon known as “The Devil’s Interval,” which was suppressed by church authorities during the Middle Ages. Snip:

On the surface there might appear to be no link between Black Sabbath, Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, West Side Story and the theme tune to the Simpsons. But all of them rely heavily on tritones, a musical interval that spans three whole tones, like the diminished fifth or augmented fourth. This interval, the gap between two notes played in succession or simultaneously, was branded Diabolus in Musica or the Devil’s Interval by medieval musicians.

A rich mythology has grown up around it. Many believe that the Church wanted to eradicate the sounds from its music because it invoked sexual feelings, or that it was genuinely the work of the Devil. It is a mythology much beloved of long-haired guitar wizards.

Link to BBC News story with audio examples. Link to movie website for “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.” (Thanks, Coop!)

Reader comment: Judson says,

Here’s a song my band did in the early eighties called ‘fucker’s concert’ based on the evil tritone: MP3 Link

Reader comment: Dave Hoffman says,

I thought I’d throw in this song I wrote and performed with a band called I Need Sleep based on the tritone. It’s about Oliver Cromwell. You can find it at this address.

Reader comment:

fuutott says,

The sound which the Tripods in the movie “war of the worlds” (2005) emit to signal each other and induce fear in the humans is actually, in musical terms, a tritone – also known as a diminished fifth. The tritone was used because it is known for causing distress to the human ear, being only a half-step away from a perfect fifth chord. Link

Reader comment: Violet Blue says,

It is also called ‘Diabolus in Musica’ and
was used in a song of the very same name by Jim Thirlwell, aka Foetus.
I own the CD, it’s an awesome piece of music. Jim is also a longtime
friend around the SRL shop.

Here’s an interview with him: Link.


on his site, the album with Diabolus song, with notes from Thirlwell: Link.

Excerpt follows, after the jump.


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