Saturday, 5 November 2011

Hugin's 'devil horns'

What the devil is that, Nazgul? Why, it's a piece of original piece of artwork from Hugin!
Where did it come from? The fevered mind of our favourite Austrian musician
Where does it live? On the library wall, in Castle Nazgul

Something a little different in this post - a piece of hand-painted artwork from the apparently mutli-talented hand of Hugin. Crafted during a lull from creating demos as a gift to his old pal Nazgul, this picture portrays the 'devil horn' motif, which is worthy of a little explanation. Traditionally some people hold that when confronted with unfortunate events, or just when these are mentioned or suggested, a person wanting to avoid that fate could resort to the sign of the horns to ward off bad luck (think of it as a more vulgar equivalent of knocking on wood).

It's become a popular gesture in rock music, particularly in the metal genre, but the history of its use in this context dates back longer than you might imagine. It was the 1969 back album cover for "Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls" by Chicago-based psychedelic-occult rock band Coven where band members are shown giving the "sign of the horns" correctly, and the album included a Black Mass poster showing members at a ritual making the sign. Starting in early 1968, Coven concerts always began and ended giving the sign on stage. Funnily enough the band also recorded a song called "Black Sabbath" on their 1969 album, and one of the band members is named Oz Osborne - not to be confused with Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath infamy!

In popular music, the cover of The Beatles' 1969 "Yellow Submarine" album has the cartoon of John Lennon's right hand is making the sign above Paul McCartney's head. For many fans, this was one of the many 'Paul is dead' clues although many think it is possible that the cartoonist misrepresented the sign for "I love you", which is very similar and more in keeping with the band's public message and image. However, this 1969 cartoon is based on many photos of John Lennon making the hand sign in 1967, pre-dating even Coven in that respect!

Beginning in the early 1970s, the horns were known to some as the "P-Funk sign" to fans of Parliament-Funkadelic. It was used by George Clinton and Bootsy Collins as the password to the 'Mothership', a central element in Parliament's science-fiction mythology, and fans used it in return to show their enthusiasm for the band. Collins is depicted showing the P-Funk sign on the cover of his 1977 album "Ahh... The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!" Frank Zappa can also be seen making the gesture in the 1977 film Baby Snakes.

It has a variety of meanings in heavy metal sub-cultures, where it is known by a variety of terms, most commonly 'maloik', 'metal sign', 'horns' or 'metal horns', among others. A 1985 article in US magazine Circus states that Gene Simmons of Kiss was influenced by Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. in 1977 after watching Sister perform in Los Angeles. Blackie had come across a hand salute known as the corna in an occult book and had started using it during live performances. Simmons appears to be making the sign with his left hand on the cover of the 1977 Kiss album Love Gun. Simmons has later claimed - noticeably in the special features segment 'Satan's Top 40' in the movie "Little Nicky" - that he plays his bass with his plectrum in his middle two fingers so when he raises his hand, he automatically draws the horns.

The late, great Ronnie James Dio was known for popularizing the sign of the horns in heavy metal. His Italian grandmother used it to ward off the evil eye and Dio began using the sign soon after joining Black Sabbath in 1979. The previous singer - the immortal Ozzy Osbourne - was well known for using the "peace" sign at concerts, raising the index and middle finger in the form of a 'V'. Dio, in an attempt to connect with the fans, wanted to similarly use a hand gesture but not wanting to copy Ozzy he chose to use the sign his grandmother always made. The horns became famous in metal concerts very soon after Black Sabbath's first tour with Dio and the sign was later appropriated by heavy metal fans under the name "maloik", a corruption of the original term 'malocchio'.

However, Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath can be seen "raising the horns" in a photograph taken in 1971. This would indicate that the "horns" and their association with metal occurred much earlier than either Gene Simmons or Ronnie James Dio suggests (the photograph is included in the CD booklet of the Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath 1970–1978 compilation album).

Whatever the derivation, the horns essentially signify that one should 'rock on', so here's to many more years of Hugin doing just that!

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