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To Hell With the Devil 

Today's metal fans are over their demonic dabbling.

"I'm a bad, bad person," Marilyn Manson said proudly between songs. As part of Ozzfest, where it's good to be bad, Manson's statement was an appropriate summation of the daylong festival's motif. He looked the part, too, his stringy black hair and emaciated torso giving him the look of a medieval demon. Manson, Black Sabbath, and 17 other metal and hardcore bands brought the high season of Mephistopheles fashion to Northeast Ohio last week with a stop at Blossom. But while it might have been radical to mess with satanic iconography, say, 30 years ago, getting down with the devil these days is about as extreme as a day at Beachwood Place.

Even Manson, once given to tearing up Bibles onstage, has toned down his act. For the most sacrilegious segment of the show -- basically an abbreviated version of his concert at the CSU Convocation Center in December -- a black cross hung in the foreground as he sang from a pulpit, like some kind of anti-minister. And when he stomped around in a pope's outfit, he looked more ludicrous than scary.

While Sabbath once dabbled in the occult and put a pentagram on its first album, it, too, appeared to be a shell of its former satanic self. Singer Ozzy Osbourne ceaselessly mumbled "Let's go crazy" throughout Sabbath's set and doused the audience with a water gun -- innocent stuff, for a guy famous for biting the head off a bat. In fact, judging by the audience members, who put more effort into tearing up the lawn than making the devil-horn sign with their hands, Satan, once the dark muse of metal bands everywhere, isn't as popular as he used to be.

"It's not about Satan -- it's about the music," said a tall, blond schoolteacher named Meredith. "The devil horns don't mean anything anymore. You see five-year-olds doing that, but they don't know what it means. You can sing along to every song, and you don't need to do the devil horns. I don't even believe in Satan, so he doesn't even exist for me."

Among the local band members, club owners, and record label reps milling about the V.I.P. area, the prevailing sentiment was that there's little left to be gained from making an ally of the Dark Prince. After all, Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil," AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," and Mötley Crüe's "Shout at the Devil" put the devil into the mainstream metal consciousness years ago.

"I was into him as a teenager, but he's overrated," said Keelhaul singer-bassist Aaron Dallison, who has a goblin he describes as "some evil guy" tattooed on his right calf. "I'm just over him. I've gotten bored with him."

Standing next to two scantily clad women whom he described as "devils," Martin Geramita, who manages the hard-rock-loving graphic artist Derek Hess (who, he says, is "not into the devil at all"), speculated that perhaps satanic metal hasn't died out -- it's just migrated.

"I don't really think it's cool to be into the devil, but it may not have worn out in the suburbs yet," Geramita said. "It still may be a very cool thing to them."

And Mitch Karczewski, who books death metal bands at the Flying Machine in Lorain, isn't crazy about Satan, either.

"First off, some of the people who are into Satan don't have their head together," he said. "They're probably from a family that's dysfunctional. They probably don't have any family values. But to each his own. Even the Unabomber asked for communion."

After the show, a group of teens and twentysomethings from Parma huddled in the parking lot near their '68 Nova, waiting for the traffic to clear. "I'm gonna do some doughnuts," said the tallest of the bunch before crushing an empty beer can and hopping into the car. As he slid and swirled in the lot, kicking up clumps of wet grass, his friends debated the relevance of Satan for today's heavy metal fans.

"If you wanna be all into the devil, then that's your thing," said Tawny, 18. "It's silly, but it's like an old tradition that you pass down. Black Sabbath was around when my parents were kids, and they all believed in the devil. It's just a trend that's been coming up for decades in the rock industry."

Between quoting lyrics from Motörhead and making references to Slayer records, Brian Lawson, the self-appointed spokesman for his Parma peers, said he was a big fan of black metal bands like Venom. But even he knows that the devil is done.

"I'm not into it," he said. "I don't rip the heads off chickens, but the music's cool. And for the mainstream bands, it's just for fun. It's just entertainment. It's just fucking entertainment."

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