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Pagan rock is music created by (and in some cases for) adherents of one of the many Neopagan and occult traditions that emerged in the middle to late 20th century. In some cases this definition is stretched to include bands embraced by modern Pagans and occult practitioners (Faith and The Muse for example). Bands in this genre will often use pagan and occult imagery and deal with pagan themes.
The term "Pagan rock" differentiates the genre from new-age music, and from the traditional folk music found at many Neopagan events and gatherings. While many bands under this loose category do incorporate rock and roll styles, one can also find bands inspired by gothic rock, medieval music, the darker elements of traditional and folk music, Celtic music, neofolk and neo-classical, darkwave, ethereal, ambient, industrial and experimental music.
In many ways, the label of "Pagan rock" carries with it the same complexities and problems as Christian rock. Like contemporary Christian music, it is more an umbrella term than a cohesive musical genre. The Pagan rock label can include bands like Inkubus Sukkubus and The Moon and the Nightspirit who explicitly state their allegiance to Neopaganism; bands like Abney Park who have Neopagans in the band but do not label themselves as pagan rock, and bands like Unto Ashes who sing songs involving occult and Neopagan themes but avoid publicly labeling their personal belief systems.
The current conceptions of a "Pagan rock" genre lay with two musical strands: first, with the idea of a modern music created by and for Neopagans as typified by the artist Gwydion Pendderwen and, secondly, with the occult themes pursued by early industrial music pioneers Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) and John Balance (Coil, Current 93). Unlike the previous dabbling with occult and romantic pre-Christian themes pursued by rock bands in the 1960s and early 1970s (as typified by artists such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Donovan), these new artists were earnest subscribers to Neopagan religion (in the case of Pendderwen) and ritual magic (in the case of P-Orridge and Balance Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth). The mixture of openly Neopagan lyrics, occultism, and the counter-cultural impulses of the post-punk era would create fertile soil for the inspiration of several bands that would form from the late 1980s forward.
One of the first bands to be labeled as Pagan rock by the press was the British gothic rock band Inkubus Sukkubus, founded in 1989, who have pagan members or whose songs use pagan imagery and pagan themes. Since the appearance of Inkubus Sukkubus, many gothic rock and darkwave bands have emerged with Neopagan members and lyrical themes.