Sex, religion, and politics are topics that not only dominate the minds of millions of Americans, but ones that are also seen as immensely taboo in American culture. So much so that their discussion is banned in almost every workplace nationwide. It’s because of the pervasive nature of this hypocrisy that it tickled my little black heart to see them married with complete abandon at The Satanic Temple Colorado’s Saturnalia Event at the Marquis Theater.

If you know the history of the Saturnalia holiday, then the combination of entertainment presented by TST Colorado shouldn’t be too surprising. Given that Saturnalia was originally an ancient Roman Pagan festival that turned social norms upside-down—with all of the week-long festivities being lubricated by a healthy dose of debauchery—then the combination of burlesque, extreme forms of music, an “Unbaptism Ceremony,” and alcohol at the ready all under one roof seems very appropriate.

First to the stage was the chapter head of The Satanic Temple Colorado, Persephone Gray, welcoming the audience to the 6th Annual Saturnalia event. After informing the crowd of what could be expected, everyone joined together in a “hail Satan!” This was when the Consensual Circus Burlesque troupe took over the stage.

Before I go too much further, there are a few things I want to make clear when it comes to 99% of the performances by the members of the Consensual Circus. First off, yes, there is nudity. However, the nudity isn’t always done just for the sake of nudity. In reality, all of the artists presented something more akin to performance art than anything that could be called “stripping.” Some of the acts found the dancer in a nun’s outfit, while others would be dressed in white virginal garb (about to perform an abortion ritual). Though most of the artistic themes centered around breaking the bonds of Christian oppression, there were some exceptions. More on that in a minute.

Second, unless otherwise noted, assume that the performer will be topless (with panties and pasties) by the end of the song. This also goes for the music that would accompany them; if you assume it was a sub-genre of extreme metal—like djent-electronica—you’re on the right track. With these factors in mind, it should come as no surprise that no matter which act was on the stage (Batya Belfry, Saint Valentease, Cheburashka, Embur Ranne, or TST member Nixy), it was a celebration for all the senses.

Speaking of those aforementioned exceptions …

The first burlesque performer up, who also doubled as the MC for all the troupes’ productions, was Presley Peach. And her first dance was more … secular?

Peach came to the stage wearing a mirror image of the outfits donned by the “Mean Girls”—Santa-themed corsets with matching hats, fishnet stockings, and a garter belt with no underwear. This was accompanied by a fake Santa beard she wore the entire show. With the loud music blaring in the background, she performed a more traditional strip tease. About the time her corset came off, I noticed a string of white Christmas lights wrapped around her upper body. I didn’t pay much attention to where their final destination was until I saw her pull them out of her vagina a minute later; this was met with much raucous cheering.

After her dance, Peach welcomed the crowd and then informed everyone about THE RULES. Since they are known as the Consensual Circus, consent (without being preachy) is a big part of their message. This is something I applaud. In reality, the rules are more akin to reminding people to be civil human beings than they are about the placement of restrictions. Rule 1: If you like it, cheer. If you don’t, keep it to yourself; NO HECKLERS. 2. Don’t touch and don’t expect to be touched. 3. If you take pictures, ensure the correct entities get the proper credit. After this, Peach went on to entertain the audience with banter while each performer set the stage. It’s worth noting that Peach was incredibly engaging throughout the entire evening and even when she would share stories about her oppressive Catholic upbringing and how it led her to Satanism, they were always presented with dark humor and in an entertaining way. Kudos!

Though the two Circus sets were intertwined with the performance of the band Gravity Corps, the thematic elements were carried throughout. One favorite performance came from Saint Valentease: a “sacrifice in the name of liberation.” In it, she came out in a nun’s habit, stripping away each piece of clothing while in prayer to signify the bonds of oppression being removed systematically. Another personal favorite came from Cheburashka. Theirs was a more literal interpretation of the summoning of the anti-Christ by wearing makeup that was a mix of Mexico’s Day of the Dead and black metal corpse paint while playing Satyricon. However, there was one performance that stood head and shoulders above the rest—it was also one of the few that had zero nudity. The abortion ritual theme of Embur Ranne was viscerally intense and one that brought out some form of emotion in all those in attendance. Coming on the stage wearing a virginal white dress with a book representing a Bible, you see her go through self-doubt and reflection before finding the Satanic Bible. The somber music of guitar with heavy atmosphere that morphs into melodic metal was the perfect storytelling element for Ranne’s interpretations. Eventually, she rejects faith and takes the meds to induce an abortion, this is followed by her removing her dress to reveal a miscarriage through the use of blood on her panties.

For this having been my first burlesque show, I have to say that any future events I may attend have a very high watermark to reach.

After the burlesque performance, leaders of The Satanic Temple Colorado came to the stage to perform the unbaptize ritual. As bass-heavy ambient music began to fill the room via the loudspeakers, black-robed individuals with goat-head masks began to fill the stage, surrounding a gold throne with blood-red cushioning and two skulls protruding from the seatback. Each took turns speaking about the lies of Christianity and its binds that tie true individualism, and though each speaker’s words were different, at some point in each recital there was a passage about the stripping away of those lies through the unbaptism about to be performed. This culminated with the final speaker calling “Hail Satan!” with all in attendance gleefully responding. At this point, those who wanted to complete the unbaptism were welcomed to the front of the stage where the same leadership would anoint the person’s forehead with an upside-down cross in blood.

Thankfully, the musical acts of the evening were more than up to the task of matching the potency of the events displayed thus far.

The first band of the night—performing between the burlesque sets—was the duo known as Gravity Corps (Voicecoil: vocals/samples, Jarvis: drums). Their set opener, “Scared To Death,” was immediately met with cheers. This firmly kicked off the tone that I’d see throughout their set; an upbeat presentation of melodic industrial with a thoroughly engaged crowd. Musically they sounded like KMFDM (without guitars), mixed with a noticeable 80s influence—something like Depeche Mode—and lyrics sung with harsher vocals. Other highlights included “Another Day” and “Cold And Elegant.” Overall, this is a band I have to admit I have a real love/hate relationship with. Though the crowd absolutely loved the somewhat cheesy banter and stage moves of vocalist Voicecoil, I found them to be over-the-top (and not in a good way) at times. The other negative about Gravity Corps is in their music. Though I liked most of what I heard, I felt there could be more. The music is a perfect representation of the genres it’s trying to emulate, but done sometimes too well. The musicians have a lot of talent, and I think if they stretched their musical legs, the band’s output could be just that much better.

The second band of the night—performing immediately following the unbaptism ritual—was Clockwork Echo (Gabriel Ryan: vocals, Alex Rau: samples). This band easily kicked the energy level up to previously unknown heights. With music that sounds like the heavier rave influences found in Parasite Of God (minus the guitars), mixing in metalcore vocals akin to Atreyu, and the tempo cranked up to over 200 beats per minute during each song, it would be impossible to not move your body in some fashion. Add in the never-ending frenetic pace of how Ryan would work the stage along with Rau banging his head like he was Angus Young in his mid-20s, and you have a performance that infected everyone in the crowd with electricity. From the opening notes of “Embrace The Silence So Cold,” to the title track from their latest release “Death Rebirth Repeat,” to “We Came For Blood,” the music carried the audience in a sea of insane power for 45 minutes straight. Really, the only negative to their set was in the fact that Ryan’s microphone would cut out periodically, causing a brief interruption to the wave. Outside of that, zero complaints.

Closing out the evening was easily my favorite band of the night, Luna 13 (Lilith Bathory: vocals, Doc Luna: samples). Coming out cloaked in a blood-red cape that’s wrapped in such a way to where it opened like a cocoon while the most electronically-infused black metal hymns play to Satan in the background, it goes without saying that Lilith Bathory knows how to make an entrance. Wearing Satan-themed corpse paint with horns on her head while her body was adorned by a spike-covered bra, panties, and garter-belt with stockings, Bathory’s appearance was breathtaking to those who delight in Satanic forms of beauty. Conversely, Doc Luna’s look is the perfect foil. With a studded, modified gas mask engorged by a hood, Luna looks like a wanderer from the Road Warrior movies. The skulls and chains that adorn his samplers also enhance the motif.

And if you think those visuals are intense, the music is even more so.

Musically, Luna 13 is as if the darkest and most distorted parts of Merzbow went black metal. Add in lower-pitched Myrkur-style wail vocals broken up with eerie child-like refrains in the vein of Raven Black, and you have the complete picture. Stand-out cuts/performances included “Upside Down,” “Unborn,” and “Hear My Call;” with the last two songs upping the visual ante. During “Unborn” Bathory drank blood from a legitimate skull before chewing on an unborn fetus. And during “Hear My Call” she took off her bra to reveal pasties before pouring the rest of the blood from the skull onto herself, bathing in it.

It was after their set that Gray came back to the stage to thank everyone for showing up and helping to support Satanism in Colorado.

It goes without saying that the Saturnalia event was one that bombarded the senses. The mixture of sex and violence with religious overtones was omnipresent and titillating to all in attendance. But to look at the celebration as just those elements is to wear blinders; to the Satanic faithful, the unbaptism was so much more. I learned this while I was outside at one point talking with a devotee of the blackened faith.

They identified as queer and spoke openly about their father’s homophobia and how it felt that there was no love given in the family due to this membership in the LGBTQ community. The devotee was carrying a zombie baby in an infant’s christening gown. I would find out the gown was the same one the devotee had been baptized in while they were an infant, and the reason they brought it was to light a fire and burn the dress in effigy after the show had ended to fully complete their unbaptism. The person spoke with nothing but joy at the thought of their un-ordainment (in an official capacity) followed by watching the physical manifestation of their ties to Christianity burn in Hell’s fire.

Though Saturnalia may be important to different people for different reasons, don’t forget that the importance is still very real.

All Photo credits: Stephanie Shaner / ONYX Studios