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Christianity v Heavy Metal

Updated on June 10, 2011

The Enemies of Metal or Why Christianity and Metal Mutually Antagonize

People have been irresistibly attracted towards saying metal is dead. Yet somehow it always seems to prove that statement wrong. No matter how much the mainstream ridicules the music, it just goes underground for awhile until the industry changes its fickle mind. I believe metal hasn’t been in any really danger since the early 80’s, maybe earlier. However, metal has a share of its detractors.

Many of metal’s enemies would be overjoyed to see metal wiped off the collective musical memory, from Black Sabbath to Slayer to Cannibal Corpse. Of course, metal isn’t passive in receiving its abuse, as an art it can attack and criticize just as well as any person can. It does not particularly look highly on society or government, particularly war (“War Pigs”, “Mandatory Suicide”, “Sentenced to Burn”) However, metal lyrics as a whole tend to target one specific enemy: Christianity. Why is this religion metal’s collective punching bag? Why do bands always get points for bashing religion?

There are some of us metal fans (including myself) who tire of bands bashing Christianity because it is often a sign of having the band has no independent thoughts of their own. Personally I ignore metal lyrics since I can’t hear them anyway but even so, the antagonism can’t be missed. So how to explain it?

Starting from the beginning there is Black Sabbath, considered by many to be the first heavy metal band. Their title track is recounting of a meeting with Satan. In terror, the narrator specifically calls out to God after his horrible vision:

Big black shape with eyes of fire
Telling people their desire.
Satan's sitting there, he's smiling.
Watches those flames get higher and higher.
Oh no, no, please God help me

So while the narrator and Satan are the subject of the song, the song itself does not attack Christianity in the least. Describing the devil and all his horridness is a time honored tradition of some denominations. To this day I don’t heard an Ozzy performance without a “God bless you all”. But of course “Black Sabbath” can be easily mistaken as a name for an evil band. Particularly by people and groups with no appreciation for subtlety.

It cannot be denied that a certain segment of self-indentified Christians is always against new music, especially music marketed to teenagers. This subset always postures against this “corrupting devil music” and offers Jesus as the one true solution. The actual content is irrelevant (Elvis’ swinging hips? Give me a break). The relevant issue is that teenagers are learning to identify themselves with different aesthetics than their parents, and some parents cannot tolerate this independence.

But let’s try to tease this phenomenon out. Metal is a youth oriented music and gives a voice to those who would reject Christianity. However, the anti-Christian tone in metal is too pervasive for this to be the only cause for its existence. The same can be said for promotion issues. A band like Cradle of Filth might issue shirts saying “Jesus is a C**t”, offend a lot of people, and then essentially get great free publicity for it (the goal all along). This is also something to tease out. What I think keeps fuelling the anti-Christian sentiments is a genuine difference of opinion on a specific emotion: anger.

Christianity has an extremely negative view of anger (except when smiting enemies in God’s name?). In all seriousness, this is a religion that instructs its followers to love their enemies and return evil with good. This is a religion that holds that a man who has anger towards his brother has committed murder in his heart. In metal anger is something to enjoy. The sonics are fast and aggressive, and the lyrics nearly always have a violent edge. A live metal show is a place to scream, a place to mosh, a place to thrust devil horn salutes while yelling for more loud and violent music from the band. Anger isn’t just an experience, it’s a transcendence, it’s a (one hates to say spiritual) spiritual intoxication with one’s own anger.

Christianity does not really have a place for this kind of anger, except in the hands of the devil. I don’t mean to suggest it’s impossible to be a Christian and a metalhead. I only mean to suggest that the rush one feels from a good metal song doesn’t have a bible verse or high doctrine to support it. Just consider to works of art about the holocaust: “Schindler’s List” and Slayer’s “Angel of Death” Some sample lyrics:

Smell your death as it burns
Deep inside of you
Abacinate, eyes that bleed
Praying for the end of
Your wide awake nightmare

Slayer’s song is lyrically just as horrifying as Schindler’s List. The difference is that Schindler’s List is intended to repulse, to speak to humanity about the dangers of cruelty. Slayer’s song is to be enjoyed in a rather hedonistic (rather than rational) manner, as an adrenaline rush. That’s what I think Christianity can’t tolerate, and why so many bands feel it necessary to so vociferously react against it. Metal is impossible without delight in aggression. It follows then that metal will always have “negative” lyrics, and target those institutions that would deny the ability to enjoy its aesthetics. If you want proof, just listen to how terrible Christian metal sounds.

Metal James


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    • hotwebideas profile image

      Bruce Chamoff 6 years ago from New York

      Yeah, I listen mostly for the music. When I listen to excellent Christian bands like Skillet, it is tough to listen to the music because some of the lyrics are easy to hear. Being Jewish, I have to ignore those lyrics, because the music is so good.

    • starvagrant profile image

      starvagrant 6 years ago from Missouri

      Yeah, I definitely think there's a number of people, ignorant about poetry, who imagine a song with negative content has a negative message. But the music is a bigger upper for me, it always gets me in a better mood.

    • hotwebideas profile image

      Bruce Chamoff 6 years ago from New York

      starvagrant, although I am Jewish, I think some of my favorite metal bands are Christian, the music. Stryper and Skillet are my favorites. I also like Beautiful Sin and Fireflight, all great bands.

      When I listen to the lyrics of bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, I notice that some people judge negatively the songs by their titles, which I think is partly your point in your hub, but when I listen carefully to the lyrics, those lyrics spread goodwill. Great hub and voted up!

      I also have a hub on a heavy metal quiz if you are up to taking it.

    • starvagrant profile image

      starvagrant 6 years ago from Missouri

      Thanks for commenting on this rarely viewed article. It gave me the chance to review my argument. I still argue that metal is misunderstood because of its lyrics which in fact don't matter much to people with extensive knowledge of the genre. People seem to have a great difficulty understanding that writing a poem from the point of view of a murderer does not justify that fictitious murder's actions, etc. This happens a great deal in rap music as well, but that is not a genre I'm familiar with.

      As I wrote this article I couldn't help but note my own mother's reaction to my interest in metal. My mother simply refuses to let herself be angry. When she speaks about a subject that causes a great deal of anger she almost always ends her complaints with "but I shouldn't be so negative" without fail. As you can imagine, she was horrified to see me attracted to a music/fashion that glorified anger (and by implication violence). It wasn't until I pointed out to her that since I had expressed my interest in metal I had maintained good grades and caused no violent disruptions for two years that she seemed to accept it as just being me.

      I suppose I could clarify one point. I don't think being Christian dooms a musician to mediocrity in the metal world. Ozzy Osbourne is quite exuberant about his Christianity. However, Ozzy and Black Sabbath were social critics. They set out to make music critical of the establishment, not Christian music. What I was referring to were bands that basically are gospel in purpose (to spread the word) but metal in sound. With few excpetions these bands are highly unoriginal and generally uncompelling. Generally, you can tell that the band isn't letting loose any of thier aggressive feelings, and it almost always sounds like crap. Some Christian bands break from this mold, but as a rule they do not.

    • Elfranko profile image

      Elfranko 6 years ago from Rochester, New York

      I think that a lot of the tension can be boiled down to the people on both sides of the issue who are on the extreme fringe of the issue, such as the Westboro Baptist Church or the black metal bands that burned down churches in the early 90's. Christianity is a good topic for metal band's to cover because it is so pervasive in society. But there are so many Christian metal bands out there that to say each group is on different sides of a fundamental divide is not necessarily true. Both Christianity and heavy metal offer the same type of joy and relief to their respective fans. But the divide is definitly there, as you point out. Great article on examing the fued between the two groups.


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