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Christianity v Heavy Metal
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.