God Bless Heavy Metal
Today I want to share my personal journey exploring the contentious intersection between religion and music, particularly heavy metal. I shed light on my journey, my taste in music, and explore the hypocrisy behind fundamentalist gatekeepers condemning an entire genre as “satanic” based on subjective personal vagaries. I argue that personal dislike and unfamiliarity shouldn’t dictate what is considered evil. The devil often masquerades himself as an angel of light in music and modes of worship deemed acceptable and sacred, often enough to give us pause. I emphasize that music is a mode of diverse expression, and it should not be outright dubbed as demonic based on its presentation.
Raggedly dressed men hurdling across a darkened stage with guitars in hand, black makeup smudged around their eyes, intentionally growling at spectators was quite the spectacle for little nine-year-old me. Watching metal-heads metal away on the TV left me dumbfounded. Korn performing Freak On A Leash on South Park back in 1999 was a transformative chapter of my life. Members of my church, then, considered such performances modern-day scenes of demonic possession en masse.
I, however, couldn’t get their heavy metal tunes out of my head.
It turned out that I loved the genre, perhaps a bit too much. I would sneak a listen to it whenever and however I could. The problem wasn’t the music in and of itself but the community I lived in which was heavily influenced by fundamentalist Christian gatekeepers who thought anything and everyone outside of their camp of control and influence was, like heavy metal, satanic.
How could a nine-year-old understand the complexities and lingering trauma cultic environments transfer to their adherents? Namely, how I was influenced by what Dr. Steven Hassan calls the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control:
This category explores how manipulative groups regulate and dominate their members’ actions and behaviors through strict rules, rewards, and punishments, limiting individual autonomy.
Examining the tactics of manipulative organizations to control information flow through censorship and propaganda, restricting members’ access to outside perspectives.
Focuses on psychological techniques used by such groups to shape beliefs and attitudes, suppressing critical thinking and promoting conformity.
Explores how manipulative organizations manipulate emotions, fostering dependency and loyalty through love-bombing, guilt, and fear-based indoctrination.
My religious community heavily controlled and influenced how its members behaved in their gatherings; controlled the information they could attain to read and determined whether that information was credible or not; condemned contrarian or different opinions on many things theology-related or secular; and was fervent in love-bombing new members and then bad-mouthing them when they left. It was a way of creating an us versus them narrative for the community.
So you can imagine their sentiments about heavy metal or metal or rock or just about any music or genre outside of their accepted forms of corporate worship or individual devotion when it came to music, amongst other things.
What I didn’t know then, which is painfully clear to me now is that my gatekeepers deemed demonic the genres of music they did not personally or collectively like.
Now, before I explore genre-ism (neologism) a bit more I think we need to have a working definition of genre we can all agree on or at least understand together.
Holly Landis writing for SkillShare gives us a mini-history and etymology lesson on genre:
“As with most Western European languages, the word ‘genre’ stems from the Latin genus and Ancient Greek génos, meaning origin or group. These words were typically used to describe social groups in the ancient world, but were developed by the French in the 1700s to mean ‘a particular style of art.’
Thanks to this new definition, words like category, class, division, family, kind, set, sort, or type are commonly used to mean the same as genre.”
Genre can be understood as a classification process, one which we use to identify differences in, as Landis says, categories, classes, families, etcetera.
A genre covers a variety of life’s many interests such as art, fashion, film, literature, and music.
Hence I may personally appreciate expressionism but dislike abstract paintings. I prefer 1920s fedoras, 1950s leather jackets and denim jeans, and 1960s Doc Martens (though I can’t afford ’em) while disliking trucker hats, bell bottoms, and modern sportswear. I love movies and books that masterfully tell horror stories; space operas about creeping aliens hunting confused and deranged crew members on a spaceship that went adrift behind Mars; speculative fiction dystopias; and Danish dramedies.
I can’t enjoy reality TV shows like Big Brother, The Kardashians, or soap operas because they do nothing for me. I lied. They make me want to curl into a ball and launch myself into the sun, especially when I hear Kim’s SoCal accent on the tube talking sushi or leather or whatever else she likes to talk about with that monstrosity of an accent.
When it comes to music, genres, and sub-genres lead us down rabbit holes of musical categories within sub-categories that make me scratch my head.
As with classical music, its sub-genres split into period eras that I love and listen to when studying. Baroque period (Bach and Vivaldi), the classical period (Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Schubert), romantic period (Chopin, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Grieg, and Debussy).
As does hip-hop with its varied sub-genres, some worthy of critical acclaim and others deserving of invective so cruel that if the authors of said sub-genres read them they’d never pen another song in their lives. Gangsta rap introduces the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, N.W.A., Ice-T, Tupac, and more. Comedy hip-hop can be as innocent as Skee-Lo’s “I Wish,” as self-deprecatory as Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” as raunchy as his, “My Name Is,” and as hilariously depressing as Tyler, The Creator’s “Yonkers.”
Hip-hop houses stranger genres like hardcore, pop rap, nerdcore, country rap, trap, drill, and horrorcore. You can scope them out in your own time. I’d personally pick drill over trap, horrorcore over nerdcore, hardcore over pop rap, and then throw country rap into the trash where country music lives with its broken relationships, beer bellies, small-town lynchings, and Trump supporters.
Johnny Cash is country music’s only redeemable character. I said what I said.
Genre is a beautiful gift to music’s universe and sub-genres add to that beauty by diversifying what we already love by injecting the minutest variances that open our brains to new horizons.
Therefore, when I like and love a music genre and its varied sub-genres, I listen to them religiously.
I do not, however, condemn Kim and her Kardashian hive-mind followers to hell because I dislike their weird reality TV show.
I’ve never considered prairie fundamentalist romance novels devilish because I find them dull and repetitive.
Nor have I relegated Tim McGraw and his country-music-loving, cousin bedding, Confederate flag waving, Nascar watching, musty Duck Dynasty obsessed, having-not-read-a-book-since-grade-school, sundown town fans as devil worshipers simply because I hate country music.
I’m serious. I hate country music with a passion. It’s nauseatingly soul-crushing music.
But Christians, especially the anti-intellectual fundamentalist Christians I was raised and communed with; even more so the Pentecostal ones who promoted ascetic forms of the faith to the point of one’s financial and mental detriment, considered rock, in general, and heavy metal, particularly, satanic.
Now, rock as well as heavy metal can and do break down into several intertwining sub-genres that mix and converge depending on the artist you decide to listen to on a given day.
Rock can be broken down into punk rock, hard rock, blues rock, new wave, grunge, progressive, soft rock, alternative, surf rock, and indie rock. Each sub-genre of rock houses some of the most iconic sounds in the last 70 years of American music history.
Metal, which warms my cynical soul, has its own varied sub-genres:
Black metal, doom metal, Celtic metal (weird, but okay), nu metal (Korn, duh), death metal, power metal, gothic metal, symphonic and melodic death metal, progressive metal, thrash metal, metalcore, deathcore, speed metal, and grindcore.
Now, some of these are objectively horrible sounding. Just think of the emo-metal guy song going viral on the net and you’ll know what I mean.
Because tonight will be the night that I will fall for youuuuuu!!!
Parody cover. I know. But I know you can hear it! And we both hate it!
Satanic Bands! Really?
The closest thing to a “demonic” sub-genre in the metal verse is black metal, which, unsurprisingly does not hide its intent with its demonology, anti-Christ, anti-religious, antisemitic, blood and violence-ridden lyrics. I mean, the English black metal band, Cradle of Filth does not tip-toe around the fact that their lyrics delve into satanism and the occult. Greece’s Rotting Christ is a bit on the nose with its name if you ask me. Norway even has a band called Gorgoroth whose lead singer calls himself Infernus.
I do not listen to these bands. Their content is too graphic, even for me.
Their lyrics can and must be taken within the context of their styles, namely, young men, most likely atheist or agnostic youths who wrote their songs and garnered fame with an anti-religion driving philosophy. Their world and the faith that directed it had failed to answer their existential quandaries thus leading many of them to formulate an image and identity for their bands that mocked religion.
But consider the satanism or so-called satanism of bands whose members are atheists. Is it really music made for the worship of satan, a spiritual entity they do not believe exists because the concept of supernatural or spiritual realities is refuted by their philosophy outright. What I mean is you cannot worship nor pay homage to that which you do not fundamentally believe exists in the first place. Many modern-day Satanists use the name or title of satan as a cover-all name for a life lived in complete anarchy of every religious system — this name is not necessarily as a slight against Jehovah who they do not even believe exists.
Now, I am not saying that the enemy of the brethren cannot use people who do not believe in his existence. Hell, some people believe the United States of America is incapable of doing wrong in the world while it wreaks havoc on developing nations for its resources as I write this post.
Not believing in something that does exist does not negate the impact that it has on reality. Now, in the same breath, I must also state that simply stating something or calling something into existence, proclaiming it, confessing it, and preaching it, no matter what it is, blessing or curse, does not make it real or actual, either.
These so-called “satanic” bands have no influence, direct influence, on the real world. Songs about human sacrifice, whether yelled and shrieked or sung with angelic voices do not produce humans out of thin air for sacrificial offerings. In fact, if Norwegian black metal bands, their lyrics, and influence were responsible for human sacrifices I’d say their success rate has been a catastrophic failure.
Therefore, simply calling oneself a satanic band or a band whose lyrics are influenced by the occult does not de facto make such claims true. Nor does it deny the claims but each claim, song, band member’s life, lifestyle, and the band’s undeniable effects and influence on the masses must be taken into account critically so that we do not revert to the erroneous fundamentalist binary way of thinking or not thinking about things we cannot understand, therefore we lump them all into a box and call it demonic — in theological terms, of course.
I personally love nu-metal. Korn, Adema, and Slipknot in particular. (Fun fact about Adema. Mark Chavez, Adema’s former lead singer, is Jonathan Davis’ step-brother. Jonathan is Korn’s lead singer.) Nu Metal does not shy away from discussing the issues teens and young adults faced in the late 90s and early 2000s, namely, parental abuse, sexual abuse, disillusionment with the American dream, violence, and broken relationships. The explicit nature of their songs, the raw feelings expressed within, and the culture-shaping sounds they made were legendary. If you want fun, speaker ripping, foot-stomping, fist-pumping, jumping from a roof and onto a table music, Nu Metal is the place to turn.
And remember, there is nothing inherently satanic about discussing modern issues, personal problems, existential dread, and loss of direction in life. Nu metal bands tackled these issues head-on, becoming a catharsis for the masses to cope through music instead of devolving into mass hysteria. The hysteria fundamentalists claimed was inevitable.
I Love Heavy Metal
I also love doom metal, death metal, progressive metal, and melodic metal.
Listen, nothing is more amazing than songs about the war between good and evil where good eventually triumphs. No other genre in the world better prepares the imagination of a listener for this scene than the ones I just mentioned. Many metal bands use Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings fantasy and Medieval European war history as the foundation for their lyrics.
When I listen to bass guitar strings warp under the weight of a pick, the bass of a drumset crash behind double-bass pedals, dueling guitars fight red dragons, and singers squeal, growl, guttural and angry it at some fantasied scene within the lyrics of a song, it sends my mind into a different universe.
These bands put together some of the most majestic, well-thought, intuitive lyrics ever penned in music history. It’s life-altering stuff.
What Christians, fundamentalist ones, especially the Pentecostal ones, get caught up on the most is HOW the music sounds rather than the lyrics and the talented musicians and enigmatic lyrics behind them. The retelling of World War II, narrated by Morgan Freeman sounds amazing, or listening to David Attenborough narrate a day in the life of an elephant makes for great pass-time TV. Now, if a death metal singer were to attempt the same, the delivery would be glorious, albeit a bit loud. That 45-minute documentary would be over in 5 minutes, and the listener, as well as the elephants and the narrator, would all be drenched in sweat from headbanging to the stomp and step of elephants.
Metal makes you move. Like hip-hop, especially hardcore hip-hop, you can’t just sit there and listen. You have to participate.
Therefore, what many Christians, dishonest and anti-intellectual ones to be exact have against metal is not the content of the songs but how those songs sound.
They’ve turned a personal dislike into an eternal condemnation. They have made the claim that the way a drum set is struck, the way guitar strings are plucked, the way a voice sounds when it leaves someone’s vocal cords, and the assorted sound these make when combined is, by definition, satanic.
This claim is dastardly problematic and asinine because it asserts that music can be easily categorized into two systems: Godly or ungodly, God-honoring or God-dishonoring, sacred or sacrilegious, Christ-centered or Satanic.
This binaural, black-and-white way of thinking about the world and faith is so limiting that it leaves the thinker or the imbecile, rather, unable to think critically about anything, thus condemning everything and everyone who challenges his opinions to hell.
In this line of reasoning, one would think that Crusaders were listening to rock and roll when they decapitated Muslim children. Or that Nazis listened to death metal when they forced Jews to build work camps that they, Jewish civilians, would later be executed within. One would even believe that Americans were listening to doom metal when they dropped atomic bombs over Japan, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians in seconds. Or that American enslavers chimed to thrash metal when they whipped their black slaves, symphonic metal when they raped enslaved women, and melodic death metal when they separated enslaved families in slave auctions.
I can assure you that more evil has been done by people who committed acts of extreme violence while gladly paying homage to God with acceptable, appropriate, and godly music.
The devil, the actual, literal entity, Satan, has managed to do more harm in the world using people who listen to so-called sacred music than people who claim to call themselves Satanists and play songs supposedly attributed to the devil.
Heavy metal is no more satanic than pebbles fumbling aimlessly along a riverbed are riceballs.
If the scenario about sweaty men screaming at spectators from a stage as loud music plays in the background is satanic then many Pentecostal churches are the devil’s beachhead in the world. I’ve been to some church services where I’ve witnessed the preacher lose his voice from screaming so much. The topic of his message was irrelevant to the fact that he lost his ability to speak, clearly, because he shouted like a madman for over forty-five minutes. Red-faced, bulging neck veins and all. Nearly lost my hearing in some churches standing near a drum set. And I’ve seen Christians in makeup and listen, not everyone knows how to properly apply the stuff, thus making them look just as unattractive as those guys from KISS but with the colors of the rainbow on their faces.
Sublunary mannerisms, however odd, behaviors that lack culture, taste, and swagger, are not, in and of themselves, devilish. The strumming of guitars, swaying of hips, head-banging, and jumping do not precede demonic possession.
Those who claim these innocuous things are entry-level behaviors for demonic possession are themselves demon-obsessed, superstitious, and socially unstable human beings afraid of things they do not understand and confident about things they know very little about.
Music Glorifies God
Music glorifies God as it pays homage to God’s intellect and diversified taste expressed through humanity’s varied musical talents.
Whether Beethoven hammers away at his keys; Lupe Fiasco raps about traveling the world with the love of his life; Gilberto Gil sings about love in Copa Cabana; Johnny Cash walks us through his escapades; Aretha Franklin tells us that women just want some Respect; Michael Jackson tells us to Beat It; or Will Smith telling us that he’s the fresh prince of Bel Air, it all demonstrates God’s wonderful handiwork in human ingenuity and creativity.
God is glorified in humanity’s sense of diversity.
We must not attribute godliness to something simply because it is liked and accepted corporately in a religious community. What’s considered gospel in a Chinese religious community is not considered so in Alabama. How German Hutterites praise God utilizing their hymnals is not the same way Kirk Franklin worships God with a choir of some of the most talented singers I’ve ever heard in my life. How African tribes of antiquity beat on drums and jumped to praise God is not how white American Presbyterians worship God.
Yet, does God not accept them all? Does God not receive their worship? Drums or no drums? Guitar or no guitar? Piano, banjo, ukulele, shofar, or clapping one’s hands. God accepts that which is already His. Worship in all its forms when it rises from a pure heart.
Your Upper Lip Stinks
Calling that satanic which you do not like because of how it sounds is upper-lip-stank thinking.
If you believe in God and you do not like the way metal sounds, cool. Go about your business and devote yourself to God with the musical genres you prefer.
If you believe in God and you love metal, as I do, then go about your business and devote yourself to God with the world’s most exciting music genre ever.
I will challenge anyone, as anyone should, who dares condemn something, anything, entirely, as satanic, demonic, or hellish simply because of its presentation.
So is so much more to music than what is initially presented about it. Namely, history, context, and subjective taste.
The devil, you know, seldom presents himself as a djinn or an unclean spirit. He prefers to cosplay as an angel of light.
The argument can be made, problematically, that heavy metal musicians are possessed because of their mannerisms on stage. The problem with that argument is that when the music stops and the show is over, many of them return home to their families to relax or on to the next gig. If any of them break chains, attack people, and thrust themselves into the fire, it is, embarrassingly so, part of their show. Security and emergency personnel are meters away ready to assist if the program goes off the rails.
Fundamentalists cannot understand this, namely, distasteful artistic expression versus wanton evil.
The most common form of possession, I believe, and the most nefarious of them all, that is seen continuously throughout many religious communities to this day, is the one that Judas Iscariot experienced. Not the one with the man possessed by a legion of unclean spirits.
When the devil possessed Judas Iscariot to control his will, the disciple did not fall to the ground, squirming about, screaming indecencies at Jesus and his followers. No. He simply got up from the dinner table, wiped grumps off his beard, and went out to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
The devil, it seems, is more crafty than a select few Norwegian heavy metal bands.
He tends to influence and use the very people obsessed with his supposed influence over music genres they personally disapprove of.
The ones caring for vulnerable children, widows, and impoverished people; the ones taking care of the vulnerable and gullible, are the same who beguile us into thinking that because they listen to “Christian” music they are de facto archetypes of Christ when in fact, they are spawns of hell hiding in our midst.
Wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Go wash your upper lip. It reeks.
Listen or do not listen to metal. Your choice. But do not call unclean that which is, in fact, clean.
Now, about country music.
Country music is undoubtedly satanic.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. — Proverbs 31:8 NLT