As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, metal gave me the strength to accept my budding Atheism during my youth. I wish I could say there was some epiphanic moment that came late one night while listening to Reign in Blood, but the truth is that metal’s part in the formation of my beliefs was much more subtle. Reflecting back on those times, I’ve come to realize that my Atheism manifested itself long before my love of metal did, and that metal only helped to cement those beliefs.
I went to Catholic school from kindergarten all the way up through my senior year of high school. A lot of people still have some interesting ideas of what Catholic school is like, but I can assure you there were no draconian nuns in black lording over us with yardsticks and paddles, nor were we forced to go to church every day. That doesn’t mean that the presence of the almighty didn’t loom over us on a daily basis. We did have an extra period for religion class, and although we didn’t go to church every day, there were still multiple opportunities to kneel before the saviour, any excuse to have a mass in the gymnasium or set up confessionals in the auditorium.
I tried my damnedest to believe. I folded my hands, closed my eyes, drank the grape juice, ate the stale crackers (why does the body of Christ taste like cardboard and glue?), and none of it worked. I participated willingly in the three c’s, communion, confirmation and confession, but felt no closer to any “God”. For the longest time, I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was the only one in the world that didn’t believe. There was nothing I could do about it, no one I was comfortable talking to. If there were others like me, they were keeping it well hidden.
And then metal came along. I saw the video for Metallica’s “One” and my whole world changed. Here was a song about a man devastated by war, with no limbs, unable to speak, confined to the prison of his own mind, begging God to help him. But God doesn’t help. There is no salvation, no divine intervention, no light at the end of “One”, only a life in hell.
At the time this was strictly a musical epiphany. The (anti)spiritual implications of this moment didn’t occur to me until years later. As I mentioned earlier, there was no single moment where everything clicked, but there can be no denying that Metallica started me on the path towards being more comfortable with my (lack of) beliefs. Metallica was a gateway into a world I previously didn’t know existed, a world where others not only didn’t believe, but openly defied the so-called lord. This has what I had been searching for my whole life, but the journey towards atheism wasn’t without its detours.
With the embrace of heavy metal came curiosity about Satanism. How could it not when Slayer was screaming in my ear about being “Born of Fire” and Danzig was wondering aloud “Am I Demon”? I had spent so much time having God shoved down my throat, that it was high time I checked out the opposition. I remember feeling a mixture of guilt, nervousness and excitement when I picked up a copy of The Satanic Bible at the local B. Dalton’s, as well as some astonishment at the fact that a bookstore in the asshole of the Midwest actually had the thing in stock. I pored over LaVey’s words, finding myself agreeing with much of what he said from a philosophical standpoint, but not really seeing the need for all the ritual and assorted other bullshit that seemed to come along with it. Not long after, I would go on to the Church of Satan’s website and discover that they expected a hefty payment in exchange for full membership. Turns out they’re just another church that wants your money in exchange for a false sense of belonging, no different than every single other church out there, regardless of denomination. This, combined with the fact that LaVey’s ideas essentially amount to “Nietzsche for Dummies” dressed up in pentagrams and devil costumes, brought me to the conclusion that I had just as little use for Satanism as I did for Christianity.
In spite of my rejection of Satanism as a belief system, I continued to find its aesthetics appealing, as I do to this day. Pentagrams, baphomets and the like went right along with the horror movies, comics and heavy metal that I loved, and all the coolest metal bands seemed to use that symbolism (or variations thereof) to great effect. But this isn’t an essay on aesthetic choices, and the point is that although I was steeped in music that defied and often openly attacked Christianity using the symbolism of opposing belief systems (Satanism, Paganism, etc) that I had equally little use for, I could (and still do) appreciate and identify with the need to rebel against the Christian status quo. What better tools to rebel against something as over-the-top as Christianity than loud distorted guitars, unholy cookie monster growling, grisly, blasphemous album art and songs about sin and the devil? Atheistic black or death metal wouldn’t be nearly as powerful.
With all of this talk of rebellion, defiance and attack, I reckon I need to clarify things a bit. I don’t hate Christianity, I simply find it absurd. I’ll never understand why people feel the need to have a God in their lives. I personally don’t need to play make believe in order to know that I should help out my fellow man and treat others the way I would like to be treated. It’s called common courtesy. These ideas of morality, community, respect for people and property, etc were around long before people concocted God as a tool for controlling one another. There will always be superstitious and weak-willed/minded folk that need to have the idea in their head that a cosmic “Big Brother” is watching their every move in order keep them in line or to explain the unexplainable. I don’t take care of my family or help someone in need because that’s what God wants me to do, or because I’ll go to Hell if I don’t. I do it because I want to, and because it is the right thing to do, and a sense of right and wrong has nothing to do with religion, it is inherent, a part of our very being. Certain animals, such as primates and dolphins, exhibit behaviors similar to those discussed in this paragraph, and I don’t recall seeing any of them in church during my years in Catholic school(although mass would probably have been a lot more entertaining w/ gorillas and dolphins involved). That reminds me of another bone I have to pick… one of the last straws for me came in high school when my religion teacher tried to tell us that our dead pets didn’t go to Heaven because they didn’t have souls. If I can’t have my dog, goldfish, etc in Heaven, then why the fuck would I want to go there?! Maybe I do hate Christianity after all…
Okay, enough about the damned souls of pets, let’s get back on topic. All of this brings us to my thoughts on Christianity in metal and Christians listening to metal. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Christian themes in metal, as these tend to manifest themselves as universal concepts of good versus evil. Black Sabbath and many of the traditional doom bands that they inspired, such as Trouble and Place of Skulls are fine examples of this, although Place of Skulls got a little too preachy with their lyrics for my liking after their first two albums. Christian black metal on the other hand, is beyond ridiculous. Black metal is an inherently Satanic form of music, it was encoded in the genre’s DNA by its architects. Death metal makes slightly more sense, since Jesus Christ was arguably the first zombie to appear in fiction, but death metal should be about death, it should be about pain, horror, gore and sickness from a visual, lyrical and musical standpoint, and if you go too far outside the parameters, it ceases to be death metal at all. There seems to be a lot of Christianity in the metalcore scene for some strange reason, and I have no explanation for this phenomenon because I haven’t paid attention to metalcore in many, many years. I do recall that during my brief flirtation with metalcore, I sampled a few of these bands in an effort to understand this trend in heavy music and keep an open mind, but unfortunately conviction doesn’t always equate with talent, and I think we can all agree that metalcore has proven to be by-and-large a completely disposable genre, the metal equivalent of MTV-approved pop music. It makes sense that it would be embraced by the Christian status quo and used as a youth propaganda/control device.
I don’t understand why Christians would listen to black and death metal, unless they’re not very good Christians. I’ve heard the “lyrics don’t matter” explanation thrown about, but let’s be honest, that’s just a fucking cop-out, an excuse for Christians who want to dabble in something that’s probably considered taboo by their peers. Worse yet, anyone who says lyrics don’t matter (Christian or not) is missing the entire point and is no better than the jock/frat boy asshole who just listens to metal as a soundtrack to mosh and crack heads to. If you are not at least attempting or better yet unwilling to absorb the totality of the work in all its aspects, then why fucking bother? Granted, metal lyrics can be juvenile and in some cases an afterthought, but they are still a part of the whole. Would you look at every part of the Mona Lisa but her face? Would you only read every other chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Would you only watch the first and last scenes of Fulci’s The Beyond? I don’t think so. Why should metal be any different? If Christians are ok with experiencing art in this incomplete manner, that’s their own business, but I will never understand it. Furthermore, what about blasphemous album artwork? What about band interviews with anti-religious statements from the artists? Do Christians who listen to this stuff put blinders on, or live in some kind of protective Christ-bubble? It seems to me that it would be awfully difficult for a Christian to fully immerse themselves in underground metal.
Well shit, this has gone so far off the rails at this point, I might as well just sit back and enjoy the train wreck. Unfortunately it is difficult to discuss my own beliefs and how they tie into the music I love without some healthy criticism of others. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. But I am curious to know how Christians metalheads cope with being involved in a genre that for the most part openly rejects/attacks them. My brother in metal blogging the Full Metal Attorney has done a nice job of explaining how he balances his Christ-loving beliefs w/ being a metalhead, and although I fundamentally disagree with everything he says, I have utmost respect for his willingness to put his beliefs on display for the metal world to see. I’d like to hear from others. Does the art and entertainment you enjoy enrich/enhance your beliefs in any way? Should it or are they two separate worlds? Specifically how does metal fit into it all? Do you give a shit? Tell me.
To be continued?
The soundtrack to the conceptualization and writing of this piece was as follows:
Deicide – Legion
Wolvhammer – The Obsidian Plains
Samhain – November Coming Fire
Nunfuckritual – In Bondage to the Serpent
Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Krisiun – The Great Execution