July 28, 2010

“White Metal” Exploring the Oxymoron that is Christian-themed Metal

Brutal Tunes, Tr00 Metal Life

WARNING: I am trying to approach this subject with a much tact and understanding as I can, but I know opinions on Christian metal are very much divided. Everyone has a strong feeling one way or the other. If you want to comment, please remember to keep your comments pleasant, and refute points, not people.


At York Minster

Before I begin, I have to confess my own religious feelings, so you understand my opinion on Christian Metal. As a child I attended a Catholic primary school, and, unlike most metalheads I know, I must admit I enjoyed attending church.

We went to an old-school Catholic church, with high gothic arches and stained-glass windows. I loved the chanting and ritual and breaking of the bread – it was all so esoteric and occult. I read a lot of books about magic and witches and spooky happenings, and the church seemed to epitomize all that freaky stuff I loved.

But, most importantly, we had the kindest, most gentle priest – Father Cook – who would read passages from the bible and encourage the congregation to discuss them, offer their own ideas and interpretations. He encouraged people not to just read the bible, but to engage with it as a historical and spiritual document. He was also one of those rare, truly good men. Whenever I hear people rubbish the Catholic church, I remember him and feel like I should defend it.

As a teen, I started to make friends with many Christians, and I even spent a short period of time trying to “be” one. They were one of the vew groups who sort of tolerated me hanging around. My first best friend and my first boyfriend hung with this group (although my boyfriend was not Christian, he was weird enough that, like me, they were one of the only groups who liked him).

I spent much time in high school trying to fit in to various groups, the Christians being one of the more accepting. But I’m not a Christian, any more than I was a punk or a goth or a wiccan. I have some deeply held beliefs about gods and the nature of the universe, but I don’t want to discuss them here. Suffice it to say that I realized by the time I was about seventeen that I didn’t really want to subscribe to any specific religious order.

I still have many Christian friends – although they’re outnumbered by metalheads now – but although we disagree on religion, we share many other things in common.

I first came across Christian Metal in high school, when I started hanging around Christians in a big way. I was also heavily into metal at this time, and after my sister downloaded Kazaa onto our family computer, I was deseperately downloading every metal song I could find.

One of the local churches attended by many of my friends used to run a youth group every Friday night, and I would go on occasion. Some of the boys spotted my Metallica shirt and launched into a discussion about music. They said they liked metal too and started naming all these bands I’d never heard of, and at that stage I knew quite a lot about metal. My relationship with Christian metal had begun.

I looked up all the bands I could remember when I got home, and found them all terrible – the same nu metal drivel they played on the radio, but with happy-go-lucky lyrics about being saved. This wasn’t real metal. I remained unimpressed.

My second boyfriend (during my first years at uni) was a Christian, and I spent some time in his church, although I stopped going quickly because I disliked the more modern, evangelistic style and some of it’s biblical interpretations. I was studying Ancient Greek at the time and would love to have had a discussion about some of the bible text, the way my old Catholic priest encouraged, but this didn’t seem to be the done thing. I also disliked the silly, deliberately “modern” alternative rock music and the 40 minute lectures.

My then-boyfriend and some of his friends listened to a few Christian metal bands, and Christian hard-rock bands. He introduced me to Mortification, who remain to this day my only known example of an actual decent Christian metal band. As I got more deeply involved in metal culture, I met more and more Christians anxious to “bring me back” with suggestions of Christian metal. And I’ll give any band a chance, but none of it has ever impressed me.

Christian metal is also talked about on metal forums, which I used to frequent. Opinion divides between two camps: Christians who are metalheads, or metalheads who identify as Christians, who like Christian metal, and metalheads who are strongly against any kind of Christian metal. Their reasons are threefold:

1. Metal is the music of rebellion. Metal music primarily comes from young, middle class white males in predominantly Christian cultures. Metal speaks for generations of kids who don’t want to blindly conform to “Christian” ideals forced upon them by parents and schools. Many of these metalheads have dealt with extreme cases of prejudice and abuse in the name of metal. The idea of Christianity – whom they consider their enemy – corrupting something they hold dear sickens them. They consider it usurpation of their culture for the purpose of brainwashing people. They call it cultural misappropriation, and I can’t say I blame them.

(I’m not saying Christian ideals are bad, just that people want to be able to make up their own minds about whether they’re right for them or not.)

2. Metal deals with two main subsets of lyrical themes: larger-than-life, epic, fantasy type-themes (like slaying dragons, “fighting” for metal and shagging your way across barbarian Europe), and intense human emotions (fear, anger, pain, regret, hatred, rage).

Christian metal rarely falls into the first subset, as these “epic” themes tend to come from metal’s love of heathen, “barbarian” history and mythology, which they’re routinely tried to eradicate from the course of history. So Christian metal usually attempts to fall into the second category, but falls short because, in acknowledging a higher power, a person tends to deny their own power to influence their own future. Metal needs power – the power to stand up for what you believe in, the power to turn it up to eleven. Songs about relinquishing power just don’t appeal.

3. The majority of Christian metal just plain isn’t any good. This prejudices metalheads against it, because if you say you like Christian metal they are going to assume you have terrible taste in music (and they’re probably right ☺).

Promoting a religion, at its core, includes the practice of discriminating against other religions. This is as true for songs promoting Satanism, bhuddism, deism, or Antidisestablishmentarianism. The very nature of embracing a religion involves the denial of the others. Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing – it’s certainly a very unique thing. And it’s not unique to religion, either. Does not embracing the metalhead subculture involve the shunning of emo?


Stryper - you'll be learning about them tomorrow :)

I noticed when I used to attend youth group and the church with my old boyfriend, there was a real fad of using youth culture to “convert” youth. I didn’t want to go and tell people about the bible, because I had been given no opportunity to fully understand it myself. I hadn’t been given any opportunity to “study” it in any kind of depth. Sure, there was lots of role-playing and group work, but it approached the bible from a “we already know the answers” point of view. I remember attending a bible-study meeting one night and I sparked a huge debate because I had a differing opinion on the text than everyone else. My opinion was essentially invalidated because I hadn’t been studying the bible since I was seven, like the others. I never went back.

Some might argue that metal has its own culture of conversion. We have hundeds of songs praising the glory of metal and essentially arguing why metal is the best form of music. But these songs aren’t written to bring more people to metal – they’re written for the people already here, to celebrate this wonderful world we’ve created. They are the metalhead equivalent of “worship” songs. They’re for us, not for the potential acolytes. No one’s going to listen to “Kings of Metal” and suddenly say “that’s it! I am now a metalhead.”

Essentially, “White Metal” is a marketing ploy, designed to repackage Christianity with distortion depals and double bass and growly vocals to make it palatable for metalheads. But as a marketing tactic, it’s ill-conceived and poorly executed – metalheads are sticklers for authenticity – they want to feel insense human emotion, they want music to give them power, not take it away. Promoting Christianity in a metal song ultimately alienates the majority of people who might be potentially interested in the song. Metalheads are put off by the Christianity, Christians by the metal. “White Metal” targets the wrong audience.

If you stop to look, metal actually has a long history of utilizing Christian themes and myths. Listen to Black Sabbath’s “After Forever”? I’ve heard songs like that sung in church. Old Testament bible stories inspire hundreds of metal songs.

After all, a large part of traditional metal (and I include power metal here, too) is about larger-than-life, epic stories. Musicians draw on various mythologies, including those they learned about in their youth. Most of these songs approach these myths as just that, myths which create inspiration of epic soundscapes.

So is it only okey to sing about Christianity in metal if you DON’T believe it?

Much of metal – and I’m talking extreme metal here – is about raw emotions, the dangerous ones lurking beneath the surface. Christians feel pain and hatred and anger and fear too. I bet lots of our favorite metal songs are actually written by people who consider themselves Christians (but don’t wish this to be overt), as well as many other religions. Once you get past all the silliness, emotions are universal. Saying to someone “Don’t write metal songs because you’re a Christian, and you don’t belong” is about as un-metal as you can get. Anyone belongs in metal, that’s the point.

I do believe, and I say this whenever I review a band, that when one listens to music, you should take do what you can to discard it from its context, and simply attempt to enjoy and analyse it for what it is. I know this is a contentious point, as my love for Burzum (the music, not the man) has shown. Some would argue separating context and text are impossible, and they’re probably right, but I think you should try. Tomorrow, I’ll be attempting just this, but conducting a no-hold’s barred review of five Christian metal albums in my collection.

Modern Christian youth culture has its own share of cliques and subcultures. I wonder what it is like to be in an overt Christian metal band nowadays. I remember my ex-boyfriend telling me stories of Mortification back in the day, when fights would break out at their concerts between Christians and non-christians. I certainly don’t see that nowadays – metalheads tend to keep their negative opinions for online forums and Facebook flames, and the concert scene is better for it.

Or is white metal not actually for metalheads at all? I certainly don’t hear of white metal bands on metal radio, or discussed on metal blogs or forums (except derisively). Is it that White Metal actually caters for Christians who want more extreme music that fits into their worldview. Is it metal for people who want blastbeats without satan?

With the rise of local metal scence throughout the more, more diverse cultures and religions are redefining metal’s themes and finding new meaning in extreme music. I remember the musicians from the Indian band Kryptos, in Global metal, explaining how one of their band members was hindu, one Christian and one muslin, but this didn’t matter. “The music unites us.” I think that’s the wisest comment yet.

With authenticity, comes solidarity. I ultimately believe metal is a force for good in the world. Metal unites people and gives them a positive force in their lives, whatever their social, political, cultural or religious leanings. Any metal band, Christian or otherwise, who attempt to use metal to promote one viewpoint to the denial of all others, won’t find much favor here.

What say you, readers? How has your relationship with Christianity – or another religion, political or cultural group – impacted your opinion on “White Metal”? Who do you think is ACTUALLY the audience for white metal?

If anyone can recommend any GOOD Christian metal bands, please list them below (My metal mixtape is looking a little sparse). If not, tell me your favourite songs using Christian mythology or your favorite bands with Christian members.

Super Snuggles and Shoggoth Kisses

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