Religion in Metal --- Betraying the Martyrs

Ever since its humble beginnings, metal has demonstrated a blatant line between music and religion. Whether a band was singing about the devil, using an inverted cross of bones as a microphone stand, “sacrificing” women on stage, or even burning down the faithful’s houses of worship in the forests of Norway, there’s fair reason metal is looked down upon. At least that’s how it used to be. Fast-forward to present day and you’ll see the view on metal has gone from being the Devil’s spawn to viewed simply as noise. Why? Because bands have become popular that share religious values. From the old school Extol to upcoming crop of Betraying the Martyrs, 7 Horns 7 Eyes, and Impending Doom, the list is filled with many bands that make metal for a living but sing about their religion and that openly identify with their beliefs. More and more pop up every day, and you’ll even see entire tours filled with religious-affiliated bands; even Christian music festivals like Icthus and Cornerstone dedicate much of their lineup to heavier groups with a positive spiritual message. More often than not though, these bands will sometimes share stages with ones that are either openly non-religious or that don’t think religion is positive in any way. So why do we like bands such as these that have values that metal was really designed to go against?

For one, religious metal music is really for a specific, automatic, built-in audience. For someone raised in a conservative, religious household, metal music may not be what the parents find the “ideal” music for their child to listen to. However, if you say “Oh, they’re singing about God and Jesus, and here are their lyrics to prove it”, parents would let their children listen to it and the kids could still feel they get to experience metal like we do because it is religious. Ever read the lyrics to a 7 Horns 7 Eyes song? They go something along the lines of this: “To what end will our foolish ways lead? Shall we be consumed by your Holy wrath and reap our deserved fate? O my God, come down in power engulf this man in cleansing winds of Your unceasing mercy. Let adoration rise within me; liberate Your creation.” Those lyrics were taken from their song ‘Divine Amnesty’ from their debut album Throes Of Absolution, and it’s pretty black and white that these lyrics are about God. It doesn’t sound like on the surface, though, which is why kids love it; their parents let them listen, but it’s still heavy metal.

The other reason that many religious bands sprout up every other day is because there are a lot of fucked up kids in this world. It’s true. Maybe they had a hard life at home, addictions, etc. Whatever the case, they turned to religion to help turn their life around, and it worked. They attend their place of worship, they read their book of worship, but still feel the need to express their journey. Music is the best way to do this. Writing aggressive music gives the outlet of rage and anger and struggle, but combine that with lyrics about God and religion and it makes you feel whole and acts as a much needed catharsis. Many people I know are in great bands back home, and they are all religious in some way, shape or form.

Speaking from an Atheists point of view, I used to stay far away from religious music. I never wanted to have an idea shoved down my throat, for instance if I went to a concert of theirs and had to listen to the preach about God and their Savior and such. However, my opinion slowly changed over time, and now Underøath, August Burns Red, Oh, Sleeper, The Devil Wears Prada, and many more bands that sing about their selective religion occupy my iPod. I think what’s great about most of it is how the lyrics are mostly open for interpretation. While there are some bands that openly speak towards Jesus and God and the like, there are bands who write about it in a more metaphorical sense, and as a writer myself, I really can appreciate it. I can read lyrics for songs like ‘Meddler’ or ‘Leveler’ by ABR and interpret them how I want to, and not have them tell me what message to take from the lyrics. Their view may be different, but there is still something to gain.

There is one thing that I believe a band should NEVER do, despite affiliation. Preach. I saw For Today a year ago and they actually stopped the set for ten minutes to preach about how if we don’t accept Christ we will all lead lives lacking something. I also saw a death metal band, a local one, and they stopped for five minutes preaching about how Republicans are “assholes with huge assholes” and that God wasn’t real. Personally, I have no problem with expressing your beliefs, but make them succinct. I saw August Burns Red four times, and each time all they said was “We love you, we love Jesus  and we love that you’re all here tonight. God bless you all.” Similarly, if a band says “Fuck religion, but we still love you people”, it’s fine. Preaching does, however, subtract from the momentum of the show and ultimately may alienate the crowds. It’s best just to make it simple and then keep playing your music, because in all honesty, nobody came because you’re a Christian band or a Satanist band; they came because you play music they enjoy, and paid good money to hear you play it.

So don’t let a band that is religious be off-putting; you may find you love their music and attend their shows numerous times, and though you don’t believe what they do, you both share a bond between the music they create and play for you, and that is the most important thing to take away. So, to all my fellow Atheists who don’t listen to religious bands, try it. Go pick up a CD. Listen to it. Read the lyrics. Dig deep inside of yourself and find the true meaning of those lyrics to you. Experience what I did; I promise it will be worth it.

– SS

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