Christian Metal Music is a strange apparition in modern popular culture. Very few thought systems seem to oppose metal music culture as much as Christianity. In a music culture highly defined by notions of individual freedom, exemplified through various forms of transgressions of more or less all codes of good Christian conduct, it can seem surprising that a subgenre such as Christian Metal can survive within the culture itself.
What many may not be aware of is that Christian mythology, iconography, and symbolism are omnipresent in metal music lyrics, on album covers and band merchandise. But this is nothing special. Metal music culture has a long tradition for borrowing from a vast array of mythologies. From Norse, ancient Greek, Sumerian or Egyptian mythology, to artificial mythologies like H.P Lovecraft´s Cthulhu mythos, the mythologies seem to rear their scary heads wherever you look in metal music culture. And the case is no different with Christian mythology. It is safe to say that no metal musician – or in the least very few – actually truly believes that Cthulhu one day will awaken from his slumber on the ocean floor to destroy planet Earth, and the mythology is therefore used only as a literary backdrop for band concepts. Christianity – and Satanism – are used in different ways.
Just as there is an abundance of metal bands using Satanist symbols – see for instance the Norwegian Black Metal wave of the 1990s, where for the most part Satanism was all play – an abundance of bands use Christian symbols without identifying as Christian at all. One famous example is Metallica, who in their classic Creeping Death of the Ride the Lightning album (1984) simply retold the tale of the Plague of the Death of the Firstborn from the Exodus, but on the other hand also on their Black Album (1991) took a negative stance against Christianity with The God that Failed. The critique of Christianity and the retelling of – often the bloodiest – tales from the Bible seem to make sense from a metal music perspective, the former as an uproar against conformity and conservatism, the latter as a use of mythology as pure and highly graphic inspiration. As a side note, it is interesting that Metallica on their Ride the Lightning album also has a song inspired by the Cthulhu mythology, and the song For Whom the Bell Tolls, of course inspired by the Ernest Hemingway novel. This juxtaposition of a literary work, an artificial, and an ancient mythology (in their own rights literary works as well) says all about how mixed or fragmented the lyrical concepts of metal music can be.
There are, actually, quite a lot of bands who are Christian in the truest sense of the word. These White Metal bands, as they are called, not only showcase their belief through their lyrics, but also through onstage gestures. Instead of the so often used devil’s horns hand sign, Christian metal bands have their own hand sign pointing to the heavens with one sole index finger.
Even if these true Christian metal bands have often been ridiculed over the years within metal music culture (a distancing to all established official religions has been a defining part of the metal ethos since the inception of the culture), one might ask if these Christian bands aren’t metal in a double sense. If the norm of metal culture is performative rebellion and constantly advocating free thought, often transgressing to hedonism, anarchy, and chaos, isn’t it being more metal than metal to go against this norm?
Words: Johnny Harboe
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu