Christian Metal: History, Ideology, Scene
If there is one musical genre that is so misaligned, so seemingly contradictory, it’s Christian Heavy Metal. It’s not hard to understand why it would be so easily dismissed; its roots come from a form of rebellion that embraced Satanic imagery, symbolism, and the text of Satanic practitioners such as Anton LaVey. That many of these practitioners are simply playing a role for monetary gain is irrelevant; their acts are often taken quite seriously by its followers. It’s easy to understand, then, why absolutely nobody would take Christian Metal seriously as a genre.
But to ask a painful yet honest question: why should anyone take Christian Metal seriously? Those Christians who participate and enjoy art and entertainment are going to balk at it, because they will look only at the superficiality of the music in comparison with secular Heavy Metal. Metal fans aren’t going to take it seriously, because it seems a painful mockery of the genre of music that they love, tempered with the milquetoast imitation of popular culture that Christianity has often indulged (A recent case in point: the band Citizens’ “Made Alive,” which sounds painfully like a verbatim rip-off of Modest Mouse’s hit song (and video) “Float On.”)
For his text Christian Metal: History, Ideology, Scene, Marcus Moberg has a hard row to hoe, because of the obscurity of Christian metal, and the minimal respect the genre receives, but it’s to his credit that he scours the world and the internet in search of this disrespected, neglected musical style. And it is a diaspora, in spite of brief flurries of mainstream successes, American metal band Stryper was the face of Christian metal in the 1980s, being unapologetic practitioners of the faith, while offering a sound comparable to Van Halen and Poison.
When the hair metal scene was effectively brought to an end thanks to the Nirvana revolution, metal changed into something darker, much more aggressive, and much more negative. Death Metal and Black Metal became quite popular, as well as Nu Metal—all of which would focus less on Satanic themes and more on negativity, destruction, Armageddon, and self-loathing, tempering their sound with an appearance of darkness, relying on pancake base and mascara to create a pale, death-like appearance. Considering that Christian Metal bands in these genres often addressed the same issues, it has been relatively easy for some of these bands to pass, and lyrical content isn’t revealed as overtly unless sought out by the listener.
And yet, Christian Metal changed with the times. According to Moberg, this change actually could and did prove beneficial to the Christian Metal scene; a Christian musician could indulge in fantasy, apocalyptic visions, and discussions of final battles without necessarily having to address their personal beliefs overtly within their lyric, while not having to worry about being outed as Christian. Some bands did achieve more commercial success, even as they would often remain very cagey about their faith and their beliefs.
Of course, not everyone in the Christian community has bought into the logic of Christian Metal; after all, it seems that the trappings are still being used, even if the message is not the same. Nor can one fault the true believers who take it upon themselves to make Christian Metal, because such is not an easy road to take, spreading the Gospel in a style that is commercially unviable and critically and culturally rejected. Unlike other aspects of Christian music—which has a notorious history of acts posing as Christian in order to get rich quick—there’s not a market demand for Christian Metal.
Christian Metal is an interesting and necessary look into a musical scene that has been ignored, misunderstood, and misaligned. Kudos to Moberg for undertaking what surely was a daunting task, resulting in a fascinating document about the history and culture of Christian Metal.