My good friend Ben Pakula and I are presently working on an album of Christian hymns rearranged as Heavy Metal songs. We’ve called it Church Metal Project. We’re both enjoying arranging and playing hymns in a style of music that we enjoy.
Not only that, but we believe that heavy music has a unique capacity to express the conviction and emotion of Christian beliefs in song. God has given us a variety of musical styles to enjoy and to praise him with.
Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.Psalm 150
The Psalm calls for the loudest, boldest, most passionate and energetic praise of God that human voices and instruments can muster. We are to celebrate God’s goodness with conviction and enthusiasm. Heavy metal is very well suited to all of this!
Some are concerned that Metal is simply too loud for a setting like congregational singing. But that is to mistake tone for volume. Most over-amplified church music is pop and soft-rock. Whatever the tone of the music, we should turn the band down enough that we can hear the church sing. In church the most important instrument in the room is the congregation’s collective voice. Musical accompaniment ought to facilitate and complement singing, not compete with it. So…
But isn’t heavy metal evil?
Some Christians think so. A lot of Metal sounds very aggressive and angry, and evokes dark themes and imagery. Some wonder if it is demonic.
So: how can you combine Metal & Christian hymns?
It’s very simple:
- The Bible says that all of creation was made for Jesus (Colossians 1:16).
- That means that music was made for Jesus.
- And that means that Heavy Metal was made for Jesus.
But wait a minute! Whilst human beings and music were made for Jesus, Genesis 1-2 presents human beings as being created with enormous choice and the ability to create art and culture. Music isn’t made directly by God; it is made by God’s creatures. So after sin enters in (Genesis 3) we begin to use music sinfully. Isn’t it possible, therefore, that forms of culture and art that sinful humans create might be sinful through-and-through, and thus unfit for Jesus? How can Christians co-opt a genre of music that is (arguably) fundamentally non-Christian?
I’ll answer that in a couple of ways. First, I’ll focus on what heavy metal music is about, and secondly by showing how metal is part of God’s good creation.
What is Heavy Metal music about?
Heavy Metal music is about a lot of things. That’s true of most genres, though most also have dominant themes. Rap is about gang violence, rock is about drunkenness, opera is about murder, country is about everything breaking or getting lost (pretty tame in comparison), and pop music is about sex. That’s my perception anyhow.
Heavy Metal also has a number of common negative themes. There is plenty of metal that celebrates Satan, violence, torture, and every kind of nasty, unpleasant thing you can think of.
On the other hand, a lot of metal is heavily influenced by the fantasy genre, especially the mythology of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. Metal sounds bold, aggressive, and epic, so it fits easily with fantasy themes. Witness various covers of Blind Guardian albums:
But then there are uglier images and associations. Metal often draws on horror themes: vampires, ghouls, skeletons, and the undead. It’s quite reasonable to consider Iron Maiden’s mascot “Eddie” unpleasant:
However if you see an Iron Maiden performance you realise that Eddie is actually a very comical figure. Often the themes and lyrical content of metal are pretty silly. (Or “awesome”. You decide). But its also easy to see how metal can descend into bad taste or even outright celebration of death and evil.
If any of this appears to condemn the metal genre then you should recall that pop-music has varying degrees of wholesomeness too. What metal typically does with themes of death and fantasy, pop-music does with sex. Some of the most vulgar sexual images in our world are pop-music album covers and music videos (not to mention lyrical content). If we are going to condemn an entire genre by its worst examples, I suspect that pop-music would be the first to go.
Alternatively we could simply recognise that every musical style can be directed to both good and bad uses. All genres have songs/artists that should be avoided. If you personally dislike metal (or any other genre of music) that’s fine. However it is very important that we don’t spiritualise our personal preferences.
Creation is Good, so Metal is Good
Let’s return to our original question. How can we know that metal is a fundamentally good thing fit to serve God with?
Answer: because its part of God’s world. I previously asked the same kind of question about Halloween, another product of human culture that many Christians at least suspect that they ought to reject. Do it’s historical connections with demonic spirituality make it wrong for Christians to engage with Halloween today? I observed that in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul teaches that food sacrificed to idols is not spiritually unclean. The food is still good; it has just been put to immoral use. The same applies to Halloween and to music. God gives us good things (like harvest, celebration, imagination, and music) but we often misuse them. These things are still good in themselves. At very least, everything bad in creation is made up of good components.
Consider the following. Danny Carey, the drummer for the band Tool, is deeply interested in occult symbols and rituals. He puts pentagram symbols on his drums and projects that kind of spiritual conviction (though I don’t know what he believes personally). Obviously Christians must never be involved in the occult. However, does that mean that Danny Carey’s drumming is, in itself, evil? No, of course not. No more than food offered to idols in sacrifice is defiled (1 Corinthians 8). His skill and musical accomplishments as a drummer are good gifts of God which are (sadly) being misdirected. How Christians should engage with his music raises a number of other issues – but the point is that good music is good music even if it is misused.
This shouldn’t be surprising. It’s simply what Genesis 1 says. God made everything and saw that it was ‘good’. God hasn’t changed his mind on this. The problem is that human-beings corrupt and misuse music by devoting God’s good creation to immoral ends. Ever since Adam and Eve idolatrously followed the voice of Satan rather than that of God, humanity has followed that path in every area of life. We direct our work and culture toward’s Satan’s ways rather than God’s ways (Ephesians 2:1-3). Demon worship isn’t a heavy-metal problem; it’s a human-sin problem.
We have no Christian basis to reject any style of music as fundamentally sinful. Music is good. We will inevitably consider some music superior to other music. We are even free to consider some music as barely musical (I do!). But no music is simply a product of human evil. It’s a good gift of God, used with varying degrees of skill, according to different human preferences, and to express a wide range of ideas and devotions.
So let’s use Heavy Metal to bring glory to God!