Metal and religion: sworn enemies or friends with benefits?

Is enjoying heavy metal at odds with being religious, or are they just misunderstood friends? Well, plenty of people seem to think the former must be true: “How can you listen to music like that, didn’t you say you were a Christian?!”

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had that reaction from friends, mostly followed by them either taking the piss out of me for my love of metal or my being vaguely religious, and recently it has got me wondering – what is the place of religion in metal? It’s no surprise that a lot of metal is pretty anti-religious, seeing as metal is more largely anti-conformist, and it’s not difficult to find anti-religious sentiments spread throughout the genre, from the more subtle references to the openly satanic ‘Antichrist Superstar’ by Marilyn Manson or ‘Shepherd of Fire’ from Avenged Sevenfold.

Is it okay for metal to rubbish religion? I’m all game for freedom of speech, but something does seem wrong about demeaning people just because of their religion. I love metal’s ‘fuck you and fuck what you think’ attitude, even when it’s aimed directly at religion, but only when it’s used in a positive way. “Fuck what you think, this is how we are and we like it” – this is the sort of message that unites fans and makes people feel accepted. I shudder to say it, but it’s the sort of message that has been so successful for Black Veil Brides. When it’s just discriminatory the message only succeeds in being insanely hypocritical – “fuck religion for being intolerant and aggressive”. If you’re going to be totally intolerant of intolerance and aggressive towards aggression, then you’re headed for chaos. Have people learned nothing from Martin Luther King?!

Turn it around though, and you can argue that it’s equally unfair for religion to rubbish metal – it’s the same hypocritical stereotyping and alienation. I vaguely remember the previous pope coming out and saying that all heavy metal and the like was sinful – a pretty stupid and unfair thing to say. Especially since, to tip the scale back, there are quite a few well supported and (relatively) successful Christian metal bands out there: The Devil Wears Prada, Underoath and August Burns Red to name a few. There’s no reason that metal and religion need to be at odds with each other.

Religion isn’t and shouldn’t be untouchable and music is a good avenue to criticise and support it, without having to be extreme and hate-mongering either way. A good current example of this is Architects’ ‘Broken Cross’ – which guitarist Tom came out to defend after it was roundly criticised by certain people of a religious persuasion: “To say ‘Religion is rubbish’ or ‘God is bad’ would be rather reductive, wouldn’t it? Let’s face it, religion is an unimaginably multifaceted beast, there’s plenty of good guys and bad guys”. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

I’m going to go ahead and repeat a little more of what Tom said, because he really hits the point I’m trying to make: “For millions (probably billions) I’ve no doubt that religion serves as a peaceful influence in their lives and that’s fantastic! But the moment others are outcast for their race, gender, sexuality and yes, even religion – well that just gets my goat. And I have no apologies for being upset about that.” The same goes for metal. There shouldn’t be any place in this world for marginalising and discriminating against people just because of who they are and the life they live.

So what am I saying? Simply, don’t be a dick and just be happy with your fellow earth dwellers. That’s not said as a Christian, or as a metal-er, just as common-fucking-sense. Another great example of this message, delivered by a band who I’m much happier to talk about than Black Veil Brides, is from Bury Tomorrow. When I happily moshed around at one of their gigs in Liverpool, screamer Dani Winter-Bates took the time between songs to tell everyone to just be happy and appreciative: “You can tell me you love Bieber and I’ll still shake your hand”. I think we can all agree, that’s pretty bloody tolerant.

Like any art, metal is there as freedom of expression – it can criticise religion and I can still enjoy it, just as I can enjoy ‘Mutter’ by Rammstein, even though I get on pretty well with my own mother. Stereotyping and aiming to be offensive to any group is out of order though – we can make quality music without needing to be dicks to each other.