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.

Review: TwoBeatsOff at Download 2013

Traditionally, I do big reviews of whatever festivals I’ve been to that summer. I’ve done Reading since TBO’s inception. I’ve done a few mini ones across the UK. I’ve never done Download in its full glory before. For that reason, and for others which will become clear, it’s kind of impossible to give it the same treatment. Did I watch a lot of bands? Well, yes. I certainly didn’t approach it in the same way as other festivals though. So this isn’t a review – it’s more like a retelling, a recreation. In essence, it’s a glorified blog post, but people make money out of that these days. Any remorse that I have is buried under my filthy festival lanyard.

I rocked up on the Thursday on a ridiculously late coach. In all fairness, this wasn’t Big Green Coach’s fault, and their operators on the other end dealt with my panicky self very helpfully. The return journey is another thing entirely, but we’ll get to that later. Fuelled by caffeine and sausage rolls, I hauled my camping gear through the Village and into the White campsite to discover that I was the first out of my friends to arrive and proceeded to set up. Have I told you that I hate camping before? I probably have, but just in case – I hate it. I especially hate festival camping, with its lack of viable showers, the people roaming around the campsite yelling ‘BUTTSCRATCHER!’ until about 6am and the fact that I never drive so I can’t bring an airbed and end up with a rock in my back at some point. It’s not cool. This festival, I was a total dumbass and only brought half a tent, so my Download experience began with me sitting on top of my rucksack, my head in my hands, deflecting blame onto my sister and father for not putting the tent away properly and swearing lots. Eventually, the rest of the team showed up and I went with Kate to go and buy a tent for the extortionate price of £50. I made sure it was purple to compensate for my fuck up, because what do I do when I’m in a bit of a jam? Accessorise. Surprisingly, the two man wasn’t that shabby. We built a gazebo. Beers were consumed. (still edge, in case you were wondering). New people were met. It was nice and chilled, and I don’t just mean the temperature. I can’t go to one of these things without a stupid amount of stress normally; there’s always some catastrophe, or it’s raining like mad, or I get panicky about something because I’m a hotbed of social anxiety when it suits me. This time was really great though, and perhaps it’s the huge difference in attitude to other places I’ve been to. I’m not saying that metalheads can’t be elitist pricks – they can be the biggest of them all, but it stems from a passion that indie hipsters just don’t have a handle on. And the less flowery headbands I have to see, the better.

Friday was for one thing, and one thing only – HIM. Throughout my adolescence, I became obsessed with the Finnish five piece. From 2002-2008, they rivalled AFI in my affections. I still can quote the entirety of the HIM vs Bam DVD verbatim, and do so far too often with Kate. And yet unlike her, I kind of grew out of HIM. I was disappointed by Dark Light and subsequently didn’t dig Venus Doom that much, I dove deeper and deeper into Midwestern beard punk and I went through a massive break up – the significance being was that HIM was the reason that we connected in the first place. HIM became a relic for me, albeit a fond one, and I placed their albums with the reverence they deserved back onto the shelf. Kate never quit though and she arguably boasts one of the biggest HIM collections in the UK. The girl ordered twelve different versions of Tears On Tape. TWELVE. Just let that sink in. When we found out that they were doing a signing… sweet Jesus. The arena opened at midday, we went straight to the signing tent, we queued for four hours in the pouring rain. I was kind of nervous though. What could I say to Ville Valo, the man who sang the soundtrack to my teenage emotions? To Linde, who was the reason that I chose an SG for my first guitar? In the end, with Kate quaking behind me, I was ridiculously polite, but to Ville, I said in what can only be described as a vaguely sleazy tone, “‘Iya Ville, y’alright? Looking forward to the set later, it’s been a while.” I regret nothing. They were lovely gentlemen. I met some really fantastic people in the queue, even if I felt like a bit of a charlatan stood next to them. These were kids whose favourite band ever was HIM – and I certainly wasn’t a lifer. With a signed copy of Razorblade Romance clutched in my grubby mitts, we headed straight for the Pepsi Max stage.

I got the opportunity to check out some new bands that afternoon as we waited for the HIM set. In This Moment, a female fronted metal band with some crazy stage set ups and costume were there when we arrived. The dress was a little bit Lady Gaga, but if there’s one thing I love about metal, it’s the pageantry. Sweaty boys in sweaty basements are definitely my thing, but sometimes, you just need to go all out, and In This Moment were certainly a lot of fun. Turisas’ self-styled ‘battle metal’ proved to be just as compelling. Sometimes, you just need songs about being a Viking. The kids liked it anyway – a little boy who couldn’t have been more than about eight sat proudly on his dad’s shoulder, battleaxing to every song. Hero. I was pleasantly surprised by Motionless In White, having previously dismissed them as ‘scene trash’ akin to Black Veil Brides. However, their specific brand of metalcore is heavy with synths and light on the bullshit. Lead vocalist Chris Cerulli looks much better in a skirt than I do, and their live performance has an energy that’s infectious. To use my dad’s classic catchphrase (note: you have to say it in a Cumbrian accent), ‘great stuff!’ I shamefully had never seen Converge live before Download, and it was a decision that I immediately regretted. Jake Bannon and co have an intensity that’s hard to capture and even harder to channel – those time signatures were not made for headbanging – but is impossible to take your eyes and ears off. These guys were the pioneers of metalcore, and they showed everyone how it was done.

I never did see HIM that many times in my youth. Twice – once at Ozzfest at Download in 2005 and then on the Dark Light tour in 2006. It felt so good to sing along to songs I had forgotten I loved. Less talkative than I’ve seen them before, but no less charismatic, they went for a setlist filled with classics as well as newer material. The best thing though, asides from the rugs on the floor and the mirrorball, was the inclusion of It’s All Tears (Drown In This Love). Arguably my favourite HIM song, I was screaming along like a right little fangirl. Having cut down on the cigarettes somewhat, Ville instead took to playing an acoustic for a lot of the set. The more frequent inclusion of acoustic elements in their tracks is a direction that I’m really liking, and I’ll definitely be picking up Tears On Tape when I’ve got some spare cash to flash. My camera is filled with more pictures of HIM than of anything else, and skipping through the half blurred shots, I stumble upon one of Ville with a look of deep contemplation on his face and it just sums the whole set up completely – HIM are ready to take back the throne. I’m excited for the autumn tour, to say the least.

We decided that we’d take Saturday fairly easy. There would be sitting – we had stood up for a total of about thirteen hours without taking a break the day before. Do you remember when you were sixteen, and you’d get to the venue about five hours early, queue so that as soon as the doors opened, you’d run and get to the front centre barrier and it wouldn’t even cause you to think twice? I don’t really, as the searing pain in my calves indicated. One thing that Download made me realise is that I need to get back to the gym. Oh boy. We spent a rainy morning in the tent reading Pick Me Up and doing the arrow-words while battering a packet of Jaffa Cakes. What can I say? There was nothing great on until later. Our first band of the day was Empress. They weren’t too shabby. Your basic kind of alt-rock, slightly Muse influenced but with a heavier edge. They all looked so young! Heart Of A Coward were typically raucous and bouncy. I wonder if all hardcore/deathcore bands get their banners and graphics designed by the same person, because they all look the same except with different letters. Either way, lots of heavy breakdowns, lots of fun. Bury Tomorrow carried on that theme, and it’s easy to see why they’ve had so much praise heaped their way lately. Slamming their way through a stellar set with lots of energy and a knack for killer hooks, they had the crowd pleading for more at the end of their set – the first time I’d seen that weekend. Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats have a very 70s feel. Stoner doom with a touch of rock and roll, they were loud. There was a lot of bass. It’s great chill out stuff, but not necessarily the kind of thing you’re that enthused about seeing at a festival. Chthonic were a total surprise. The Taiwanese metallers had brought a mini Thai orchestra with them and proceeded to hammer out anthem after anthem, all while dressed up like space age warriors. Because why the hell not? My highlight of the Saturday, and indeed, one of my highlights of the whole festival, were Kvelertak. I’d been introduced to them in passing a few months prior; they’d appeared in someone’s Spotify notifications on Facebook and I’d thought ‘huh, why not’. The best way to describe Kvelertak is to imagine Andrew WK singing in Norwegian with less piano and more black metal. It’s party rock with a terrifying intensity. Vocalist Erlend Hjelvik showed up with no shirt and a freaking owl helmet, and was diving into the crowd at every opportunity. That’s not to say that the rest of the band weren’t rocking out just as hard, but they didn’t quite have the same disregard for personal safety. The next morning, my bangover (you know, that horrible neckache you get the morning after a night of proper headbanging) was in full force, but it was so, so worth it. And then we went back to the tent because we give no fucks about Iron Maiden. Sorry, Bruce, I like your son better.

Sunday was hot. And I had donuts for breakfast. These are two excellent things. We went to the arena early to catch The First. The King’s Lynn five piece are well on their way to greatness, combining their wonderfully melodic and layered take on pop-laced post-hardcore with an absolutely explosive performance. Especially well done as it was proper early. Nice one, lads. We decided to do a bit of festival shopping before winding our way back into the crowd for Five Finger Death Punch. I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan. If the vocals didn’t have any clean bits, then maybe, but they have too many so I’m generally like ‘whatevz.’ However, lead singer Ivan did pull up a bunch of kids – and I mean kids no older than 12 – on stage who sat there flipping the bird and singing along to every word, and I couldn’t help but think that was pretty cool. But they’re no Parkway Drive. I fucking love Parkway Drive. I have ever since the Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em EP, and it’s been an absolute pleasure watching them rise and rise. Atlas was totally my favourite album last year and if you’ve never been to a Parkway show, then I implore you – get on that. It’s always a ridiculous amount of fun. The band themselves are flawless – every note is dead on, every drum beat is precise, Winston McCall’s vocals are just as brutal as on record. And they do it all with a massive smile on their faces. We didn’t really watch Stone Sour. We ate pulled pork sandwiches and I complained about how Corey Taylor didn’t know what he was doing with his hair. (For the uninitated, one time when we were coming back from a night out, in all seriousness, I announced “So, Corey Taylor has long hair when he’s in Slipknot and short hair when he’s in Stone Sour. This is a conscious decision. Right? Right?” For the record – still straight edge.) I had my mind kind of blown by Ghost. I wasn’t expecting a parade of dudes in massive black cloaks, and then a singer dressed up like some kind of satanic reverse Pope. And I certainly wasn’t expecting doom and black influenced metal with some proper soulful vocals and a ton of synths. But I liked it. I liked it a lot. I didn’t like it enough to purchase the special edition of Infestissumam with the butt plug, but enough to plump for the regular one. Sorry, Papa Emeritus. We hung out on the grass while Airborne yelled loudly – they’re alright, and highly preferable to AC/DC because there are no twenty minute long guitar solos, but it’s not really for me. Neither are A Day To Remember, no matter how hard I try to like them. Theoretically, they’re my ideal band – they’re like New Found Glory but with heavier breakdowns. I just can’t get on with it though! That’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate their set at all – t-shirt cannons, toilet roll wars and the most insane display of crowdsurfing I’ve seen in years were all a lot of fun to witness. They clearly love what they do and a lot of other people love it too.

Limp Bizkit, on a scale of one to awesome, were the shit. From the minute Fred and co bounced out and slammed into the opening riff of Rollin’, it was clear that we were in for the best party of the weekend. And party we did. Throwing some serious shapes, Kate and I shook our booties through a classic Bizkit set. They even brought up a guy who sang on stage with them at Download FOUR YEARS AGO to do it again – and he picked Half Nelson. Hero. Otherwise, Break Stuff! Nookie! Faith! My Way! Take A Look Around! Fred Durst’s MASSIVE beard! Wes being cool as! Sam’s light up bass! SO MUCH TURNTABLE! How much more do you need to know how brilliant this was?! I don’t think I’ve had so much fun outdoors before. We missed most of Rammstein, but we got there just in time to see Till spraying some dude dressed up in BDSM gear with fake jizz. There was a small girl dancing on top of a bin that saw it as well. Aces.

If my Download experience had ended there, it would have been the best weekend ever. Alas, it didn’t, and I had to wait an hour and a half for my coach because Big Green Coach were so disgustingly disorganised. We could have left at least half an hour before we did, and after being loaded onto the wrong coach twice (!) and then missing my bus home because I got to my drop off ninety minutes late, I spent my Monday being ridiculously miserable. I guess that’s a lesson learnt – check your tent properly, drive there instead and potentially pack appropriate reading material. But otherwise, I think that Download will become my festival of choice. Varied enough to keep even the most sceptical rock fan happy and with a spirit of fun unlike any other, Download rocked pretty hard.

Radstock Festival 2013 – O2 Academy Liverpool, 30/3/13

On what was a rare sunny day in Liverpool, a brand new indoor music festival called Radstock was launched, seeing 24 bands playing across three stages in two rooms from 1pm to 11pm. With free Monster energy drinks handed out to the queue, 13 year old emo girls olds bouncing off the walls with excitement and slightly creepy older men watching them as they queue for a day long festival of rock, metal and punk; spring officially kicked into life.

The first band on the Big Deal Clothing stage came in the form of Gnarwolves. The set burst into life with a fast punk drumbeat, clean but shouted lyrics and a rumbling bassline, not to mention a few riffs here and there. There were a lot of abrupt changes of pace to fit the punk-esque style, but there were also some more pop-punk moments and even a slower softer song “because it was early in the day”. Apparently it was the earliest a band has played at the venue; whether or not that’s a compliment to the band is another matter entirely, but Gnarwolves delivered a strong set to warm up the assembling crowd.

Next up and first on the larger Monster Energy stage were Natives, injecting energy into the room with their brand of poppy, fist pumping, and sing-along rock. Thriving off crowd participation, Natives brought a thumping rock attitude with the catchy element of pop music. Respect where it’s due, this got the crowd more involved, seeing everybody kneeling down and jumping up for the chorus of the second song, not something you are used to seeing at 2 in the afternoon. A lot of the songs were very similar, in structure and deliverance, but that said, Natives clearly found a song-writing formula that worked for them and stuck with it, seemingly to the pleasure of the cheering crowd.

Drive By Night provided guitar dominated alt-rock, filled with rhythmic riffs, clean vocals and nice harmonies. It may have been their first ever show together as a band, but they proved that they are full of potential and have obvious technical ability, they were just lacking that something extra. There were no obvious faults to pick out, with the songs or their live performance; they just seemed to be lacking the extra ‘oomph’ that could make them a fans’ favourite.

Then, and controversially to some, I skipped the chance of seeing Sonic Boom Six to see Carcer City, recommended by a friend, on the Hardtimes stage. I wasn’t disappointed. With the first sign of rough vocals and a loud breakdown to bring the song in, the Carcer City show also saw the first pits of the day. Declaring themselves as ‘scouse metal’, the lead singer, Patrick Pinion, said that they were “here to bring the heavy”, and they truly brought it. Showing their diversity they also found a place for softer vocals and a more technical rhythmic song, before bringing back the crunching breakdowns with force and a solid drum dominated instrumental to round things off.

Back to the main room and Tantrum to Blind were the next band to play, with the first and only female lead singer of the day (that I saw any way), whose high-register vocals were more reminiscent of Versaemerge than Halestorm. But a lot of energy and a good stage presence came from the band who seemed used to handling the crowd.

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (RJSA) then lit up the main stage with a pitch perfect ‘False Pretence’, as the crowd started to grow and get progressively more involved. They delivered exactly the performance you’d expect from an experienced band with years on the circuit under their belt. Throughout the short set there was a great vocal performance and a raging guitar solo in ‘In Fate’s Hands’. The set was just long enough for all of the classics and a couple off the new record too, before fans’ favourite ‘Facedown’ rounded off the set with the crowd bouncing and a sense of nostalgia, since it was one of the songs that first got me listening to ‘real music’ as a young whipper snapper.

Light You Up were unfortunate to be sandwiched between RJSA and Yashin, receiving a lot less attention from the dispersing crowd than they deserved. Songs like ‘Without You Here’ crashed through with progressive riffs and pounding drums, keeping a lively tempo and showing that Light you Up deserved to be more than an interlude between bands on the mainstage.

By the time Yashin opened with a ferocious start, the biggest crowd of the night had assembled for breakdowns and head-banging aplenty. Despite the fact that they seem to pay as much attention to their scene hairstyles as their music, Yashin’s saving grace is that it is still fucking good music and bloody well performed live too. They showed the added bonus of two vocalists, one riling the crowd up as the other sings/screams, and the overall band chemistry and stage presence saw the teenage girls (and boys) in the crowd swoon. Those of us not falling in love with their emo/scene image could still appreciate Harry’s melodic and Kevin’s demonic vocals, the riffs ripping through each and every song and the drumbeat that feels like an earthquake resonating through the room. The crowd was kept glued to the main stage, with circle pits, walls of death and even spinning on the spot (no, really,) to keep the set fresh and interesting. Even Harry bringing his mum out on stage mid-song (a slower song, don’t worry) after she’d flown in for the show was a nice touch and received a big cheer. The first signs of crowd surfing from fans and band members alike showed that the set was a job well done and that the gauntlet had been thrown down for the later bands to follow.

The boys from Don Broco were next on the mainstage, opening with ‘Priorities’ and showcasing the walk, which is essentially synchronised marching/dancing on the spot by the vocalist, guitarist and bassist. A lot of energy was showcased by the band and the crowd, with the lads bouncing around the stage, talking to the crowd and making fans do push-ups in the middle of the floor before a wall of death. They even took time out to return a lost passport that had been handed in, but in classic Don Broco style they had to make a few jokes in doing it. Musically the distinctive vocals stand out as much live as on the record, with the funky base another stand out feature and a lot of sing-along opportunities.

Blitz Kids then came out onto the smaller balcony stage, bouncing and jumping, showing off riffs and a sweetly done guitar solo. Overall they boasted a very rhythmic sound, a show full of energy, and subtle changes in tempo helped to build up songs to a climax and slow them down in again in the verses. However a lot of the set was spoilt to some degree by the We Are The Ocean crew testing the equipment on the other stage, distracting the crowd and meaning “check, check, check,” ran over some of BK’s songs.

When WATO came on they delivered a strong set, but definitely too a tiring crowd. Despite a good mix of old and new, fast and slow songs, there were no pits or crowd-surfing. Perhaps WATO just aren’t as loved in Liverpool, or despite the strong riffs, mix of powerful live vocals and rock/pop-punk drums, maybe everyone was just getting tired?

There were more teething problems later as technical difficulties meant Bury Tomorrow were late onto the Hardtimes stage, cutting more into The Blackout’s headline show on the Monster Energy stage. When they finally managed to get on stage the lads were all very apologetic, promising a speedy and powerful set. This was a promise they lived up to with a heavy set and small but brutal pits. As I enjoyed taking part in most of the pits the whole set flew by in a haze, the three song combination of ‘Sceptres-Redeemer-Waxed Wings’ pumped the room with energy, fuelling some of the craziest pits and loudest cheers the stage must have seen all year, never mind all day. There was even time for the band to convey messages of being comfortable with and happy about who you are, I vaguely remember hearing “it’s okay to like Bieber, hey, JB has a couple of good songs”; but it was business as usual as the set ended with a blood-boiling rendition of ‘Royal Blood’.

Because of the overrun, I was very late to The Blackout, but arrived just in time for an onstage marriage proposal (she said yes, whoever they both were). However, I have been reliably informed that they were the regular cheeky chappies we are all used to, telling the crowd they’re shit, calling themselves pricks and even trying to make the fans face the back of the room for one song. All in all, standard material from The Blackout.

It was only the first Radstock Festival, but it was truly a classic. If this can be recreated again then it promises many more happy years of metal, rock and punk in Liverpool.