Circle Pit, Vol. I, January 2016: “Metal and Christianity”

Circle Pit is a new monthly series in which Nine Circles writers (and some guests) answer a question posed by our Masthead team. These questions can be serious, quirky or humorous. If you have any suggestions for questions we should cover please feel free to email us at ninecirclesblog@gmail.com. This month’s questions is:

Metal is heavily anti-christian and no one says a word about death and satanic imagery while NSBM and anti-Islamic metal gets lambasted. Why is that?

After the jump you will find a bunch of thought provoking answers from our team. As always your feedback is welcome. Cut the shit, start the pit!

Corey Butterworth: “When you study extreme metal and its ties to Christianity, you need to go back to the foundations of the genre. It is well understood that the first and second waves of black metal developed in conjunction with a lashing out on Christianity by the art. The music represented, for many, a rebellion towards what these artists and fans considered a suppressing and manipulative culture. At that time, this music was lambasted by virtually everyone not in this underground scene. Of course, this kind of lashing out on Christianity was virtually unprecedented, so the reaction was unsurprising to say the least. And the church burnings didn’t help anyone, as they were physical attacks and not simply words being screamed incoherently on a tape. Regardless, this is an aspect of the subculture that has been ingrained in the genre since the beginning for this reason. Fast forward a couple of decades, where the extreme anti-Christian music scene is as strong as it’s ever been, and there is a level of understanding that the two elements go hand in hand. That understanding, and acceptance, is one reason there is less backlash to the content than that of the more recent emergence of NSBM and anti-Islamic metal.
 
But there’s more to it than simply ‘it’s always been that way and it’s always going to be that way.’ When you look at present day North America and Europe, Christianity is the majority and anything non-white, non-Christian is considered a minority. Attacks on the majority raise fewer eyebrows because no matter what size the contingent, the attackers will always be viewed as weaker, which is why they are rebelling to begin with. The majority is strong enough to deal with it, frankly put. In this case, Christianity is the majority. They do not need to be defended against the content of black metal. Everything else, every other religion, at least in the areas we focus on, is a minority. Or they are at least viewed that way. Any aggression towards the minority will always, accurately or not, be viewed as an attack on the weaker, an attack on something that may not be big or strong enough in our culture to ‘deal with it.’ And finally, on a basic level, since Christianity is so prominent, the resistance to it will be greater, at least in our universe, because more of us can relate to it and formulate a stance on it. The more that hold the same stance, the less backlash you will see.
 

This is a subject that could eat up volumes of text. As far as my analysis goes on it, this is just the tip of the iceberg.


 
Dustin Grooms: “I think a major part of the death-filled and Satanic imagery in metal getting a pass has to do with the fact that much of it is tongue-in-cheek. At this point in metal’s history those themes are so predictable that we, as listeners, are desensitized to them. Death is inevitable for all of us, and for the most part, heavy metal’s brand of Satanism is about as serious as a National Lampoon movie, even the pseudo-metaphysical-I’m-so-smart crapola from bands like Deathspell Omega who use big scary words to cover their own insecurities (about their own drool-inducing masturbatory songwriting).
 

When it comes to NSBM and anti-Islamic metal, though, I think the sensitivities are heightened because of the historical connotations of anti-Semitism (for the former) and the current social context of discussion about Islam (for the latter). It’s easy to brush off a fallen angel who is fighting the man, maaan (or zombies). A dictator responsible for one of the worst genocides in global history? Not so much. On the anti-Islamic side, I think the tense conversation about anti-Islamic sentiment is very much a conversation of the West and is bred more by the fact that so much of what we understand about Islam is skewed by how we perceive events in the Middle East as portrayed by bias-confirming news outlets. And to add to all of this, metalheads exist on all parts of the political spectrum, and most of them are adamant in the belief that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. It’s difficult to stay out of politics in today’s metal landscape, period, and the scene’s wide aversion to NSBM and anti-Islam sentiment is only one of many manifestations of this.” 


Jaci Raia aka The Daæmoness: “For me, it’s pretty black and white. Basically I think metal acts as an avenue of escape for those who may reject things like organized religion, so therefore Satanist / anti-Christian themes in the art + lyrics resonate. There’s an inherent fantastical element to a lot of the music that makes it as satisfying as a good book to get absorbed in. On the other hand, NSBM / anti-Islamic bands specifically deal with actual darkness in our society that’s real and tangible. We read news articles about shit like that almost every day. Bottom line: it’s okay to hate an idea or a movement like organized religion, but when it comes to hating specific types of people, that’s where a lot of metal fans draw the line.”


Jeremy Hunt: “As a metalhead and a seminary student working towards a masters degree in theology and the arts, I absolutely love this question. I’m actually hoping to fashion some sort of a doctoral dissertation on the intersection between the heavier genres of music (metal, noise, hardcore, etc.) and the Christian faith once I start a Ph.D program (and yes, I’m being completely serious about all of this).

Why so anti-Christian, Metal? At the risk of offering a gross oversimplification, I honestly think that it has to do with the foundational “middle finger” appeal of metal to the powers that be, whether that’s the government, the “man,” your teachers, or your mom. For all intents and purposes, Christianity has enjoyed a long, long reign of power, at least in Western civilization, stretching back to Emperor Constantine’s conversion and subsequent endorsement of the Church back in the 300s. Since that time, Christianity has been a profoundly dominant faith.

Now if all of the Church’s followers throughout these past centuries actually upheld the teachings of Jesus, then we might not even be having this discussion. But unfortunately, with the power granted to (and sometimes taken by) the Church, there have been several periods of our history that have been downright evil: the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the endorsement of slavery in the American South, just to name a few.Speaking of the South, the Bible Belt was my home for most of my life (until a recent move to the West Coast) and I can speak from firsthand experience how relentlessly suffocating the more legalistic aspects of Christianity can be. Additionally, there have been plenty of conservative Christian leaders who have entered into the fray, accusing metal of being satanic, thus making it easier for metalheads who want to take potshots. What a fantastic topic for rebellion through art.As a result, I think Christianity is a perfect target for segments of the metal community as there are some genuinely bad elements of the faith that make it ripe for mockery and scorn. Obviously those bad elements don’t make up the entirety of the religion, so the metal world does risk being equally myopic and hateful towards the real believers who are trying to change the world for the better by clinging more faithfully to the teachings of Christ. Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that there are plenty of metal bands today (and in years past) that embrace the genre while also walking the Christian faith. It’s possible to have it all I suppose, but you have to be willing to risk derision from both sides.”


Jesse Degtyarov: “Simply put, imagery of satanism and death is often just that: imagery. There are very few metal bands out there, even in the BM subgenre, who see their anti-Christian posture as anything more than ‘shocking’ aesthetic prop. And even if the band members themselves don’t see it this way, most of the audience certainly does; it is easy to dismiss anti-Christianity and satanism as fantasies because there is little crossover with day-to-day reality. This fantasy is an essential part of metal for the many people who are only prepared to like the genre ironically, from a safe distance.NSBM, however, drags this shock value into the real world by using imagery that truly disgusts the majority of the audience. Even on just an aesthetic level, the sunwheel is much more powerful and mesmerising a symbol than the inverted cross. As such, the listener has a more difficult time dismissing the very real hate and militancy radiating from NSBM. And if we’re honest, most metalheads do not cherish any genuine hatred for this world or the people in it beyond casual, passive-aggressive quasi-misanthropy vented on social media. Anti-Islamic metal is more controversial because both the proponents and the opponents of Islam often make the mistake of treating muslims as an ethnic group rather than the religious group they are. And seeing as Arabs are often lumped in with so-called “oppressed groups” (especially in the US), targeting Islam is seen as ‘not nice’. Disdain for Islam also counters the “religion of peace” narrative which the powers that be try so hard to sell to us. In reality, this is a marketing phrase that surfaced relatively recently, and Islam actually is a violent religion formed by a band of despotic desert raiders. Which is quite metal when you think about it.”


Josh Thieler: “There are so many answers to this question. Jesus Himself said many times that those that follow Him should expect non-Christians to hate them and say all manners of blasphemy and slander against Christ, the Church, and Christians. I think a lot of us kind of expect non-believers to say hateful things against us and our beliefs. However, I feel thats kind of a cop-out at times.

A lot of people speak out against Christianity and have every right to do so. When Jesus said the world would persecute His followers, this does not really fall in the same context as people calling out those that claim His name and then act like a bunch of assholes. People are terrible and use Christianity as a means of tearing other people down. We are called to be ambassadors of Christ’s loving salvation, not ambassadors of condemnation. Too many people today twist the words of Christ to attempt to justify their own bigotry, selfishness, and hatred.

As a Christian myself, I see all the stuff that “followers of Jesus” are doing in His name and it pisses me off. I see people rallying to elect politicians in the hopes that they will make laws to force unbelievers to act like believers. I see the abominations under the guise of the Catholic church in horrific numbers sexually assaulting children. I see people waving flags with “God hates fags!” on them and picketing funerals. I see them attempting to keep refugees from being able to escape war and persecution. I see them ignoring the sick, the poor, the needy, and I see them attempting to fuel their own greed. There is so much done in the name of Christ that is completely counter to His life and teachings. So I am not suprised at all when unbelievers speak out against these actions. We as Christians, have much to account for, and I do not blame anyone for feeling hatred towards such a seemingly prejudiced, greedy, hateful, and hypocratical religion.

I feel like recently Christianity has been separated from life, culture, and politics more and more. But a lot of the old white men in power, still are committing atrocities while touting their Christianity as the reason for their depravity. I think people (especially in metal/punk/etc) have a natural tendency to “stick it to the man”. This makes it more acceptable to say what you want about them because they hold the power. We can trace a lot of the problems in the world back to these old white men and we try to attach their sins to Christianity.

At the same time, we have the holocaust being so fresh in peoples’ memory. And there was a lot of hatred towards Jews not just in Germany, but all over the world (this is also talked about in the Bible). Then we have people spouting constant hatred towards people of islamic faith and of Middle Eastern descent. We are constantly subjected to racist filth flowing from so many of our current world-leaders about these people, and we see countless amounts of money spent killing these people in their own countries. I think this makes Muslims and Jews underdogs in the eyes of the world.

What do I know. I just scream and hit things in a shitty band. But as a Christian, I love black metal. I have atheist, satanist, pagan friends. I will never go against an unbeliever for saying what they want about myself and my faith. But I would stick up for anybody else from anywhere else with any other beliefs. In closing, say what you want. Do what you want. But stop all this nonsense and just love each other.”


Manny-O-War: “First, I don’t see metal as heavily Anti-Christian. Metal is heavily Satanic but Satan is an idea that exists within Christianity. While other religions preceding the advent of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions, there were many forms, beliefs and proofs of demons that countered the multi-god system used by earlier civilizations. When religion consolidated all those believes into a singular God figure they also consolidated the demonic foils into a singular being. “Satan” as a being does not exist outside the Abrahamic religions. Satan, however, becomes a central figure of conflict inside the Christian religion. Thus, when metal is praising Satan, they are doing so within the structure laid out by Christianity and by definition cannot be anti-Christian. Rather, metal is heavily Christian, modern and relevant to our society. The difference is that the lyrical themes focus on the darker side of those confines. In ancient languages Satan can literally translate to: adversary, astray, distant or devil. So metal is merely being adversarial to the powers that hold sway in our society; much like punk. But to say metal is anti-christian would be a fallicy since metal is operating completely within the fabrication of ideals and values that are intimately connected and ascribed to Christianity itself. Metal has yet to break the bonds of Christian theology and, until it does so, metal will always be inextricably linked to the Christian way of thinking.”


Matt Fitton: “Basically it comes down to relativity: people would classify that the atrocities of the Third Reich are still very fresh in the collective consciousness, and also occurred during an allegedly “enlightened” age where they had no chance of occurring (yet they did, due to inaction). Not to forgive the now recognised atrocities of the early Christian faith (I.e. the Crusades) but they happened a long time ago, and people who don’t like religion have fallen into the trap of blanket hatred of that particular religion, specifically so in the States where the far right can seemingly really infringe on your everyday lives.

Now there are obvious certain civil liberties that Christianity still is in opposition to in the modern age, and it is entirely right to hold disdain for those beliefs (but not for the *right* people to believe them — that’s democracy). However, there’s been no genocide on the menu for a long time now, as opposed to the Holocaust. I don’t think that wound will ever heal in the information era, and nor should it. And this is why to many, I believe, think it’s ok to rail on Christianity or dig the dude with horns as a show of “rebellion”, but NSBM or openly fascist musicians aren’t accepted.”


Schuler Benson: “I think allegiance to Satan, or anything overtly “evil” by archetypal standards, is more symbolic; it’s more of an embodiment of a “left hand path” lifestyle that resists or contrasts with traditional morality or conservative values. For many of us in the West, we have an inherently Eurocentric worldview, whether we wanna admit it or not. So that looming idea of “god” is something we can oppose with a clear conscience because it’s ultimately manifested in the shit about society that restricts us. On the other hand, hatred for, or prejudice towards, Judaism or Islam is different. In today’s world, particularly in America, there’s an innate ethnic anchor molded into that kind of hatred. When you put a human face on that phenomenon (for instance, Syrian refugees, peaceful Muslims, victims of racially-motivated violence in America), it stops being about lifestyle and starts being about discrimination towards actual humans. And once we board that train, it distorts us into being prejudicial in ways that drove a lot of us away from mainstream society in the first place.”

And that wraps up Volume 1 of the Circle Pit. And it is a loaded topic to say the least. Have a stance on the issue? Of course you do. Leave your thoughts in the comments below. And as always, feel free to drop Circle Pit suggestions at us at ninecirclesblog@gmail.com.
– The Nine Circles Team

2 thoughts on “Circle Pit, Vol. I, January 2016: “Metal and Christianity”

  1. Girtus Kiltasov January 9, 2016 / 1:37 pm

    …I think metal will always struggle between the childish fantasies of adolescence and the throes of adulthood and being taken seriously, that’s the root of nsbm or anti-Christian music or any ism of that sort; a perpetual battle between sexual inadequacy and the need to create fantastical worlds while vowing for parental and societal understanding and acceptance 😛

  2. xxx March 4, 2016 / 12:08 am

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