A Defense of Christian Heavy Metal
It was a Friday night in the dusty streets of Bakersfield, California, and I had just arrived at my first Christian metal show—a band called Precious Death. I felt tough being there, maybe even a little cool—at least, as cool as an awkward young teenager could be.
And, just to provide a little context, I was not a rebellious kid by any means: I got good grades, stayed out of trouble, avoided alcohol and drugs at all costs, and I was active in my youth group. However, I had a passion for Christian metal.
During the concert, the crowd jumped and bobbed their hands manically (i.e. head banged), and the music was powerful—and by powerful I do not only mean emotionally powerful, but physically powerful: the sound waves quite literally shook my body.
It got a little rowdy though, and I did not escape unscathed. At secular metal concerts, if you fall down in the mosh pit, people might trample you. At a Christian metal concert, they’d grab your hand and help you to your feet with a smile—before jumping right back into the melee with glee. At one point in my excitement I fell and emerged from the crowd with a bloody nose.
My first thought after pressing my fingers to my nostrils and seeing blood was, “Awesome!”
As a teenager, that moment somehow felt like a badge of honor, albeit in a silly, slightly immature way. However, as the years have passed and I’ve transitioned into my thirties with a family of my own, I’ve come to a realization about Christian metal.
It added a sense of masculinity to my faith.
Sure, the bands that I followed were full of integrity and clean living. They had evangelistic hearts, always preaching the Gospel at shows or in personal conversations with fans. But it was more than that. Their music portrayed a facet of Christ that Western church culture sometimes misses in its artistic expressions of God: the inexplicable power of the Lion of Judah.
As a teenager, I was on fire for Christ. I had attended a Mexico mission trip and came back transformed. I was in awe of how mission work required a warrior’s heart. Missionaries braved the wilds to share the light of Christ in dark places, often facing impossible odds and terrible adversity. Although metal bands weren’t risking their lives, there was something about the raw all-or-nothing power of their music that had the same kind of warrior’s heart. The songs made me want to risk my life for the sake of the Gospel and become a fearless warrior for Him.
And this is where the issue of masculinity comes in. As a guy it’s not always easy to relate to the church. The Western expression of Christianity can be frankly (at times) a little emasculated. When compared to the all-out passion for God that King David expressed, for example—such as when he danced with all his might before the Ark—our church services feel, well, a little restrained sometimes. Our Christian culture sometimes shapes guys into simply being nice as opposed to nurturing their warrior’s heart.
Christian metal, however, has never had any inhibitions about its warrior-like celebration of our Savior. In many songs, the drummer is playing as fast as he possibly can until he can’t feel his arms. The guitarist will play until smoke rises from the fret board, and the singer belts out his vocal parts with so much effort that the veins on his neck are visible. When I see that, I can’t help but think of the command in scriptures to “Love the Lord your God with all of your strength…” They are pouring out all of their hearts and physical strength into that moment of musical intensity, and, on top of that, the lyrics are proclaiming the absolute eternal power of Christ and the roar of the Lion of Judah—a roar that causes even the demons to tremble with fear.
Try reading Jude 1:14-15 or Revelation 19:11-14, which describe the return of Christ, without feeling a sense of awe at the sheer power of the language. I can’t help but think of the times when the ascended Christ appeared before people like John on Patmos or Saul on the road to Damascus. Neither one reacted by pulling out a ukulele and singing a little worship diddy to thank Jesus for showing up. They either fell on their face as a dead man or went blind. This is a powerful King we serve.
The Scriptures are full of awe-inspiring analogies that try to depict the utter power and glory of God: earthquakes, lightning, roaring waves, lions, etc. When I was a teenager full of passion for Christ and encountering all of these jaw-dropping images in the Word, bands that were strumming a happy G chord like a pop love song on Sunday mornings were hard to embrace (though I’ve since reconciled with that style of music). For me, the pop worship music wasn’t capturing or conveying the fiery glory that I was encountering in the Word. When I discovered Christian metal, however, I rejoiced. Their songs actually felt like sonic analogies of the mind-blowing, overpowering Biblical imagery that describes God’s glory.
Of course, any musical or artistic expression that we do is a pale imitation of the spiritual truth it is communicating, but I will never forget how Christian metal instilled a desire to take risks for Christ and give him my all, just as any warrior serving a general would do. And that’s what Christian metal became for me: a fight song that accurately depicted the epic battles of a Christian faith that holds nothing back and gives Christ everything—a faith that screams the praises of God at the top of its lungs.