The other day I ran into a Buzzfeed quiz that asked me, “Heavy metal lyrics or bible verse?”
As a doctoral student in religious studies and passionate about heavy metal, I was surprised to see that I was hesitant about a number of my answers. Why does heavy metal use so many biblical references and symbolism?
During my research, I rediscovered death metal, a musical genre that I listened to when I was a teenager. Death metal seems to be even more obsessed with religion than heavy metal. But why is this musical genre so obsessed with religious and spiritual symbolism?
Heavy metal and religion
Known as an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, death metal typically uses techniques such as deep rumble vocals, blast beat drums, minor keys, and atonality (not conforming to the tonal hierarchy system) to convey its lyrical themes of not only death and violence, but also political conflict, philosophy, real crime and, most importantly, religion.
In 2010, historian James Robertson published an article titled “Death metal: A ‘pipeline to God?”
“What is fascinating here is the consistency with which black metal has pursued religious forms […] Such religious pluralism raises the question of whether these are just new and interesting attempts at youth rebellion, or whether something more is being played out. ”
But what is it more?
Many metal historians such as Ian Christie have said that heavy metal history begins with Black Sabbath’s debut studio album, “Black Sabbath,” released in 1970.
When the album is opened it reveals an inverted cross and a disturbing poem. The fourth track on the album is titled FEATHER, which was written from Lucifer’s point of view. Thus, the relationship between heavy metal and religion was born.
Christie points out in her book, Sounds of the Beast: The Complete History of Heavy Metal Headbanging that anthropological history is intertwined with the musical history of metal because “the rise of black metal coincided with the millennium of Christianity in Norway, when two pagan kings […] religion violently imposed on the west coast of Norway ”, the territory that most influenced black metal.
“Chapel of ghouls” and “Blessed are the sick”
Death metal then emerged with the fusion of thrash metal and first wave black metal in the 1980s. Possessed, Death, Deicide and Morbid Angel are some of the first bands to enter the death metal genre. Morbid Angel wrote songs such as Void god, Rapture, Immortal rites, Ghoul Chapel, Sickness angel and Blessed are the sick. And Deicide wrote about ritual sacrifices, the crucifixion, Satan, Jesus, and anti-Christian sentiments.
As the connection between death metal and religion solidified, so did its controversy. In the mid-1980s, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was born, an institution focused on increasing parental control over access to music deemed violent or satanic. This did not deter musicians or death metal enthusiasts, but hardened their criticism of the mainstream religion.
The biggest problem with the PMRC was about anti-Christian sentiments. The song Far from god by Immolation deals with salvation, heaven and hell in a way that could be considered an extreme form of biblical lamentation. Part of the song says:
“You sit and watch, in all your splendor Oh creator, it is you that I now renounce to ever loving God, your love has failed me, I don’t need your love…”
Compare the words with Psalm 22: 1-2:
“My God, my God, why did you abandon me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my moans? my God, I cry during the day, but you don’t answer; and at night, but find no rest.
Death metal obsession with religious themes
So the question remains, why is death metal so obsessed with spiritual and religious themes? Perhaps the only other genre that’s so concerned with religion and spirituality in such a focused way is gospel music, but the two seem to be completely opposite.
An apparent answer to the proposed question would be that death metal, like other forms of rock, is anti-establishment. The rebellion against religion and the status quo seems to be one of the reasons why this kind of music is so popular.
Another possible answer could be that death metal and its parent heavy metal are trying to find a language to express their dark mystical experiences – metal is in tune with spirituality.
As a person who studies religion, I believe death metal writers, musicians, and listeners who listen to spiritual matters believe there is more to the world than it seems. Many feel the need to deal with their turbulent inner life and often value principles that religion has neglected or fought against.
Death metal explores the dark side of human experience with the same vehemence that some forms of organized religion resist it.
So why would anyone want to experience violent and angry music that could lead to negative experiences? A 2019 study examined who and why people like to listen to violent music, they found they are not angry people: “They don’t appreciate anger when they listen to music, but they actually experience a range of positive emotions. “The catharsis that death metal fans go through is actually a way to release negative emotions.
In other words, I believe that each of us wants positive experiences and is tuned in to spirituality the way we understand it. In Venom’s words Angel dust:
“I live my life, like there is no tomorrow, take no chances, I drown all my sorrows because I need it, I want it, you know I have to have it, m ‘take it higher than anything I know. “