Death Metal Ain’t Got Nothing On Us

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy frightfully near, when I was caught in the awkward throes of middle-school, Black Metal and Death Metal were where it was at. In fairness, I attended a British military school in Germany, which sort of implies dysfunction.

Regardless, a good number of my friends were infatuated with drugs, wearing dead/dying/skeletal guitar players on their t-shirts, and rocking their satanic symbols. (What’s metal without corporate merchandise?)

There was the pentagram, the anarchy sign, the nordic runes they assured me meant Very Evil Things and, of course, the upside-down cross. I was only a larval-stage Cagnostholic, but I knew the upside-down cross was funny. Real satanic, guys. Really sets off your brooding hatred Christian values. Christians tremble at the mere sight of…of…

Now mistaking the cross of St. Peter for some satanic symbol is forgivable. Cute, even. But what remains absolutely, utterly unforgivable is the notion that metal culture is somehow darker than the Church. That its shreddable, double-kicked portrayal of evil sends Catholics scurrying for cover, shaking under their beds, clutching their rosaries.

No. The Church invented dark and scary, dammit. A Satanic music scene can only imitate, because Satan is fundamentally an imitator. He distorts the what’s good, true and beautiful, presenting bad remixes like off-brand cereal and reposts. This was struck home to me as I listened to the hilariously awful group Deicide. Novel concept. Nothing like the death of God to…oh, wait, here we go again…

You see, the problem all super-cool forms of darkness-worship can’t keep up with the Catholic Church, who knows the place of darkness, who’s God rests in “the darkness of the cloud of unknowing” and whose Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness shall never overcome.  The death-obsessed can’t really come close to a Catholic portrayal of death. Sure, we can barely conceive of blasphemy without its skulls…

And it’s all very…you know what, I’m going to skip right on to it:

As a Catholic, not only am I religiously obligated to have no fear of Death, but I’ve prayed a rosary in a Roman chapel constructed from the bones of martyred Capucins. What a satanic music scene can only snatch at in its limited imagination, the Catholic Church builds churches out of. It’s a fear of death that seeks to show it as something gloriously hideous and horrendous, that wallows in it as if it were the ultimate conveyance of evil and despair. It’s a courage that stares it in the face. Only an acceptance of death as dark, mysterious, awful, terrifying, and yet the precise road by which we attain the fulfillment of our infinite desires really allows us glorify death. Only the Church proclaiming that through death all men attain new life really allows man to pile skulls and mean it.

And this isn’t just a bizarre sideshow of the Catholic Church. These ossuaries are everywhere:

Sedlec Ossuary, a Roman Catholic chapel in the Czech Republic.

The message is simple: Remember man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Memento mori. Remember and prepare your hearts and souls. But do not be afraid, for death has been conquered by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this manner, pilgrims gaze at the holy relics surrounding them and are led to joy, to prayer, and to contemplation. This world is a passing thing, and triumph awaits the martyrs.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of Norway, totes-blasphemous bands continue to wistfully design albums adorned with the dead, with the desecration of holy places, confident in their blasphemous powers, unwittingly revealing an underlying conviction in the truth of Christianity, a conviction Chesterton put best:

Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.

But they’re fighting with a weapon that has been broken, and a grave split open by God. Satan-worship is the ultimate exercise in futility that human existence has to offer, akin to betting on the loser of a race that’s already been run.

Still, they try to frighten in their lyrics, their music and their art. (The music bores me from of a lack of contrast, and a similar lack of courage. If you paint the most hideous depth of Hell entirely in the same shade of black, no one will see Hell. If your lyrics, your screaming, your riffs and your image all take evil as their foundation, no one can hear the evil for the noise. When a satanic band starts making beautiful music, then I’ll be worried.)

But you just can’t out-darken the Catholic tradition.

Juxtaposing freaky innocence with evil? Yeah, our’s is scarier.

General blood, gore and dismemberment? It occurs to me that the primarily difference between hardcore art and Catholic art is that Catholic art is usually depicting something historical real, rendering itself far more hardcore:

But, admittedly, far more beautiful.

Now don’t get me wrong, the death metal culture can be incredibly offensive. Just looking for their album covers is enough to have me join a cloistered order and spend a lifetime praying in reparation for the sins of the world. But it’s a sadness, not a fear. These people are so very loved by God. Their rebellion is so dumb, because you cannot worship Satan without knowledge of God, and you cannot deny God without denying your own fulfillment. And so the Sacred Heart burns for them.

My point then: Don’t be scared of the Devil. He has power, sure, and he is real, without a doubt, but he has been decimated by God, crushed by our Mother Mary. Realize that only with courage in the face of evil, only upon entering into the rebellion against sin and the death we call the Holy Baptism can we truly name evil and expose it for what it is. For Satan does not tempt as a grotesque object of worship on some infernal throne. He’d be an idiot to try.

Satan tempts us in the everyday. He tempts us with bad philosophy. He tempts us with easy ways out. He tempts us to worship our selves, to pity ourselves, and — ultimately – to castrate ourselves of the ability to love. Amen, amen I say to you, if the all-out, Satan-worshipping disciple of Black Metal manages somehow to avoid the terrible mercy of God, he will find himself damned not for his mockeries, his darkness, or his demonic, skeletal art, but for his Pride, just like the white-collared, straightedged, “Christian” next to him.

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  • Carrie

    Awesome post! I LOVE it! I love your outlook. I have felt the same way about the whole death metal crowd, I just could never put it into words. I really enjoy your blog. Keep it coming!

  • egosumbarb

    British military school? Interesting.This post reminds me of the visit I made to the Chapel of Bones in Portugal. Yeah, those death metal peeps have no idea. I wonder if any of them have ever heard of Brother Cesare Bonizzi?

  • The Crescat me of my punk band name post. Catholics are pretty freaking bad ass.

  • egosumbarb

    Yeah we are @Crescat!

  • Sophia’s Favorite

    "The Cross cannot be defeated, for it is Defeat."—Evan MacIan, The Ball and the Cross, G. K. Chesterton.What I find funny about all this is how many youth ministers scrub our religion of the scary (or rather, utterly badass) bits—supposedly to appeal to young people—and then act surprised when the young people are turned off by their relentless vapid cheerfulness.I have to assume it has to do with how most youth ministry is copied from Protestants, and Protestants' only interaction with the scary stuff is fire-and-brimstone—and their youth ministry even avoids that. Their cultures can't grasp Sister Death anymore than they can grasp the guy who praised her in the Canticle of Creation.There are a lot of problems with the movie "Dogma", but the part about coming up with "Buddy Christ", because the Crucifixion is a downer, is a deadly accurate piece of satire. Why do so many Catholics think copying milquetoast, smiley-face, liberal Protestants is a winning strategy?PS. There's at least one sect of Buddhism, Shingon, that uses a bunch of skull imagery, for similar reasons to Christians. Their monks often carry strings of skull-shaped prayer beads (does anyone else want a rosary like that?).

  • Rose

    I can't decide on my favorite line of this post. Either "They cannot match the courage of the Christian, who is born trampling on the grave." or "we win". :D To paraphrase a verse: "Oh death metal, where is your sting?" And to Sophia's Favorite, I LOVE that line from The Ball and the Cross! In fact, I keep my copy of that book in the backseat of my car. I have a big family and I find myself giving rides all the time to my siblings and their friends. They always pick it up and flip through it and some have even asked to borrow it.

  • Marc

    the Ball and the Cross is my personal favorite form Chesterton's fiction…great minds think alike?

  • Rose

    I'll second that, Marc! Man, I haven't been called a great mind since I dressed as the Eye of Sauron for Halloween in 09… it feels good.

  • Mindy Goorchenko

    Incredible chapel!! WOWEE.

  • Ladybird

    Marc no joke i was telling my wife this 2 weeks ago im so glad you wrote about it. i watched an anti catholic video and it was saying the usual that were the whore of Babylon and the pope is the antichrist using the same picture of bl.jp2 in he chair and highlighting the upside down cross that obviously means he is the antichrist. but then i got to thinking that peters cross was upside down. and i remember in high school at my friends house he had a cd of danzig and the cd jacket unfolded in the shape of an upside down cross. but the more i thought about it the more i realized that when the devil was tempting jesus he was trying to take away the cross not turn it upside down. and when jesus rebuked our first pope he said get behind me satan because peter was trying to take away our lords cross aswell. so i am now convinced by my own humble wisdom which was confirmed by yours that this is right. the devil doesnt want us to carry our cross but to put it down but we know that with out good friday there is no easter sunday. keep it up pal light up the darkness

  • Anonymous

    Of course you do not fear death… you're eighteen. lolYou and every other college student I've ever met has it a all figured out. You just learned "the things they don't want you to know" and you have all your life experience behind you… oh, wait.Marc, don't get me wrong, I don't care for Satanists either. (Really any -ist/ism turns me off) So much of their "pain" is ludicrous. But for an 18 year old kid to tell us he has the answer to the great mystery and can look death in the eye is just as so.

  • Sophia’s Favorite

    Pretty big talk from someone who doesn't even have the stones to sign a name, anonymous.Besides, nothing you said remotely resembles what Marc wrote. I'm curious: when you argue with that straw man, do you think it argues back?

  • Brent Stubbs

    Marc,Don't listen to older people who have ignored all the signs and then ridicule you for noticing them too early. Wisdom cries in the streets loud enough for even a child to hear. Let us judge words not years, lest we run out of words when years judge us.

  • Ladybird

    i dont think you get it pal. once you find out who christ is and what hes done and who we are everything changes. i got something that no one can take away even my 4 kids if one or all were to die i know that the peace jesus has given me will always remain. and i cant wait to meet him

  • Laura

    Mega-awesome post! lol Always great to read what you have to write, keep up the good work

  • Jared Dale Combista

    Well, there are also Christian Death Metal bands like Mortification where one of their songs talks about the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps that counts as a +2 on our side? One for being Christian and another one for being "methulz"?

  • Mary

    What did your parents do right because you are one heck of an 18 year-old! My son is 2 and I need to make sure he turns out awesome like you!

  • Mary

    Wow…just wow! you are so right. But seriously, I have three boys, and well, they love drama about that middle school age, and the hard rock gives them that. I think we do a poor job of showing them the real drama in life.

  • Sophia’s Favorite

    Hard rock isn't death metal; I'm a headbanger myself, but I can't stand that "death growl" thing so much "metal" does now. I'm sorry, maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it does have to sound like singing. I mean, listen to Ozzy Osbourne sometime: he sounds like John Lennon compared to some of the newer stuff.Only a tiny minority of death/black metal is remotely serious about this imagery, though—for most of them, it's just staging, as it was for the guy who largely invented it, Alice Cooper (who's an Evangelical; and actually the darkness in his stuff may be viewed as a meditation on the world without Christ). There's no harm in music being dramatic, within reasonable limits.That tiny minority who do mean it, though, give the rest of them a bad name, and drag them down with them—just like how the actually fairly talented poets in hip-hop (it's not really singing) are dragged down by the tiny minority with actual experience as pimps or drug dealers.

  • Sara J

    Fantastic post! I happen to be a die-hard Catholic and a metalhead, and I agree, they ain't got nothing on us! I love metal, not because of the lyrics or culture it promotes, which is oftentimes offensive and sad, but because I believe that only focusing on the 'fluffy stuff' can misguide us on the path to the Truth. Jesus suffered greatly, suffering is present in the world today, and ignoring it is a poor witness to the faith. I think the comment by Sophia's Favorite about metal being a meditation on the world without Christ hit the nail on the head. Metal may be about darkness and death, but it also allows me to hold out hope for this fallen world because I know that Christ loves us, and His love is stronger than anything the devil can throw our way.(Also, don't listen to Anonymous! Just because we're young doesn't mean we can't have some things figured out.) :)

  • Sophia’s Favorite

    When did Marc even say he did the figuring out on his own, though? That would be somewhat offensively arrogant, in an 18-year-old (it's probably almost as offensive when I, at 26, do it, even though, as an intellectual re-vert, I really have done most of the legwork myself).But to my knowledge all Marc has done is say "Dude, look what my church can do!", so it's offensive that "anonymous" deliberately misinterprets his statements.Nobody objects when first-year physics students wax enthusiastic about the freaky stuff they see in the particle-accelerator lab (granting for the sake of illustration that you'd let freshman anywhere near a particle accelerator lab, which is doubtful).And nobody acts like those physics students are claiming to be scientific geniuses, merely because they are enthusiastic for the great enterprise of Science.One might find that youthful exuberance irksome, but only if one is old and tired, either accidentally or constitutionally. This post is merely that sort of enthusiasm, and anonymous' objection is simply, at bottom, "Hey you kids, get off my lawn." Except dressed up in a mischaracterization of what Marc was actually saying.

  • Anthony S. Layne

    Great reflection, Marc. And you took me back about twenty years to my own headbanger days, when I thought even at the time that "death metal" was (you'll pardon the "Valley speak") a total pose-a-thon. Nothing Metallica, Rammstein or any of that crew has said is nearly so scary as this post from last year … a post that makes Peter Straub and Stephen King look like amateurs: Keep up the good writing, Marc, and don't slow down for the trolls!

  • Just another suburban mom.

    Great post! And don't forget our love of body parts and organs…err I mean first class relics!

  • Bill Smith

    First let me state that I enjoyed this article and found it to be entertaining and well written. As a dedicated death metal fan and musician for over half of my life, as well as being a failed attempt at catholic education, I must concede that the greater darkness and evil lies within catholicism. However, I feel your portrayal of Death Metal as a genre was short sighted, and obviously is not based on anything that has happened since or outside of your teenage flirtation with the subculture. Believe it or not, a great deal of death metal has nothing to do with satan, death, or anything morbid. As of late, space and science has captured the imagination of many artists, as have themes of regional and ethnic history. In addition, you might find that some of the most technically ambitious and progressive music being performed nowadays is written by the more open minded death metal bands of the world, such as Revocation, Decrepit Birth, Atheist and Gorguts. I would also like to point out that you failed to mention the number one reason why the church is scarier than death metal – no death metal band leads an international organization that aids and protects child molestors.

  • EKP

    Does the Catholic Church really want to “win” at being creepy and gory? Really? For the sake of your idiocy, I will assume you were being satirical… because the gore within the Church’s history is not really something to be proud of, I think.

    Plus I think part of the point of the upside down cross is that when a symbol is turned upside down, it is meant to shame it. Not to be original and prove the Church wrong. It’s a conceptual idea of moving away from religion and toward the demonic perspective that essentially comes from religious thought anyway.

    • Marc

      No, we do want to win. Because a denial of the blood is a denial of human existence. We are proud because we represent the skulls and bones accurately, while death metal can only hope they will frighten. As far as the upside-down cross goes, I am very aware of what the anti-Christians are trying to say; I’m merely pointing out their failure to actually say it, given that the upside-down cross is already loaded with a context they disregard.

  • Vincent, Death Metal Artist

    I can see your points, and when it comes to some of those radical Black Metal “artists” you are quite right. But your understanding of Metal, especially Death Metal is very superficial. Death Metal is not about “scaring Christians,” but mostly characterizes certain vocal guitar and structural techniques used to create a genre full of moods and ideas. You needn’t look hard to find Death Metal artists with quite a lot of skill who play for reasons other than to be satanists. And they do not all sound terrible, either. It’s not all about being the loudest. Take Opeth for example. They write the most beautiful pieces since the Romantic period, and songs like “Benighted” have great singing. Furthermore, you stated in your article “The Problem With Christian Radio” that music is not all about sounding attractive to our ears. So don’t put Death Metal down for not sounding so easy to listen to. Sure, it is an acquired taste. Your example of Deicide was a bit biased. They truly sucked. In the early Baroque period and before music was not meant to sound all nice; tension was built and released, and the use of screaming, tritone chords and distortion does just that. I am a Catholic Death Metal artist myself. This I proudly proclaim knowing that God conquered Death and I will use it to praise The Lord and prepare for His coming.

  • Dave

    Fantastic article! I really enjoyed it and agree with you wholeheartedly. If you want to listen to metal music that glorifies God…give a listen to ..we are a community of metal heads who love God and Christ’s Catholic Church. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!!