Each Tuesday in Music Matters, Matthew Linder explores the intersections of music, culture and faith.
“Metal bands understand the importance of the resurrection because if it is true it changes everything.”
The resurrection of Christ. Not only does all of history hinge on that event but without it the gospel crumbles apart. While every aspect of the gospel is important, the resurrection in particular is what makes all the rest of gospel matter. The New Testament writers understood this truth, and Paul could write with confidence that without the resurrection, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (see 1 Corinth. 15:17). Though in many corners of Christianity, while the resurrection is joyously celebrated on Easter, more emphasis is placed on the cross than the universe altering event of Jesus rising back to life from the dead.
The resurrection is a game changer. Two centuries prior to Jesus birth the Jewish people rested their hope on a man named Judas Maccabeus, who they thought could be the messiah promised by the prophets. Judas even rode a donkey into Jerusalem with a coronation of palm branches (like Jesus later would) but in the end Judas was killed in battle and with his death so died the claims of his messiahship.
This is to undermine the importance of the cross, as in the first letter to the Corinthians Paul exhorts that he resolved to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Corinth. 2:2). But If there is no resurrection, there is no messiah and therefore, no Christian faith to speak of. In the gospels we read that many of Jesus’ own brothers did not believe that he was the messiah (John 7:5) but what changed for them was when they saw their brother alive again after he had died on the cross. One of his brothers is even mentioned by name, James, as a witness to the resurrected Jesus in Paul’s great gospel passage (see 1 Corinth. 15:7).
What is fascinating is that while many Christian communities (especially in North America) do not grasp the profundity and importance of the resurrection to Jesus’ claims of messiahship, many metal bands do. Which is why there are bevy of songs by metal bands that claim that the resurrection never happened. These bands have identified where the Christian hope lies and vehemently deny that Jesus was ever raised from the dead.
This plays out in numerous ways from subtle implications to overt declarations. For instance, one metal band felt so strongly in their denial that they named themselves with a simple two word denunciation, Dead Jesus. Then there are underground metal bands with song titles such as “Denied Resurrection” (by Invoke the Carnage) or “Denying the Resurrection” (by Manticore). There is an entire sub-culture of metal bands surrounding the idea of dismantling the claims of the Christian faith but we can see this narrative thread (of a savior who is still dead) even in mainstream metal bands.
As is the case with Pantera and their song “Slaughtered” which does not parse words, “A fake god rests dead inside you/ It’s a safe assumption that you’d want to save me now/ But I’ll never face castration/ For your sacred sow is left/ Slaughtered.” Then as if directly answering the claims of 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 and coming to the conclusion of “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” the singer declares, “What is precious, for death is unanswered/ Do sin.” With a dead god, death remains and sin reigns. Holy Terror’s “No Resurrection” further clarifies the sinful freedom of a world without a messiah who comes back to life, “No Resurrection, unless you want it to go on/ No right or wrong, no up or down/ Feelings of pity of Hell fire’s wrath/ Denying the reckless ambition of life.”
Then in Cadaver’s “Decomposed Metal Skin” the singer asks, “Do you know that you are dead?/ Scream you ****/ Who is now your king?/ Do you know where you belong?” We are dead, without a king and lost but so is “God – the enslaver of the frightened and weak,” the pronouncement which begins the singer’s repeated incantation in the bridge, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus is dead.” That is really the key to the disbelief of the firstfruits of the resurrection, something which The Exploited expresses in their song “Jesus is Dead”. The most poignant line in the song being, “Jesus is dead nobody gives a toss,” which flippantly drives at the crux of the issue, if Jesus is dead why would anyone care about him?
This is a continuing narrative found through the many sub-genres of metal and as Timothy Keller attests in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” (pg. 202) Metal bands understand the importance of the resurrection because if it is true it changes everything.