My first official exposure to metal music was when I was in the sixth grade. My friends and I recorded our own radio show for a group project. We wrote a script, chose songs to be played between skits and recorded it in an empty classroom. A friend brought Marilyn Manson’s ‘Antichrist Superstar’ album which belonged to their older sibling. We closed the door, cranked the song Beautiful People and danced moronically on desktops while dubbing the song on cassette.
I vaguely remember being lectured by the adults that Marilyn Manson was a bad guy who sings about sex, violence and worshiping Satan. At first I was rather distraught, but the rhythm and sound of Beautiful People kept repeating in my head — and I recall reluctantly enjoying it.
I had been introduced to a plethora of bands including Metallica, Korn and Slipknot among others by the time I was in high school. Listening to these bands became a means of escape as I had been frequently bullied in school. In Grade 10, I started attending a weekly session called ‘Campus Life’ during my lunch break where a Christian youth pastor did presentations and devotionals. In one session we watched a short video about how the secular music scene affected society. It briefly mentioned how the gunmen from the Columbine school shooting were influenced by such metal artists like Marilyn Manson. In lieu of this, the video introduced ‘safer’ Christian bands to listen to (such as DC Talk and Newsboys) while encouraging kids to throw out their secular music albums.
What bothered me was the claim that metal music somehow causes people to go on a shooting spree. This seemed like a giant red herring. Within the same year, Manson had been interviewed by Michael Moore in the documentary Bowling For Columbine,
“I definitely can see why they would pick me, because I think it’s easy to throw my face on a TV, because I’m, in the end, sort of a poster boy for fear. Because I represent what everyone’s afraid of, because I do and say what I want.
The two by-products of that whole tragedy were violence in entertainment and gun control. And how perfect that that was the two things that we were gonna talk about with the upcoming election. And also, then we forgot about Monica Lewinsky and we forgot about… The president was shooting bombs overseas, yet I’m a bad guy because I sing some rock’n’roll songs. And who’s a bigger influence, the president or Marilyn Manson? I’d like to think me, but I’m gonna go with the president.”
Metal and Conservative Christianity
Rock and metal have always had a reputation for going against the grain of traditional, conservative culture. It’s easy to dismiss it as a satanic movement without looking beyond the edgy appearances, just like many other things new and terrifying. Although metal comes across as a darker and more aggressive genre, it’s morale is no different than other modern genres. Lyrics like, “Tequila make her clothes fall off!” or, “Save a horse, ride a cowboy!” are often heard on the radio in public places, yet hardly anyone seems to raise any eyebrows. Rolling Stone magazine even pointed out that country music makes more references to drug use than any other genre. Yet ultra-conservatives would throw a hissy fit over a little guitar distortion and someone bellowing, “DARKNESS IMPRISONING ME, ALL THAT I SEE ABSOLUTE HORROR!”
While metal has a reputation for thematically dark lyricism, I would argue the Bible itself is filled with suggestive content. There is no shortage of rape, torture, impalement, beheadings, dismemberments, drowning and disembowelment. Even the Song of Solomon, a book that celebrates romantic love, has dozens of erotic innuendos throughout its pages.
How is it acceptable for the Bible to contain violence and sexual references but not heavy metal? Purity culture seems to play an influential role in how we react to portrayals of reality in art that makes us uncomfortable. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the raw reality of what the results of sin are. Nor does it hide the beautiful, erotic realism of romantic and sexual relationships that God wired us humans to enjoy.
Certain artists can either have a positive or a negative effect on the listener. I eventually stopped listening to Slayer because I realized I began to foster a hatred for Christianity. I would caution that listening to such bands that promote satanic or anti-religious themes would create a similar effect. As a believer, indulging in music with anti-Christian themes would be no different than a married person slandering their spouse. If listening to an artist leaves you more prone to anger, resentfulness, sadness or anxiety than before, then it’s probably worth reconsidering an alternative outlet. Truly, all things are permissible, but not everything is beneficial.
While the Christian music industry is notorious for its mediocrity, there are alternatives to secular artists that break the stereotypes. They are unfortunately few and far between, but feel free to check out my article 10 Christian Bands That Don’t Suck.
I think when it comes to any genre of music, what truly matters is the intent. In the case of artists like Marilyn Manson, if the intent is to create controversy it can sometimes be appropriate. It depends whether the motive is to create awareness and expose truth about an issue. But more often than not, Manson’s tactic is to acquire attention to sell records – even if it means bad publicity. Many bands like Black Sabbath or Metallica make a more poetic, story-driven approach that reflects on good versus evil. The Lord of the Rings, which is a story filled with violence and demonic imagery, is beloved by many Christian readers for the very same reason.
If Christians are going to condemn heavy metal over all other genres of music, then the only thing sounding out of tune is their double-standard.