I’m a living oxymoron in a lot of ways.
I’m a Christian, but I listen to death metal. I read the Bible, but I wear a lot of black. I love Jesus, but I like horror movies.
How do I reconcile my Christianity with these perceived contradictions?
I’ll answer that question the best way I know how: starting from the beginning.
I was raised in church. It’s really the typical small town story. My hometown of Pilot Knob, Missouri, is home to just over 700 people. For most of my time there, my parents, my sister, and I attended the local Baptist church. It was small, obviously, but rooted in the Word of God. The attendees there were loving folks who all played a role in making my childhood happy.
Memories of Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and church camp are all there. In recent years, my dad has even become the adult Sunday School teacher. I also taught a class for a time. I really enjoyed it, but couldn’t keep up the practice due to moving to Jefferson City for a job in state government.
For me, my interest in heavy metal came on gradually. When I got to middle school, I had a few friends who introduced me to pop punk bands like Blink-182, Green Day, Sugarcult, and The All-American Rejects. I fell in love. The catchy hooks and angsty lyrics resonated with me. Like so many others, the music became the soundtrack to my pre-teen and teen years.
So I got an iPod and filled it with music. It became an obsession. When I wasn’t at school or church, I was listening. My earbuds became a permanent accessory. When my friends and I got together, we burned CDs and swapped our favorite tunes. Music became the collective interest we all bonded over and communed around.
By high school, however, things changed. Times characterized by sleepovers and campouts with friends began to fade. Enter the era of social cliques, Algebra homework, and anxiety about the future. Things just weren’t what they used to be. Nervousness, loneliness, and bitterness about my seemingly hopeless attempts to “fit in” crept their way into my life.
Music was still a part of who I was, but the old stuff I used to listen to had lost its luster. Songs about hanging out with friends and summer crushes didn’t seem applicable to me anymore. I was a little older. I was a little more cynical. I was a little angrier.
I still remember the day I took home that CD a good friend of mine from high school gave to me. Just from looking at it, I could tell it wasn’t the kind of music I was used to from years past. The cover art featured a female figure covering her face in terror as locusts attacked her. Even the font used in the band’s logo was aggressive-looking.
The album was “Plagues” by the metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada, released in 2007. “The devil wears what?” I thought. “Should I really be listening to music about the devil?” Nevertheless, I popped the disc into my computer when I got home from school. Almost immediately, I recognized that was was, well, different music. Discordant sound from down-tuned guitars invaded my ears. Frantic drumming pounded in my head. And those screams!
At first, I couldn’t take it. It was just too intense. I turned the music off, ejected the CD, and put it back in its case. “I’ll take it back tomorrow,” I thought. “I can just say it’s not for me.” I stuck the album in my backpack and hoped for the best. How could I tell my friend that I didn’t like the music he recommended? I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
I did end up giving the CD back, but didn’t erase the album from my iPod. Even if I didn’t like it, who can pass up free music, right? Maybe I could use it in the background of those crazy YouTube videos my friends and I were making.
Weeks and perhaps months went by. Times at school were getting more difficult. Classes were getting tougher. Maintaining friendships was getting harder. Everything in my life, it seemed, was getting to be too much to handle. Mentally, I wasn’t in a good place.
As such, the happy music on my iPod became all the more irrelevant to me. How could I listen to songs about good times with friends when I felt I didn’t have any? How could I relate to songs about girls when not a single one thought twice about looking my way? I needed something else.
One morning on the bus ride to school, I took a second look at The Devil Wears Prada and their album “Plagues.” I felt uneasy about the prospect of even hearing it again, but thought it couldn’t hurt anything. “Maybe there’s something I’m missing,” I thought. I figured I could find maybe one or two redeemable tracks from the album.
I looked down at my iPod screen. The album cover stared back. Still scary-looking. Regardless, I took a deep breath and pressed play. “RAWR!” That screaming again. I nearly turned it off a second time, but instead, I kept listening. Rather than recoiling at the aggressive sounds, I studied it. As the massive vibrations flooded my brain, I wondered. “What exactly is this guy screaming about? What is he saying?”
My answer came when I hopped on Google and looked up the lyrics to the music.
Here are the lyrics to one of the tracks on the album, called “Number Three, Never Forget.”
“You’ve compromised your doctrines
You’ve surrendered yourself to fashion
Come back to your faith; Come back to grace
He sang with us and loved others
The death of obsession
The blood relationship, creates such a rotten demise
Such blackness portrays the love of a machine
I did not want you to join this culture
So how can you be so proud?
Pray to the heavens, with whatever it takes
I wish to shine this light back upon you
It’s obvious that apocalyptic barriers (will give) no mercy to fashion
You’ve compromised your doctrines
You’ve surrendered yourself now.”
I was stunned. There were references to God, Christ, grace, and heaven. This wasn’t just any music. This stuff was real. It dealt with real-life problems, struggles, and pain. And it was obviously written by Christians. As it turned out, a band called The Devil Wears Prada sang (or screamed) about the Lord.
My attitude changed immediately. I pored over the lyrics, connecting with nearly all of them. And the music itself wasn’t all that bad. After all, the instruments were there. There was guitar, drums, and bass. And there was some great, melodic singing, albeit interlaced with the harsh vocals.
Before long, I came to enjoy the music itself! This was all due to a paradigm shift. Rather than just writing off metal as just “noise” or “the devil’s music,” I came to understand the meaning behind it. In the case of The Devil Wears Prada, it happened to be Jesus. And that was more than okay with me.
Granted, there is more sophisticated music out there. I came to understand this later. Metalcore, a fairly new subgenre often characterized by lots of “0-0-0” chugs (that’s guitar tablature for open note strumming), isn’t the most complicated brand of heavy metal. It’s often viewed as metal’s rebellious little brother. But at the time, that’s exactly what I needed in music: an outlet.
During a time of high stress, anxiety, and social exclusion, I needed a way to decompress. That’s exactly what metal provided. The emotional lyrics, the snarling vocals, the heavily distorted guitars – they all resonated with me. I couldn’t tell you how many times I listened to “Plagues” on the morning bus ride to prepare for another day of academic drudgery. The album gave me a way to funnel all my negative feelings and redirect it in a positive direction. It encouraged me. It pumped me up!
It wasn’t long at all before my new interest in heavy metal turned into a full-blown love affair. I was buying new albums. I was ordering merchandise and t-shirts and wearing them to school. I was going to gigs with friends. I was researching new bands and downloading their music. I was obsessed.
Another huge way in which metal helped my adolescent self was by providing me with a sense of identity. It gave me somewhere to belong. I was no longer a nerd or unathletic outcast; I was a metalhead! I grew my hair out, wore t-shirts bearing my favorite bands’ logos, and reveled in my new-found lifestyle. It was freeing. It was fun.
But this new lease on life didn’t come without its negative consequences. I still belonged to church and to the local Christian community, who didn’t take as kindly to my new favorite music as my friends did. “Turn that off,” I remember a camp counselor saying when I fired up my CD player at church camp. “We don’t listen to that here.”
The counselor went on to explain to me that the kind of music I loved so much was unbecoming of a Christian to listen to and invited the devil into our lives. I was taken aback. Could he be right? Was heavy metal really “the devil’s music?” Was I doing something wrong by listening to it?
My attempts to justify my music taste by explaining that these bands were Christ-centered fell on deaf ears. For most, what the music sounded like was enough to put it in the “devilish” category, regardless of the lyrical content. I was dismayed. I lived with this sort of cognitive dissonance for quite some time. While I still loved the music, I carried with it a sense of shame that persisted for years.
Fast forward past high school and I was still a metalhead, although at this point, a veteran one. I was listening to more bands than ever. It was 2013 and I was in college at the time. A few months prior, I had committed to losing weight and getting healthier. I weighed in at nearly 250 pounds. I was trying, but feeling lost, unconfident, and alone.
One night, while preparing for my daily run (I usually preferred to run at night for various reasons), I logged into Spotify on my iPhone and noticed something interesting: The Devil Wears Prada, the band that started it all, had released a new album. It was called “8:18,” after Romans 8:18. I looked up the verse.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
At the time, these words from the Apostle Paul were exactly what I needed to hear. I was filled with excitement. God was speaking to me. And he was using heavy metal to do it! I stuck in my earbuds, fired up the album, and went about my run.
Honestly, if I had had a physical copy of “8:18,” I would’ve worn it out. I listened to that record countless times. The music was raw. It was heavy. It was emotional. The band that I loved so much during my younger years was back and better than ever.
In time, with a little help from “8:18” and other metallic tunes, I lost more than 80 pounds. I can still remember the records I listened to during that stretch of time and how they empowered me. The music became the soundtrack of my journey to a healthier me. And Romans 8:18 became my mantra.
Today, things have once again changed for me. I’m 25 years old, married, and working a “real job.” But the heavy metal is still there — and more than ever. You see, I’ve come to realize that metal is not immoral. It’s a genre of music and an awesome one, at that. Heavy metal, for me, is a passion that has guided me and pulled me through some of the roughest times in my life.
Next to God, my wife, and my family, I owe metal something. I owe the metal community something. All those shows filled with all those sweaty, head-banging people — who were always nothing but supportive and kind, by the way — gave me something. I’d be remiss to forget that. To me, heavy metal is not just music. It’s a way of life!
Now, I’m not about to ignore the obvious fact that not all metal is based on Scripture. In fact, some metal is Satanic. Black metal, one of the genre’s many subgenres characterized by its rawness and aggression, often revolves around occultic and anti-Christian themes. I would never try to deny this. It’s always important to look into bands and see from where they draw their inspiration. This is especially crucial for parents of young metalheads.
However, the fact that there is secular metal does not spoil the whole genre. The same applies to other types of music. Rap, for example, which is downright filthy in many cases, is used to glorify God by some artists. The Christian rapper Lecrae, who has enjoyed moderate commercial success, is one example.
At the end of the day, music is like anything else. It can be used in a positive or negative way. In my life, it’s been used in a largely beneficial manner. Despite the furious guitar riffs and aggressive vocals, metal has been a crucial source of inspiration and motivation that has guided me and spurred me on when nothing and no one else has.
In summation, being a Christian is not defined by the music you listen to or the clothes you wear or the movies you enjoy. It’s defined by your relationship with Christ and your belief in His Word. This applies to everyone — metal fans, rap fans, and everyone else!
The main point I hope you take away from this somewhat lengthy post is this: don’t judge a book by its cover or a person by their taste in music. Life and faith are about so much more than simplistic, superficial appearances. Metalheads are some of the nicest, most committed people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in my life. They’re almost always united by a common theme: their love of the music.
As for “the devil’s music?” It’s not metal. It’s not even rap. It’s whatever is used by Satan and his followers to lead people astray. It’s what is used to promote violence and drugs and sex. Have you listened to the Top 40 lately? If you can even bear it, examine what is being said in most of these “songs.” Clearly, God’s adversary is alive and well in the world today, but he’s not so dull-witted to limit himself to one genre.
The best advice I can give to you in this regard? Be yourself. Love God, love others, and also love the things that make you, well, you. Heavy metal or rap or pop or any other kind of music is not inherently sinful. Embrace what makes you different. If that’s metal, great! If it’s not, that’s okay, too. Just do what you enjoy, as long as it doesn’t subtract from your faith, and don’t apologize for it. Ignore the naysayers. Live your life. If someone else doesn’t get it, that’s fine. Be confident enough in your own skin to allow being you to be enough.
Oh, and to you metalheads out there? Keep on rocking! I’ll be doing so right along with you.