667- The Neighbor of the Beast… or can a Christian listen to Black Metal?

With apologies to those who are looking for a beer related post, I offer instead more thoughts on music.  I promise, we will return to sudsy musings again very soon.

Last week my friend Marcus sent me an editorial entitled, “Dear Watain, Thank You For Being The Greatest Band Ever.”  It was an interesting, even amusing read but it got me to thinking… can a Christian listen to black metal in good conscience?watain

Let’s backtrack for a moment, black metal is a sub genre of heavy metal that is typified, not just by its volume or often shrieked vocals, but also by its pro-Satanic and/or anti-Christian lyrics.  Watain most certainly falls into that category.  If you are not feint of heart then click here to see one of their videos complete with disturbing lyrics.

I hope that if you watched the video you are still with me and have not run off searching for some holy water to sprinkle on your monitor.

Anyway, even though I had an idea about  their ideology, because I trust Marcus’ musical judgment I gave them a listen.  While I must give them mad props for quoting New Model Army on their homepage, to me their music is only OK.  I don’t love it and am not struggling with the question as to whether or not I should download the album or go see them live.  I just don’t happen to like them that much.

But that brings me to the real point of this post.  Because there are bands that I do happen to like such as Arch Enemy and King of Asgard (which I am listening to as I write this), which although they may not be as decidedly Satanic as Watain, are still no friends  to Christianity.  The question is can I as a Christian (or worse yet as a priest) listen to these bands at all?

I struggled with this all through my teenage years.  I loved heavy metal.columbia-house  But my mother carefully scrutinized anything I wanted to order from Columbia House (remember them?) to make sure that nothing Satanic or unwholesome made its way through.  I can still remember her vetoing a Journey album because of the song title “Lovin’, touching, squeezing.”   Yet somehow, I managed to get a copy of Back in Black under her radar.  Later it was Holy Diver by Dio.

Yet even after mom finally gave in and let me choose my own music, I could never go in for overtly Satanic references, symbolism or lyrics such as “Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden, let alone Slayer, Venom or Celtic Frost.  (Of course I now fully realize the absurdity of this  considering the lyrics on Hell’s Bells and the fact that ole Ronnie James (RIP) was all about challenging the Judeo-Christian worldview and values)

In time I got involved in some pretty conservative youth groups.  It was there that I was first really introduced both to “Christian Rock” and to the notion that as a Christian I should not be listening to anything that was not expressly Christian.  For months I wrestled with this until finally one day, in my zeal, I took all the non-Christian albums and posters out into the back yard, put them in a trash can, and burned them.

As you may have guessed, this phase didn’t last.  In the end the music won out over the ideology.  This was aided and abetted by the fact that a lot of “Christian” Rock (in this case meaning bands on “Christian” labels as opposed Christian bands like U2 or The Call who are on secular labels) just sucks.  There are exceptions of course, but especially in the metal genre they were inferior rip offs of secular bands.  I realized that the reason why I loved a band was not necessarily because I agreed or disagreed with them philosophically, but because of the quality and character of the music they made.

And so began to rebuild my collection appropriately starting with Back in Black.  Today I have about 1000 albums which includes a huge range of music and covers the whole spectrum of ideologies.  Yet I still struggle with the original question.

Arch_Enemy_Wallpaper_by_coshkunFor example, when last at an Arch Enemy gig, I remember trying to decide if I should buy one of their t-shirts which prominently sported a pentagram (which is often associated with Satanism) in the background.  I thought about what my parishioners might think if they saw me in it.  And so ultimately I didn’t buy it.

It is no different when it comes to deciding to listen to bands like Watain or the critically acclaimed Ghost BC.  If  the music is all that matters, then there should be no issue.  Listen to it and like it for what it is. After all, no music, no matter how hostile to Christianity it may be, is going to destroy my faith.

So what is the role of ideology when it comes to music?  I realize we are venturing into the realm of hermeneutics ( the study of how we interpret things) now which is a long way from the relative simplicity of Iron Maiden, but the question is important.  Does the intent or personal ideology of the author/performer have any moral bearing on its validity or quality?  Does their moral standing (or lack thereof) reflect on us if we choose to listen to it?  To parse the issue differently, should we no longer read the philosophy of Martin Heidegger because he was a Nazi sympathizer?   Or in terms of music, what about Wagner?  He was a nationalist whose work was co-opted by the Nazis… should we nix Ride of the Valkyries from our playlists?

Not such an easy question now is it?  And so I turn it over to you, gentle reader.  What do you think?  Does the fact that I like Arch Enemy make me a bad Christian?  Does the fact that I am uncomfortable listening to Ghost BC because of my faith make me a hypocrite?  Where do you draw the line, if you draw the line at all?


13 thoughts on “667- The Neighbor of the Beast… or can a Christian listen to Black Metal?

  1. I too have some qualms about some of the musicians I listen to, usually due to their bigoted/nazi type views. I can separate the art from the artist, but I do worry when my dollars might go to funding hate. This isn’t much of an issue with regards to underground metal, even the most well known of them can’t make a living from music, but I don’t think I’ll be able to support the upcoming “Ender’s Game” film.

  2. To me there are 3 ways of listening to music:
    – music as entertainment rather in the background. Like listening to the radio at work, no matter what comes and enjoying the music only. There I don’t care for lyrics and would be fine with anything. As you say, it doesn’t affect my belief more than any Wagner.
    – listening carefully, paying attention to the music and lyrics. If music is well made it makes you join in, but honestly, I’d had real struggles to shout “To hell with God” or “Burn Jesus”. This a grey zone and sometines subtle even depending on my mood. Metallica can just get me going and I shout with them but can find me asking ‘do I really want to “follow the God that fails”?’…
    – Paying attention only on the music (incl. lyrics) and really meaning it. This is not music as entertaining but music that expresses my thoughts, feelings. Here I really need strong lyrics that go along with my belief. I recently found Pergamum’s “Awesome God” version, which is great!!! music but goes beyond. I can sing this from my heart. This doesn’t necessarily need to be explicitly Christian music/lyrics. Though far from metal but I (admittedly) love “Heal the World” by Michael Jackson. It expresses my inner thoughts and wishes – and the melody also fits well.

    Besides consuming I agree with Marcus that I have a much better feeling about supporting (give money, e.g. by buying an album from) people who do good things or share my Christian belief rather than go against it…

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  4. Listen to what sounds good to you Padre. As a Catholic I could and can relate to your internal struggle regarding music. Like you, I was hooked on heavy metal from an early age having grown up in the 1980’s at it’s peak. To this day and at the age of 45 I still enjoy listening to everything from Ratt to Slayer to many of the modern bands you’ve mentioned. Doesn’t God judge what’s in our hearts and how we treat others? I would consider my self to be a kind, loving and generous person who puts the needs of others before my own and I love and accept the lord. These are hardly the traits conveyed by the music I choose to like. So, the real question is what will save your soul on judgement day? The music you chose to listen too or the way you lived your life? I think we both know the answer to this one.

    I’m going to go back to enjoying the new Ghost B.C. album now because I like the melody of the music and enjoy the way it sounds….. Lyrics aside they are a pretty good band.

    • Thanks Bill. I was just reading the Gospel of Mark where Jesus says that it is not what goes into a person but what comes out of them that defiles. It would seem you and Jesus are on the same page!

    • I am a Christian who listens to Ghost B.C. I love the way they sound as you don’t hear too much of their style in mainstream music. However, I have to ask just from a Christian point of view, do you feel comfortable singing along to the songs? I’ve listened to a number of albums and tend to hum along and feel guilty if I end up singing along to songs like Monstrance Clock or Year Zero, or even Ritual (and that’s one of my favorites!). A few of the songs I do feel comfortable singing to would be Cirice, Zombie Queen, and their “If You Have Ghosts” cover. How do you deal with this?

      • Great question Miranda. I’m not sure if I can answer with complete confidence. Certainly we read and recite words from books and other sources that would not be consistent with our faith. Many lyrics from less ominous pop and rock bands are pretty dreadful yet we go around humming them. Indeed there are even passages from the Bible itself (Psalm 137:9) which would be comparable to black metal lyrics. So, I guess I don’t know where a line exists if one exists at all.

  5. I came here because I struggle with my near addiction to Ghost! As a somewhat conservative christian I have a really hard time with their lyrics – but the passion I feel for the music is something I haven’t felt for a band in several years. I think the music is downright beautiful, and it somehow makes me appreciative of life and love, ungodly lyrics aside. And that is a bit strange, it should be a contradiction, shouldn’t it? But if something is beautiful and makes you happy, how could it not be from God? I don’t find these questions easy to answer but I do find the discussion interesting and relevant.

    • I’m right there with you…I saw them last night and am sitting here listening to Year Zero in a Ghost shirt singing along. However, I change the lyrics when I sing along. Like when the chorus says hail satan, I sing hail santa because that’s what it sounds like to me and makes me giggle. When I sing along to Monstrance Clock, I say “come together, together as one for Jesus, His Son.” Helps me deal with the very severe cognitive dissonance I get when listening to Ghost.

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  8. I agree with the OP on this. I am a christian and listen to a lot of non christian bands. Some questionable, but listening to those records does not make me waver in my faith or change my view of God or make me pray any less in the morning. However, I think there is a line. I think that can be placed on the individual though.

    Some one could listen to certain music, be turned off and offended and go home and listen to gospel. Others can listen to a variety of music and be saved by Christ, just the same as the person at home only listening to Gospel.

    However, if that music is making you moody, smiling less, given into anger, cursing your neighbor (more than you would on a daily basis) then I think the line should be clear for that individual.

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