My friend Ben loves Slayer. He loves to tell the story of an encounter he had at an Ozzfest when he wore one of their shirts that read, “Jesus Slaves.” For most of the crowd the shirt didn’t even register a blip. But one other concert-goer took great offence. He approached Ben and with an air of disbelief asked him if the shirt was “real?” Apparently this young man could not believe that someone would actually wear something so blasphemous. Now Ben is not the most patient man but he still took the time to try and explain that yes, it was indeed a “real” shirt. Dumbfounded and apparently lost for a response the young man sputtered, “You should listen to Creed.”
Setting aside the stylistic gulf between “Arms Wide Open” and “Raining Blood” it would seem that young man was trying to help Ben by suggesting a “Christian” alternative to Slayer.
As someone who once burned my secular records and listened only to “Christian” rock for a time I have to say that get it. I really do. But having been there and done that I am now left questioning the whole enterprise.
When you dig deeper what you find is that there is not very much to it. While there are notable exceptions many of the acts are usually pale imitations of their secular counterparts. An episode of South Park, “Christian Hard Rock” kind of nails the dynamic I am trying to describe.
That’s because the “Christian” Music industry is just that, an industry. They have their own rules and policies and if artists do not conform they will suffer the consequences. One need look no further than the recent furor over World Vision and their hiring policy to find evidence of that point.
But even if we set aside the issues of inferior product and an industry that often fails to live up to the standards they supposedly profess there are even more disturbing issues that need to be acknowledged. Take for example the thrash metal band, “Vengeance Rising” who according to Campus Life magazine made, “Stryper sound like Sandi Patti.” Consistent with their style they gravitate towards very violent lyrics. My favorite is the song “Beheaded” from the album “Human Sacrifice.” Set during the apocalypse when Christians will be called to renounce their faith under pain of death, the chorus runs as follows,
“I want my head chopped off. You’ll see my body rot.
And then I’ll reign with Christ. And then you’ll fry!”
While willingness to die for your faith can be an incredible virtue, rejoicing that your captors will go to hell to be tortured for eternity is not a terribly Christian sentiment. Interestingly enough when the band split in the early 90’s the lead singer split and abandoned his faith releasing several very anti-Christian albums under the same name. He also publically reviled the Christian Music Industry for some of the same issues cited above.
But perhaps the greatest head scratcher of all is the subgenre of Christian “Black” Metal. Also called “un-black” or “white” metal, these bands copy the music and look of some of the most Satanic bands out there.
The most over the top example maybe the band Horde who’s album Hellig Usvart resulted in death threats from some black metal bands. The album boasts the following song titles,
- “A Church Bell Tolls Amidst the Frozen Nordic Winds”
- “Blasphemous Abomination of the Satanic Pentagram”
- “Behold, the Rising of the Scarlet Moon”
- “Thine Hour Hast Come”
- “Release and Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice”
- “Drink From the Chalice of Blood”
- “Silence the Blasphemous Chanting”
- “Invert the Inverted Cross”
- “An Abandoned Grave Bathes Softly in the Falling Moonlight”
- “Crush the Bloodied Horns of the Goat”
- “Weak, Feeble, and Dying Anti-Christ”
- “The Day of Total Armageddon Holocaust”
- “My Heart Doth Beseech Thee (O Master)”
“Release and Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice”? Really? The track listings are so absurd as to appear to be an Onion-esque parody as opposed to a serious album. While I actually like the track in question musically I am left wondering if it all only goes to prove South Park’s point. You can keep the violent lyrics and corpse paint and still call yourself Christian. All you have to do is cross out Satan and write in Jesus’ name instead.
In the end I can’t help but wonder how much richer our collective soundscape would be if bands stopped trying to figure out how they can take the square peg of the music that they love and somehow pound it into the round hole that is the imagined (or otherwise) standards proscribed by their faith and instead just bloody well focused on their music. Or to put it another way, I think all of us would be better off if “Christian” bands spent less time worrying about how to measure up to the “Christian” part and instead focused on being the best band they can be.
Look, if faith plays a role in your life and you want to make that part of your music, more power to you. But unless the rock and roll comes first both the music and the message will be compromised.
I think even my friend Ben could agree with that.