Defenders of the Faith: Metal and Religion

There are certain hypocrisies in the metal world when it comes to religion; a double standard that we all apply when it comes to matters of faith.

Imagine a band that sings about their faith, and about how theirs is the one and only that is right, while all the others are not only wrong, but are actually inherently worthless; these other faiths are, actually, made up of worthless “human cattle”. You are probably thinking that a band like that would never make it in the metal world, where we are known for rejecting not only religious fundamentalism but also, to an extent, religion in general. Well, believe it or not, bands like that already exist: Watain, Dissection and The Devil’s Blood are (or, in the case of the last two, were) bands that are precisely about that: The faith of their theistic branch of Satanism and, to a point, the cattle-character of those who are not (or cannot be) members.

100% Religious
Watain: 100% Religious (Photo: Lynda Akerberg)

While all the above bands achieved huge levels of success (particularly Dissection and Watain, both of which I consider great musical acts), imagine what would have happened if this type of lyrical content came from a band pushing Christianism, Judaism or Islamism. Of course, they’d be booed out of any stage outside of the bible-belt area that allowed As I Lay Dying to achieve success.

At some point the metal community came to a sort of silent consensus about Satanism and Odinism being “acceptable”, while any other form of religion was seen as a proper target for mockery. Somewhere along the line we decided that believing in Jesus Christ was downright moronic, while believing in Satan, Lucifer, or whatever incarnation is being pushed by the black metal band of the day, was completely rational and logical. Even atheistic metalheads seem to be happy to give these ideologies a pass, while bitching about how stupid and nonsensical it is to be a Christian.

As an agnostic, I have no intention to defend Christianity or any religion. If anything, I think religion does not get the criticism and mockery it honestly and truly deserves. And yet, it feels wrong to see that Michael Kiske, when he wrote for our site or when I interviewed him, was the object of a lot of criticism for being openly a Christian (someone even said that I was stupid, because an intelligent person would have tried to humiliate and insult him), whereas when I interviewed Watain nobody thought of saying anything remotely critical about Erik being a committed and faithful follower of the Misanthropic Luciferian Order, or when Gaahl told me he considered himself an Odinist.

There’s nothing intrinsically “badass” about being a Satanist or an Odinist, just like there’s nothing intrinsically good about being a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew. If we want to mock some people for believing in traditional religious bullshit (and perhaps we should) then we ought to extend the same treatment to those who believe in fringe doctrines. After all, there is no Satan without God… and I’m pretty sure thunder does not come from some dude with a hammer.

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Considered by his mother as the brightest and prettiest boy, J’s interest in metal started in his early teens, listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica (coupled with an embarrassing period in which Marilyn Manson “totally represents me, man”) eventually moving into the realm of power, black, and death metal.
He holds a PhD in law, trains martial arts, practices law, and enjoys coming up with excuses as to why he has to miss work after going to a concert. He also dabbles as a concert photographer, you can see his sub-par work on his instagram.

  • Jeff Clark

    There are two levels to this:
    The first is the truly theological and philosophical level. Satanism/Devil Worship/Demonology is by nature an extension of Christianity and doesn’t exist outside that context. If you reject the Christian version of the universe then you reject Satan (who was actually one of God’s angels, and never was against God; that is a narrative created by middle age fiction writers). Odinism (is that what they are calling it today, I thought it was called Asatru) is as silly as modern day witchcraft. It has no pedigree and any rituals are made up. The culture that these practices existed in were largely illiterate, so whatever exists today is guesswork at best. Jeff Walker has mocked “Satanists” at Carcass shows.
    The second level is metaphorical. Metal has always been about rebelling against the status quo and embracing the darker side of the human experience. In this context the “fallen angel” imagery works great, as does the “tempter”. In the LeVayan version of Satanism it admits that it is a psychological exercise rather than a spiritual one, which also fits with the emotive nature of metal. Pagan folklore and fantasy fiction make great backdrops for Metal that allow the listener to escape from their boring, mundane world. Letting your imagination dream of something cooler is also a staple of Metal.
    So what does any of this truly mean? Metal is about individualism, so people should be free to express how they feel as individuals, even if it isn’t “cool”? Both Mastodon and Red Fang have videos right now that feature LARP in a positive way. LARP isn’t cool by most people’s standards, but if two Stoner bands are willing to defend it, does that mean it has some merit? Being a Christian isn’t super cool in the metal community, but if I genuinely cool person happens to be a Christian and isn’t a c#$k about it, leave them be. If someone wants to believe in a pantheon of gods that weren’t really worshiped as much as were just the focus of stories, as long as they aren’t being a c$%k about it; whatever. Start being a jerk about it and a guy like me that knows a thing or two about a thing or two is going to set you @$$ straight quick.

    • J_MetalBlast

      An interesting read. Thanks for your visit!

  • Amit N

    Your articles are brilliant, thank you for writing this. I’ve always felt a bit conflicted as an Atheist who loves Black Metal and recognises that some bands truly believe in Satanism or Odinism. It’s always seemed odd as I truly abhor religion, I enjoyed the satanic aspect as a kid as I always thought of it as more of an anti-authoritarian stance, more than a theistic belief system held by the members of the band.

    I think now that I’m older, on the one hand I find it hard not to hear or see interviews where bands I love (E.g. Watain) talk about being followers of the MLO without scoffing, but I’m also at a point where I can disregard the message to enjoy the music. I’d like to think it’s not hypocrisy as I will openly state that I think the religious aspect is asinine, but it very well maybe.

    • J_MetalBlast

      Hi Amit! Thanks for the very kind words
      It’s all about the double standard, I agree. Also, yeah, the MLO people are often… “funny”, to say the least.

  • Atheist

    Yeah well, if there is no Satan without God, then there is no Satan. As any 5th grader should be able to recognize, much of “Satanism” in heavy metal is actually opposition to Chritianity. Opposition to Christinity, more than “Satanism,” is the actual tradition in metal. Now, some bands and musicians do claim to be actual “Satanists” but they have little actual (political) power, unlike Chritianity, which had been responsible for horrible institutional atrocities, crimes, rapes, wars, persecutions, and oppressions across many centuries. Christianity is embedded within financial and political powers. In short, Christianity is actually worth opposing. Satanism and Odinism can be motivation for wrongdoing amongst individuals or small groups of people, but neither are large institutions needing opposition. Varg Vikerness is either a Satanist or Nazi, or both, or neither, depending on who you believe. Either way, he did kill a guy, and he’s gone to jail. Unlike Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin, Varg is not going to become President of the United States and start WWIII because he doesn’t like Islam, and “God” told him to nuke Iran.

    Another point of distinction to make is that kids who listen to “Satanist” music generally get into music because they genuinely like it, not because they want to spread a religious message as so many Christian metal bands do. There us something disingenuous about their music that many fans recognize. I listen to music that I like because it’s good, and not because I want to worship Jesus. Music is the point, not religion. Yeah I might give Amon Amarth a pass for writing songs about Odin, but they write a good songs and I don’t think they are going to try to convert me to Odinism. I can’t even say that they actually belive in Odin, but the Norse tales make for good metal lyrics, and I can take them for mere stories and not “gospel.” It’s the musical equivalent to ‘Lord of the Rings’ to me. A story. Nobody would pressure me to take their songs literally either.

    I’m an atheist. I grew up listening to metal, and I’ve always drawn the line with listening to Christian metal. Christianity is actually something worth opposing because it has actual negative consequences. I’m not a “Satanist,” nor would I pretend to be one if anybody asked, no more than I would pretend to be Christian. But opposition to Chritianity has a point. Equating Christianity to Satanism or Odinism, or stating that people don’t oppose Satanism or Odinism enough, just makes you seem like an idiot or a kook. There’s no need for it. Christians already do that loud enough for us all. No need to worry, the “heathens” have opposition.

    • J_MetalBlast

      Hi, thank you so much for your visit and your comment.
      I think you misunderstood what I said. I’m not asking people to “oppose” Satanism, anymore than I’m asking people to “oppose” Christianity or Islam. I personally don’t care about people’s creeds, it’s their own business.
      Having said that, however, I do see that many people give a pass to theistic satanism and Odinism, even though they are as nonsensical as Christianity. Even worse, some branches of theistic Satanism are actively violent, and downright sociopathic in their beliefs. The MLO’s idea of “wolves in a world of sheep,” and all the faux-social Darwinism (usually from a bunch of unemployed junkies) is pathetic.
      I don’t see why you went on that weird tangent about Christianity’s role in the problems of the world (even bringing up Rick Sanctorum), or saying I equate Christianity to Satanism, but whatever.