Unfortunate angst

One week before I left the US for my little six-month sojourn to the warm and pleasantly sunny miserably cold, wet, and wind-swept northern realm of the United Kingdom (of Depressing Weather), I had the opportunity to see not one, but two of my favourite bands playing live at my favourite venue in NYC.

The almighty northern warbeasts AMON AMARTH were playing live that night, and supporting them were the hilariously awesome SABATON. These two titans of Swedish metal were there to tear off some heads, and that is precisely what they did.

SABATON charged onto the stage to thunderous acclaim from the crowd- they were genuinely astonished at how much the crowd loved them and their war-and-history-metal shtick. They played a fantastic set which got the entire crowd warmed up in fine condition for the main act. They are the "Pacific Rim" of heavy metal- you can't tell if they're the dumbest awesome band in the genre, or the most awesome dumb band, but either way, they're impossible to dislike.

And then AMON AMARTH hit the stage and... well, if you're into melodic death metal, and you've never seen these guys play live, you're missing out on an epic experience. Every time I see them, I find myself wondering just how the hell the venue is still left standing. These guys don't hold back; their songs are brutal and energetic, and their fans are insane. (Hey, look at me!)

The gig was, overall, immensely good fun and it was a great way to begin wrapping up my time in the US. And I walked out of it (on very shaky legs, with no voice, and a rather interesting case of temporary tinnitus) both tired and exhilarated at having seen two of the finest metal bands in the world doing what they do best.

There was, however, one rather off note in the whole thing: the first opening band, VALLENFYRE.

Now these guys are apparently a grim grindcore band from the UK, who write and perform grim grinding songs about politics, religion, and society, if their Facebook page is anything to go by. And that night, they made their views on religion in general- and Christianity in particular- perfectly clear.

Their intro was an edited set of clips of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, talking about why God is neither necessary nor useful in an enlightened, rational society. The band itself repeatedly gave the Lord the finger during their set, and the singer had no qualms with saying things like, "God bless! And f*** you!".

Unsurprisingly, given that they were playing in New York City, these sentiments were greeted quite warmly by the crowd.

Now, I'm not a Christian. I don't pretend to be one. I don't think Christians need me to defend their faith- they have more than a few very skilled and very knowledgeable apologists who can do the job far better than I can. But the sentiments expressed by the band and their singer, and so acclaimed by the crowd, got me to thinking: why the hostility toward the Word among people who really should know better?

I think the answer lies in three parts.

The first part of the answer lies in the fact that this was a heavy metal show. Metal is, and has always been, an underground music scene. We metalheads pride ourselves on our fiercely anti-establishment and non-conformist ways. There is no such thing as a "typical" metalhead; put ten metalheads into a room and ask them to decide on the greatest metal band of all time, and sooner or later a fistfight is likely to break out because they'll all have different views.

(For the record: the answer is, and always will be, IRON MAIDEN. There is no room for debate on this subject with me.)

Because of this, when it comes to "mainstream" religion, metalheads tend to have an instinctive rebellious streak and often take great pleasure at attacking and tearing down Christianity- no matter how ham-handed, juvenile, and silly their attacks and arguments. All you have to do to persuade yourself that most atheists have no clue what they're talking about is to listen to a metalhead atheist explaining why he hates Christianity. The answer will be rambling, imprecise, and thoroughly illogical, and will have something to do with "how Christianity starts wars" and how "no just God could possibly allow suffering on Earth".

The second part of the answer lies in the fact that many of the European nations where modern heavy metal has its strongest followings and most innovative subgenres are countries where Christianity was introduced at the point of a sword.

Let's not gloss over this- the ancient pagan cultures of Gaul and Scandinavia DID NOT like Christianity. And there is a very strong and powerful undercurrent of deep opposition to Christianity that still resonates in countries like Sweden and Finland and Iceland, where the pagan beliefs of the Vikings were pushed aside through violence and coercion by Christian missionaries and kings.

You see this all the time in the lyrics and songs of bands like TYR and ELUVEITIE (both of whom I saw at another gig just a few days later- it was a damn busy week!). I remember watching TYR prefacing one of their songs with some offhand remarks about "the unfortunate introduction of Christianity to our beloved homeland, the Faroe Islands", to be greeted with loud applause from the crowd.

This sort of thing simply reveals the depth of historical ignorance on the part of most atheists and anti-religionists who celebrate such statements. There are plenty of people who enjoy hearing tales of the Viking sagas and love Scandinavian lore- I'm one of them, and I make no idle boast when I say that my knowledge of the same is considerably greater than that of the average metalhead.

But let's not paper over the realities of pagan Viking culture- which glorified death in battle, had absolutely no problem with sacrificing young women (after several ceremonial rapes), and considered drinking mead out of cups made from the skulls of vanquished enemies to be the height of refinement.

This culture and civilisation was fought against, conquered, and eventually pushed out by a Christian culture that emphasised a degree of gender equality previously unheard of in most pagan cultures, believed human life to be sacred and precious, and had serious problems with killing young women for no apparent reason.

So when young, angry, angsty metalheads rail against the "oppression" and "intolerance" and "bigotry" of Christianity, what they're really saying is, "we just want something to be angry about, and Christianity seems like a pretty good target, so let's be pissed off about that! It's not like the vast majority of Christians are going to advocate killing us for criticising their god and their beliefs!"

The third, and most important, part of the answer lies in the fact that, well, most people are idiots. Metalheads are no exception to this.

The average metalhead that you meet will be more than capable of listing in exacting detail the precise musical stylings of all of his favourite bands, the best tracks from every great album he's ever listened to, the musical history of each band to an astonishing degree of depth, and in many cases can give really useful tips on how to play some of the best songs by those same bands.

Beyond this, though, their ability to reason and comprehend logical arguments can be severely limited. And that's because many metalheads never really grow out of the "RAAAHHH!!! I'M SO ANGRYYYYYYY!!!" phase at which we generally get into the genre.

Some of us are lucky because we started out literate and interested in history and literature, and stayed that way. And because of that, we are able to see the anti-Christian sentiments of bands like TYR and AMON AMARTH and many others for what they are: generally a bit of fun, a good laugh, and great music, and that's about it. We don't take them too seriously- for instance, I have no problem whatsoever with listening to the latest AMON AMARTH or ELUVEITIE album and rocking out to great melodic death metal on the one hand, and then reading the Bible ten minutes later on the other.

But eventually, we all have to grow up. And it's just a shame that most metalheads never do. They never get to see and understand the Word for what it is- the most profound and important form of teaching and guidance that Man has ever received, given to us by a mind of inconceivable compassion and wisdom, who seeks to reach us despite our continued and obstinate refusal to let Him in.


  1. I'll sponsor you when you're ready to make it formal, Didact.

    You're 90% there, just take the dip and join us, already.

    1. Will you be bringing cookies? =)

      I'm getting there, that's for sure. The more closely I look at what the Bible actually says, rather than what its most noisy and irritating critics think it says, the more I realise that it makes unassailable sense.

      I haven't yet gotten around to setting foot in a church and worshipping- it just doesn't feel right somehow to intrude upon a place of worship like that if I don't really believe. But I'm looking forward to the day that I can go there.

  2. I'll give them street creed when they publically defy islam. Until then, they're just acting on a soft target

    1. Indeed. Atheists who attack Christians for being bloodthirsty warmongers strangely tend to keep forgetting that if this were true, those same Christians would have no problem whatsoever with returning the favour- and then some.

      But because Christians rarely respond with anything other than reason, argument, dialogue, and compassion, atheists are given free license to continue attacking obliviously, spewing their bile without once recognising the absurdity of the situation.

      I'd like to see those same anti-Christian zealots display the level of courage that Hitchens did in attacking Islam. The man may not have been able to string together any set of logical arguments- but he certainly had panache.

  3. A) Thanks - now I'll have to go look up these bands, they sound pretty cool. Iron Maiden, of course, is awesome

    B) I know that I stumble into the anti-christianity stuff in metal now and again as well. One Nightwish song from Imaginareum certainly has a dour take on it.

    1. Yes, you'll find this with a great many Scandinavian bands. The old Norse pagan traditions still have a very strong hold in the north- even in Germany and Switzerland, actually. By contrast, the Eastern European bands tend to be a lot less dour on the Christian faith- I suspect because of the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire.

      The best nuanced songs that I've ever heard from any metal band are by (of course) IRON MAIDEN. The last three albums had some great takes on Christian theology- "New Frontier" from Dance of Death, "For the Greater Good of God" from A Matter of Life and Death, and "Mother of Mercy" from The Final Frontier. They are hardly a bunch of Christian choir boys- actually these days they act exactly like what they are, a bunch of 50-plus-multi-millionaires- but their takes on Christianity are far more introspective and positive than you'll find in most of the metal community.


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