"Heavy Metal Jesus Freaks: Headbanging for Christ"
by Dan Kapelovitz
In the beginning there was Stryper.
In 1984, the power of Christ compelled them to rock. Decked out in yellow and black spandex, Stryper co-opted Heavy Metal to communicate the reality of Jesus. When Stryper's 1986 album To Hell with the Devil went Platinum, the world at large was turned on to the concept of Christian Heavy Metal.
Stryper wasn't the first Christian rock band, but it was by far the most popular. Stryper (whose name originates from Isaiah 53:5, "....with his stripes we are healed," and has since become an acronym of Salvation Through Redemption Yielding Peace, Encouragement, & Righteousness) paved the way for hundreds of Christian Heavy Metal bands. Mortification, Tourniquet, Vengeance Rising, Vomitorial Corpulence, Payable On Death, Living Sacrifice and Goredeath all owe a huge debt to Stryper.
This new found popularity garnered new found controversy. Christian metal bands were persecuted by non-believers, but their most vocal critics were their own brothers and sisters in Christ. Fundamentalist Christians, who had denounced rock and roll since its inception, had a new Holy War on their hands; a war against their own kind.
A Brief History of Christian Heavy Metal
Christian rock sprang out of the Jesus Movement of the late 60's and early 70's when numerous hippies accepted Jesus as their own personal savior. In 1969, Larry Norman, the grandfather of Christian rock, released "Upon This Rock," arguably the first Christian rock album.
Following Norman's lead came Jerusalem, the Daniel Band and the Resurrection Band. "These bands were doing sort of a 70's metal hard rock approach in the late 70's early 80's," explains Doug Van Pelt, editor of HM Magazine (formerly Heaven's Metal Magazine), a magazine devoted to covering hard Christian music. "Stryper were the first ones to say, 'Hey, we're Christian Metal.' There were a few other more obscure bands like Philadelphia and Saint and Messiah Prophet who came along at the same time. I'm not sure who was the first, but Stryper was definitely the biggest."
Kris Klingensmith of the Christian rock band Barnabas explains how the history of Christian music relates to the history of secular music. "Since Christian musicians have always copied the trends and styles initiated by their secular counterparts, 'Christian metal' was unavoidable," says Klingensmith in a Christian Metal Resource interview. "If you want to know what Christian music will be doing tomorrow, all you need to do is see what the secular guys are doing today."
The 80's were the golden age of Heavy Metal Glam with the big hair and the make-up. Soon after, came the golden age of Christian Heavy Metal Glam. Many blame "that one song from Nirvana" for single handedly ending Heavy Metal. In America, Metal had ceased to be cool. In other parts of the world Metal never died, it just became more extreme. Large Death Metal and Black Metal scenes blossomed all over Northern Europe. And where secular Black Metal thrived, so did its Christian counterpart, Unblack Metal, with names like Satanicide, Neversatan, and Satan's Doom.
In the late 90's, hybrids like rap-metal, industrial-metal, and thrash-metal made metal, or at least some manifestations of metal, cool once again. While not Classic Metal, Christian bands like Creed and Payable On Death (P.O.D.) are popular with both Christian and non-Christian teens. Creed was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, and P.O.D.'s song, "Rock the Party" hit the number one spot on MTV's Total Request Live.
The late 90's also saw the reunion of many of the Hair Bands of the 80's. Stryper themselves are performing in Costa Rica this December, their first official show in over seven years. Prepare for the second coming of Christian Heavy Metal.
The Christian Metal Controversy
While Christians use all musical genres from Country to Rap to spread their message to the masses, Christian Heavy Metal is by far the most controversial. Christian headbangers argue that any music able to reach potential followers is worthwhile, but critics maintain that Heavy Metal with its aggressive sound and explicit imagery is inherently non-Christian. Worse, Heavy Metal is often associated with devil worship.
Since rock and roll's inception, right-wing Christians have opposed what they called "the Devil's music." According to two anti-rock experts Alan Yusko and Ed Prior, the name "rock and roll" derives from "the practice of fornication by teenagers in the back seat of a car." When Christian rock came on the scene, Fundamentalists where divided. Some praised Christian rock as a healthy alternative while others declared any music with a beat inherently demonic.
"I challenge any CCM [Contemporary Christian Music] supporter to show us where the Bible says Jesus Christ dances to rock music," writes David W. Cloud, founder of Way of Life Literature, in his article "Does Jesus Groove to Rock Music?" "Show us even one instance where Jesus Christ shakes His body or jives to the beat of rock music."
Although, there is not one instance in the Bible where Jesus uses a computer to post articles on the Internet, this seems to be a favorite pastime of those who oppose Christian rock.
"We now have: Christian Rock, Christian New Wave, Christian Heavy Metal, Christian Punk. What are these rebels going to advocate next? Christian drug use, Christian Witchcraft, Christian Pornography???" ask Yusko and Prior in their diatribe, "Religious Rock...The music of devils in the CHURCH!!!"
"Pornographic activity and getting drunk are immoral activities; music in and of itself, is not," responds Erik Sellin, a 27-year-old web designer from Maryland who runs the Christian Rock Apologetics web site (http://pages.prodigy.com/erik/crockrox.htm). "There's nothing about the decibel level, the tempo, the beat, or about the instruments used that makes music inherently sinful."
The anti-Christian rock folk don't buy the "music is neutral" argument. "A C-major chord isn't music! It's a building block of music," declares Tim Fisher in his book The Battle for Christian Music." Take the English language. If I write the letter 'e' is that a good 'e' or a bad 'e'? Neither. As a building block of the English language it is a neutral entity. However, I as a creative writer can put that letter in conjunction with other letters and communicate something like 'Praise the Lord'... or 'I hate God.'"
Aaron Guerra, the guitarist for Tourniquet, disagrees with this "Building Block" theory. "Even 100's of years ago, Bach wrote music for the Church and the Church said, 'You can't put these notes together. That's evil,' and he was like, 'What do you mean, "that's evil." Music notes in and of themselves are not evil.'"
Terry Watkins, the founder of Dial-the-Truth ministries takes it one step further. He writes, "Rock music can literally kill. The view that music is amoral or neutral with no inherent power to effect is completely proven false by extensive research performed on plant life. Rock music, with its hard driving beat, played to plants will kill the plants - while soothing classical music causes the plants to grow twice as fast." He adds, "If music is neutral - how is it that certain music can literally break glass!"
Rock and roll not only can break glass, but it has the power to hard boil eggs. "Drs. Earl W. Flosdorf and Leslie A. Chambers found in a series of experiments that shrill sounds projected into a liquid media coagulated proteins," writes radio evangelist, Bob Larson, in his 1972 book, The Day Music Died. "A recent teenage fad was that of taking soft eggs to rock concerts and placing them at the foot of the stage. Midway through the concert the eggs could be eaten hard-boiled as a result of the music. Amazingly few rock fans wondered what that same music might do to their bodies."
Like many of the anti-rock zealots, Larson started out playing rock and roll. As a teen, he had his own band, The Rebels. But when he accepted Jesus into his heart he gave up rock music. In his books Rock and Roll: the Devil's Diversion (1969) and Rock and the Church (1971), Larson declares that any music with a beat is inherently Satanic.
Larson has since changed his tune and now believes that Christian rock can fill the vacuum left when a teen gives up his addiction to secular rock. Christian rock can be used to treat secular rock junkies the same way that methadone is used to treat heroin addicts.
"Even the worst modern attempts at expressing Christian faith are better than the secular sex-drenched paeans to hedonism," writes Larson in his Book of Rock (1980).
In the same book, Larson describes how he learned to accept "the beat." He heard a jazz drummer accompany a Scripture reading. "At the conclusion, I was breathless," writes Larson. "What many would consider 'the devil's instrument' had ushered me into the presence of God and destroyed my bias."
Larson's bias against the beat was destroyed so much, he created "The Metal Connection Ministry" in 1992. Larson sent music videos of bands like Tourniquet, Deliverance and Vengeance Rising to troubled teens. After the teen had a chance get into the music, he would get a phone call from a Christian Metal rock star who would teach him about Jesus.
"You're talking to some wasted kid; he could have the cure for cancer somewhere in his head," ponders Larson on the Metal Connection video.
Larson was too busy working on his new novel to be interviewed, so I called him on his live radio show, "Talk Back" to talk about his current position on Christian rock.
"We're talking almost thirty years ago, and a reflection on the times, and what was talking place during that current era. Much has happened since then in the maturing of music and musicians using various genres to communicate Jesus Christ. And I have been honest enough to admit when I have said things that turned out to be in a cultural context, not in the realm of eternal verities. This is not the Virgin Birth, this is not the deity of Christ, this not the Resurrection."
Perhaps Larson was brainwashed by Satan to accept Christian rock. Yusko and Prior explain how this could easily happen without Larson even knowing. "In the world of biology, we are given the example of a frog that when placed into boiling water, will immediately jump out. However, if that same frog is put into a bowl of cool water which is slowly heated by a Bunsen burner, the frog will eventually boil to death. Religious rock and roll is like the frog and the water."
Jack Chick, the mastermind behind Chick Publications, the religious comic tract empire, believes in the "Bunsen burner" theory. In the Chick Tract "Angels?" Lew Siffer (i.e. Satan) seduces a Christian rock band. At Siffer's request, the band members sign a contract in their own blood making him their manager.
Siffer explains how he uses rock music (or "killer rock") to take over the world. "In the 50's and 60's I started gradually introducing my new beat into some of the crooners...at first it was nice and soft. Then I gave them Elvis and the Beatles, etc. And out of this came the Flower Children, the protesters...And a near revolution. It was beautiful...From the 70's on, I gave the world KISS, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, etc. My music pushes murder, drugs, free sex, suicide, to destroy country, home and education..And man....is it doing it! Next, I started invading and distorting country, classical, soul and Christian music...Who do you think started Christian rock? I did!"
"Well I have news for [Jack Chick], Satan created nothing," answers Christian rock advocate Erik Sellin. "In the entire Bible, Satan is given no credit whatsoever for any creativity. Satan takes what God created and corrupts it. Music is a gift from God, food is gift from God, sex is a gift from God. all those have been corrupted. To say he created rock music is simply wrong. He delights in rock music being corrupted and used for purposes against God, but he did not create it. Music is a tool. A tool can be used for good, and it can be used for evil."
Probably no one has spoken against Christian rock with as much venom as Terry Watkins, founder of the Dial-the-Truth Ministries. (Watkins declined to be interviewed for this article.) Dial-the-Truth Ministries began in Pinson, Alabama as a telephone ministry in 1990.
"We have seen many people get saved!" boasts the Dial-the-Truth web site (http://www.av1611.org/). "People from all walks of life: Satanists, homosexuals, prostitutes, people in prison, people involved in cults, and many people just 'confused or hurting' who just needed someone to talk to and didn't know where to turn."
After dialing (205) 680-9206 for the Truth, callers can listen to "Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy?" by pressing 9 on their touch-tone key pads. "This short message will not even scratch the surface," says Watkins of his 22 minute tirade.
Although Watkins has a version of "Blessing or Blasphemy" on the net, the recorded message features such extras as Watkins playing the song, "Every Waking Hour" by the Rez Band backwards. Satanic backmasking is revealed: "I love Satan, I love you so."
Later, Watkins wonders aloud whether Stryper's hit song, "To Hell with the Devil," is actually an invitation to go to Hell with the Devil.
"That guy hates my guts," says Robert Sweet, the drummer of Stryper. "He is one of those guys who is bent on, 'Well you look this way, so that's what you are,' Some of the most criminal cruel-minded cult leaders, people such as Jim Jones for example, they are the guys in the suit holding the bible standing behind the pulpit. They aren't the long-haired guys playing in a rock and roll band. This is a man who is just ludicrous, he makes his living hurting every Christian artist that is out there, not just Stryper, but everybody from Amy Grant to Michael W. Smith. I really think he's out to lunch."
"If any band out there ever felt picked on by the church, they ought to really respect Stryper," says Sweet. "We were spit on. We've had things thrown at us, I've had fists swung at my face. I remember getting swamped by people saying, 'You are going to burn in Hell. You are ruining a generation of people. God is gonna take you down. We are praying for you to die.'"
Everything Stryper did was held up to extreme scrutiny. Stryper displays the number 777 on their records. To Watkins, this is further evidence that Stryper is Satanic. In his web version of "Blessing or Blasphemy" (which is over 16,000 words long), Watkins explains how the number 777 is Satanic because not only does Aleister Crowley have a book entitled 777, but "the satanic group Danzig has a song titled '777.'"
"That's just absurd," responds Sweet, who says he has tried many times to personally contact Watkins. "You could apply that to anything," says Sweet. "I mean Satanists use crosses. They turn them upside down. Does that mean because a Christian wears a cross, he's wearing a Satanic emblem? 777 was something that I made up back in 1981 around the time a lot of bands started using the three sixes. They were just doing it for shock value, whether it was Iron Maiden or Ozzy Osbourne or whoever. But I felt uncomfortable with it because I was a Christian. So I started putting three sevens on stuff. And then I have these wackos coming back saying it's a Satanic number."
While many of Watkins' example are pretty far-fetched, the imagery on Christian Metal albums is often just as graphic as Satanic Metal albums. For instance, the cover of the Tourniquet album, Acoustic Archives features severed hands holding a book.
Ted Kirkpatrick, the drummer of Tourniquet wrote the song, "Besprinkled in Scarlet Horror," to confront this controversy head on. He points out that the Bible itself is rather gory: "The leprous stumps of the sick and the lame/ The stoning of Stephen, Job's scab covered frame/ And John the Baptist - a head on a platter/ Remove this gorefest - why should it matter?"
At the end of the lyrics, appears "John 7:24" which reads, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment."
(Watkins finds it ironic that a Christian band would call themselves "Tourniquet," a device used to stop the flow of blood since "it's the blood of Jesus Christ that saves a precious soul from Hell.")
Critics also complain about Christian Metal vocals. It is difficult if not impossible to understand the lyrics of much Christian Metal, especially Christian Unblack Metal. The vocals of the Christian band Mortification are indistinguishable from those of a Satanic Metal band. Since Christian music is defined solely by its lyrics, doesn't that present a problem?
"The fact that the lyrics are to the casual or first time listener rather indecipherable, that's just the nature of the scene," explains Sellin. "No one would say that a hymn that's in Latin is wrong because they don't speak the language. The shouting of thrash vocals, and death vocals, the growling is inherent in the metal scene."
Christian rock opponents complain even more if they can understand the lyrics. Watkins quotes the lyrics of Stryper's "Loud 'N' Clear" as further proof of their wickedness. "The hair is long and the screams are loud'n'clear. The clothes are tight, earrings dangling from their ears. No matter how we look, we'll always praise His name. And, if you believe, you've got to do the same." To the layman, these lyrics may seem relatively harmless, but to those well-versed in the King James Bible, like Watkins the awful Truth becomes loud and clear.
"With long womanish hair, earrings, mascara, lip-gloss, eye shadow and effeminate clothes, Stryper demolished any convictions left in Christian music!" writes Watkins. "How Christians tolerate such ungodly behavior is frightening! And despite the Bible's clear warnings! 1 Corinthians 6:9 says '. . . Be not deceived: neither fornicators, . . . NOR EFFEMINATE, . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.' The demonic creatures from the bottomless pit in Revelation 9:8 are described as 'their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as THE HAIR OF WOMEN. . .'!" [emphasis his]
Long hair is an issue that all Christian headbangers must wrestle with. "I remember dealing with it personally as long as 30 years ago!" writes Pastor Bob, the long-haired founder of the Heavy Metal ministry Sanctuary, who uses the Bible to defend long hair. "There was Samson (see Judges 13-16). He fell because he cut his hair and rebelled against God. His mother had vowed to the Lord (even before he was born) that his hair would not be cut--as a tribute to the glory of God!" Pastor Bob goes on to quote 1 Samuel 16:7: "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
Besides long hair, Christian metalheads have differing opinions about moshing and tattoos. "I don't have any tattoos, our singer has a few," says Guerra of Tourniquet. "It's never been an issue that we've totally addressed. I think it's up to the individual. Some people are very against it, and quote Bible scripture, and other people quote scripture to support their tattoos. There are other issues that we'd like to talk about."
The Secular Backlash
Christian Metallers have critics on both sides. Christians think they aren't really Christian or aren't Christian enough, while non-believers think they are too Christian or that Christianity itself is evil. What is a poor Christian headbanger to do?
Ironically, while Terry Watkins criticized Tourniquet for being scheduled to play with the anti-Christian band Deicide at the Milwaukee Metalfest, Glen Benton, the frontman of Deicide hates Christianity so much that he refused to play if Tourniquet played. Because Deicide was the headlining act, Tourniquet was banned from the festival. Luckily for Tourniquet, they received more publicity for not being allowed to perform than if they had.
Usually, non-Christian metal fans only care about the music. "At the Metal fests, we've had hecklers, but very few, and they've never gotten in our face or hindered our show," says Guerra. "Usually someone will come up to us and say, 'Hey, I'm not a Christian whatsoever, but you sound really good.'" Christian bands like to play to the nonconverted so that they can bring light to the darkness of the world.
Sweet attributes much of the backlash against Christians to the scandals that plagued the Christian Televangelists. "That was the time that Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were being found out, and the press just lumped us into that. We really had nothing to do with those kind of scenarios. Those were ministers. I never told anyone I was a minister. I'm a rock and roll guy who's a Christian. I'm like the guy who has a job down at the bank who's a Christian. I wasn't a minister taking money. We had a job and were making money for things that we did."
According to Sweet, even Enigma, Stryper's own record label, tried to water down their Christian image: "I had people calling me on the phone screaming and cursing at me, saying 'This is what you're gonna do: you're gonna take the Isaiah 53:5 off your name, you're gonna change the Stryper logo, you're gonna get rid of the stripes, you're gonna mention God and Jesus less frequently in your songs."
But what happens when one of the major figures in Christian Metal loses his religion? Roger Martinez, the Vengeance Rising frontman, now believes that Christian Metal is evil because Christianity itself is evil.
While the rest of his band went on to form the Christian group Die Happy, Martinez kept control of the Vengeance Rising name and plans to release an anti-Christian album entitled, "Realms Of Blasphemy." Martinez also is working on a series of counter-educational tapes to counteract the teaching tapes he released as a Christian pastor.
Martinez is one of five metalheads featured on Larson's Metal Connection video. "At the time that video was shot, Roger Martinez was on fire for God and was being powerfully used by the Lord," says Larson. "That video is now totally out of circulation, we got rid of all of those videos. One reason is because of him, and the last word I had is that yes, in fact he is back serving the Devil, so we stopped distributing the video."
What does Martinez think of Larson? "Bob Larson is a fucking punk; he's a fucking bitch."
Martinez says he was brainwashed at the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. "A threat was made very clear when I was a teenager by one of their ministers. He was up on stage saying, 'Hey, if you leave this church tonight, and you don't accept Jesus Christ as your lord, your steps are gonna lead you to Hell. You're gonna burn forever. You're gonna be in torture.' That's brainwashing."
Martinez now feels that he became an accomplice in the Christian brainwashing scheme. "On my albums, we were talking about 'preparing the hour awaiting for war to slay the deniers of Christ.' We were talking about murder of billions of people. We were talking about endless torture of these people. It was fucking sick is what it was."
"A feeling of disgust comes over me when I think of how I was conned with fear tactics as an American teenager into pushing the vile and sordid puss called Christianity upon humanity," writes Martinez on his website that also features pictures of nude women, the number 666, a reversed crucifix, and a red skull inside an upside-down pentagram. (http://home.earthlink.net/~vrising/VengeanceRising.html)
Martinez claims that not only did Christians rob him of $50,000, but the president of Frontline Music Group conned him into giving up his royalties. "Jimmy Kempner talked us out of 75% of our publishing royalties, saying it would be to Jesus's benefit," says Martinez. "I was so fucked up that I said, 'Okay, if it helps Jesus, you can have the other 75% of my income.' A lot of people tried to use that, saying, 'Roger got burned, so maybe he skipped out on Christianity because of that.' That was just icing on the cake."
Some Christian headbangers doubt that Martinez ever was a true Christian. "I was definitely deceived by its proselytizers," responds Martinez. "I was snared by their imposed delusion that a supposed outer-space being they called 'god' existed. It took years to break free from that psychosis."
Although Martinez has turned his back on Christians, they hope that he will come back to the flock. "I thank God that I heard Vengeance," posts "ChristianMetalX" on a Christian Metal message board. "It turned my life around. I have become a more focused Catholic (and Christian) because of Roger. I am deeply sorry for Roger, and I keep him in my prayers. I don't understand what could have turned him. All I know is that God is forever forgiving. Roger just has to see the light once again."
(This article originally appeared in the February 2001 issue of Mean Magazine)
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