‘Oh creator it’s you I now renounce’: How death metal lyrics echo some Bible passages and what it means

The other day I came across a Buzzfeed quiz that asked me: “Heavy metal lyric or bible verse?”

As someone who is a PhD candidate in religious studies and loves heavy metal, I was surprised to see that I hesitated on a number of my responses. Why does heavy metal use so many biblical references and symbolisms?

All That Remains Heavy Metal Albums T-Shirt

As I researched, I rediscovered death metal, a musical genre I used to listen to as a teen. It seems like death metal was even more fixated with religion than heavy metal. But why is this musical genre so obsessed with religious and spiritual symbolism?

Heavy metal and religion
Known as an extreme sub-genre of heavy metal, death metal usually uses techniques such as deep growling vocals, blast beat drumming, minor keys and atonality (not conforming to the system of tonal hierarchies) to transmit its lyrical themes of not just death and violence, but also of political conflict, philosophy, true crime and, more importantly, religion.

In 2010, historian James Robertson published an article called “Death metal: A ‘pipeline to God?’” One of the few published articles that examines the connection between death metal and religion, Robertson writes:

“What is fascinating here is the consistency with which black metal has pursued religious forms […] Such religious pluralism begs the question as to whether these are just new and interesting attempts at youth rebellion, or whether something more is playing itself out.”

But what is that something more?

Many metal historians such as Ian Christie have said that the history of heavy metal begins with Black Sabbath’s debut studio album, “Black Sabbath,” released in 1970.

When the album is opened it reveals an inverted cross and a disturbing poem. The fourth track on the album is called N.I.B., which was written from Lucifer’s point of view. Thus, the relationship between heavy metal and religion was born.

Christie points out in his book, Sounds of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal that anthropological history is interwoven with metal’s musical history as “the rise of black metal coincided with the thousand-year anniversary of Christianity in Norway, when two pagan kings […] violently imposed religion on the western coast of Norway,” the territory that has most influenced black metal.

‘Chapel of Ghouls’ and ‘Blessed are the Sick’
Death metal then appeared with the fusion of thrash metal and first-wave black metal in the 1980s. Possessed, Death, Deicide and Morbid Angel are a few of the first bands to fall into the death metal genre. Morbid Angel has written songs such as God of Emptiness, Rapture, Immortal Rites, Chapel of Ghouls, Angel of Disease and Blessed are the Sick. And Deicide has written about ritual sacrifices, the crucifixion, Satan, Jesus and anti-Christian sentiments.

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