23 February 2011


We have established fairly definitively that Jesus would have been a metalhead. I’m not just observing that he had long hair, partied a lot and drank a lot of wine, either. He belonged to a tight-knit counterculture which spurned the religious and political elites of his day and preached an egalitarian, working-class message in terms ordinary people could relate to. He railed not only against the Sadducees and Herodeans, however, but also against the show-offs, the poseurs and the sellouts (though he called them scribes and Pharisees). In turn, they accused him of being in league with the Devil (sound familiar?). He went into the Temple and started mixing it up with the corporate suits (robes?) inside with a whip of cords. He might not have bitten the head off of a live bat, but he did drown an entire herd of pigs in a lake. He didn’t take any guff about his fans being too noisy; indeed, when the Pharisees told him to shut them up, he came back: ‘I tell you, if these were quiet, the stones would shout out’. (I can imagine him doing this in a thrash-metal shriek, by the way.) Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber got it – Jesus was voiced by Ian freaking Gillan on the original soundtrack, for His sake!

Now to my mind, the more interesting question is: what kind of metal would Jesus have listened to? The fun (and, to my mind, only fair) way to establish this would be to just go down the list of subgenres.

True metal. Well, there is certainly the Ian-Gillan-is-Jesus connexion – though many would argue that Deep Purple isn’t metal at all, let alone true metal. That said, Mr Gillan was briefly a member of Black Sabbath… Be that as it may, classic heavy metal is generally about rocking hard, partying hard, wandering around, having a good time and standing up for the little guy – all of which Jesus would have endorsed (see the Cana story in the Gospel of St John and the Beatitudes). The lyrics are generally simple and accessible to the point of crudity, much like the language Jesus used in the Gospels. Jesus would probably find a lot to like in true metal.

New wave of British heavy metal. Much as I would like to think Jesus would be a fan of the same genres as I am, I have to admit that Brit metal starts to get slightly elitist in both musical style and in lyrical content. Judas Priest usually keeps to love, sex and sci-fi monsters, but the lyrical themes of Iron Maiden wax highly literary, philosophical and even esoteric at times, though Saxon certainly keeps their feet firmly in the party-hard-and-die-rocking ethos of earlier metal acts. Brit metal bands like Avenger, Satan and even Maiden and Saxon at times (I’m thinking ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ here) got political – usually speaking from the left end of the spectrum, against political and economic elites, against (some) wars and sometimes in solidarity with downtrodden groups like Native Americans (‘Run to the Hills’ by Maiden, ‘The Great White Buffalo’ by Saxon)… but these were rare occurrences overall. Still a possibility.

Thrash metal. Now here is where we start getting extreme. Thrash took a lot of its cues (musically and lyrically) from hardcore punk; the subculture was highly and radically politicised, to a much greater extent than Brit metal. Kreator, Pariah, Sodom, Xentrix, Megadeth, even Metallica in their earlier days… there are too many examples to even count properly. I think when Jesus was being serious, he probably would have been in a mindset to enjoy thrash (as when he entered the Temple and drove out the moneychangers).

Power and speed metal. Vikings and dragons, hobbits and Templars, daemons and warriors and wizards and sometimes other things generally populate the world of power metal. Jesus did dabble more than a bit in mythology and parables and confrontations with daemons, but on top of that he was concerned with the social questions of keeping people fed and bringing them into a community. I could potentially see Jesus rocking out to Masterplan, Gamma Ray or Blind Guardian, but I think he’d likely laugh aloud at the over-the-top militaristic machismo of bands like Manowar, Turisas or Hammerfall. (That said, he did travel with a close band of twelve men, some of whom were observed to carry swords…)

Death metal. Didn’t Jesus have a habit of saying that the Son of Man must die, and that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood? Didn’t he curse a fig tree to barrenness outside Jerusalem? Jesus was certainly also no stranger to really extreme imagery, like saying you should tear out your eyes or tear off your hands if they cause you to fall into bondage. Major problem with Jesus-as-death-metalhead is, Jesus probably wasn’t really blond or Scandinavian in any way (despite what the Lutherans tell you!), and he usually made sure that people could understand what he was saying…

Black metal. Well, ahem, uh… ahhh, screw that, I’m not even going to try defending this one. A genre that owes its creative impetus really to being against Jesus in the first place probably wouldn’t go over too well with the man himself. He might like Borgazûr or Antestor…

Folk metal. Same issues as with black metal; all too much folk metal gets way too much mileage out of being explicitly anti-Christian. Call me crazy, though, but I can see Jesus taking an interest in Orphaned Land.

Glam and hair metal. Jesus was indeed fairly theatrical with his miracles, but other than that, no. He told his followers, indeed, not to be flashy or worry overmuch about how they will dress. Simon Magus might have been a fan of glam, but by and large Jesus didn’t have that much use for poseurs.

Groove metal and new wave of American heavy metal. Well, Jesus was the Lamb of God… I’m not sure he would have been too keen on the way too many of the bands in this subgenre sold out to MTV, though. For very similar reasons, I simply can’t imagine Jesus being a nü-metal fan.

Industrial metal. Jesus did often make provocative statements and perform provocative stunts (as described above), much to the consternation of the political and religious authorities. I tend to think that if the Parents’ Music Resource Centre and the Family Research Council existed back in Jesus’ day, they would have been among the foremost attempting to shut him up. Other than that, I can’t really think of any good links between industrial metal and Jesus other than ‘du hast mich gefragt, und ich hab’ nichts gesagt’.

Progressive metal. See power metal above for anything regarding prog-power. Jesus might have taken issue with the technical wankery, the obscurantist lyrics and the elitist tendencies that tend to characterise the genre and its fanbase, but somehow I think he would have gotten along quite well personally with Devin Townsend and Geoff Tate.

In the final analysis I think Jesus would likely have been a true or a thrash metalhead. He wasn’t afraid to tell things as they were, in a way ordinary people could understand. He was a radical who wasn’t afraid to be extreme and trample over all sorts of social taboos, but he was also often seen at parties getting out the good wine (or making it from water!). He didn’t have much patience at all for the hypocrisies of the ruling class or of the ‘respectable’ middle classes. So remember, my gentle readers:

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