BY BRANDON SPECK
MEMPHIS – They’re controversial, with long hair, beards and a powerful message that scares a lot of people and gives a lot of people joy.
Jesus Christ and rock ‘n’ roll have a lot more in common than many Christians believe. And Christians are more prevalent than ever in mainstream heavy metal.
Many Christians won’t use God and heavy music in the same sentence. Rock has always lived with a devilish stigma. From the time Elvis Presley started shaking his hips, to Kiss’ makeup to professing Christian Alice Cooper’s snake to Marilyn Manson’s brand, rock music terrifies many church-goers.
But on the stages of last week’s Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival in Memphis, there were plenty of Christ followers who have followed His call into heavy music.
And while “Christian” band isn’t an accurate term to describe every band that happens to have a Christian in it, it’s also inaccurate to dismiss heavy music as another tool of God.
“All I know is that I was on my way to Hell – and I know that that’s not a popular thing to believe anymore, in Hell – but I was on my way there and I’ve been forgiven,” said Mikey Carvajal, lead singer of rising nu metal band Islander. “That’s the only difference. I asked for forgiveness and I believe Christ offers that. That’s not what we’re selling in this band. That’s my personal life.”
God’s calls for His people go all over, from mission work to business to sports to education. And to the chagrin of some older Christian thought processes, metal music. And Carvajal isn’t pushing his faith as a means to sell records. He’s not preaching from stages, but his world view naturally comes through in his lyrics. And he’s not alone.
Nu metal band Korn has sold nearly 40 million records worldwide. In 2005, guitarist Brian “Head” Welch left the band, announcing he had found God and was dedicating his life to Christianity. He wrote a book, titled Save Me From Myself, documenting near-death drug addiction and chronicling early years of hard-living in Korn that had one of his feet in his grave. Four years later, bassist Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu released a book about his new-found life with Christ. Fieldy remained in the band and in 2013, Head returned.
“It’s great that Head and Fieldy turned themselves around and found God,” Korn drummer Ray Luzier said from Memphis’ festival stop. ”It’s a great, especially Head. He was really going down some wacky paths, that could have led to death, you never know. It’s awesome to like see a Bible, instead of like a porno sitting on the (bus).”
Korn – every member is now clean and sober – still makes albums with parental advisory labels. But companies with Christian leaders still have employees who would come with the same label. Head and Fieldy happen to be Christians God has put in a metal band. Metalcore band Miss May I lead singer Levi Benton is a Christian touring the world and playing shows in front of people with his beliefs and people far from them.
Some see Devil’s Horns, rock music’s symbol, as literal. Others, including Christians who love heavy music, see it simply as a symbol of something they love. Latin metal band Ill Nino is widely considered secular.
“Music should have a message. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. If your message is about God and Christ, great,” said Ill Nino guitarist Diego Verduzco, raised Catholic. “Music is supposed to be what sets us free. It’s supposed to be our art. If your message is about God, great. If your message is about partying, cool.”