“Why do you like metal music?” the pastor asked me. “It’s so dark! You seem like such a cheerful person.” His fellow pastor replied, “Well, metal music is often about the evil of abuse and the pain of suffering.”
To be honest, I’d never really thought about it before, but in that moment, I realized I love metal music exactly because it’s dark. The lighthearted nature of mainstream Christian music feels alien to me, as a believer who survived child abuse. That is not to say it’s bad; just that I struggle to connect with it emotionally.
I think this is true for most people who enjoy metal. When you consider the backgrounds of many metal bands, there’s an undeniable pattern of tragedy and trauma. The lead singer of Korn, Jonathan Davis, was abused as a child and his wife died of a drug overdose. Phil Bozeman, lead singer of Whitechapel, lost his father at a young age and later his mother. The lyrics, “We all know you’re going to hell,” were apparently penned about his abusive stepfather.
Sadly, secular metal often lacks hope. Davis laments, “I’m lost! You’ll never find me.” Bozeman roars, “Forgiveness is useless! It’s just another form of weakness.” While these artists grapple with relatable agonies, they don’t usually point me to Christ.
The good news is, there’s a Christian metal scene that tackles pain, but answers it with the hope of the gospel—often with lyrics that sound like Psalms of Lament. Here are 12 of those songs.
1. “Lowly,” Wolves at the Gate
Wolves at the Gate—based in Cedarville, Ohio—is a post-hardcore band with gorgeous lyrics. The opening instrumentation of “Lowly” echoes Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata before expressing lyrics of lament like this:
Imprisoned am I to this shell of the dust
It speaks of only fiction that I could never trust
Captured alive in this sinful estate
Vexed am I to see I do the things that I hate
Rip out the framework leave no stone unturned
Until my heart forgets all that my flesh ever learned
Tear down the structure till nothing is left
God deliver me from this body of death!
O wretched man, wretched man that I am!
Lowly man, who can save such a wretch that I am?
Who can save such a man?
2. “Let it Burn,” Red
The lyrics to “Let it Burn” (from Red’s 2011 album Until We Have Faces) sound like something David might have written after his kingdom and family were torn apart by war:
I watch this city burn
These passions slowly smoldering
A lesson never learned, only violence
Is your world just a broken promise?
Is your love just a drop of rain?
Will we all just burn like fire?
Are you still there? Tell me now!
How long can you stand the pain?
How long will you hide your face?
How long will you let it burn?
3. “I Am A Stone,” Demon Hunter
Demon Hunter helped me face a lot of trauma from abuse. I can’t listen to “I Am A Stone” without tearing up. The lyrics could be read as the words of a victim telling an abuser he will no longer be guilt-tripped over past sins and mistakes, because Jesus Christ has taken his shame away:
It’s hard to say that I’m back on a straight line,
You see, my path is in fact just a fault line,
It’s in my blood, it’s in my lungs, and it won’t die;
I fight these words, I bite my tongue so I don’t lie.
Though it’s me to blame, there is no more shame in me;
I just feel the same; immune to all this pain,
And the scars don’t write a song for me at all.
4. “Take the Bullets Away,” We as Human
Female vocalists are a minority in metal, so I was pleased to hear Lacey Sturm (formerly of Flyleaf) on this song. “Take the Bullets Away” honestly addresses suicidal ideation, while reaching for Christ as the source of worth and hope:
I tried to find religion to see what I’d become,
I was ruined by the world, but I blamed it on the Son,
Am I worthless? Am I filthy?
Am I too far gone for the remedy?
Will You help me, because I’m dying,
To be something more than a memory?
If I reach out can I trust You?
Will You help me see the light of one more day?
Take the bullets away!
5. “Tears of Bitterness,” Extol
Norwegian prog band Extol blends genres of death metal, black metal, and thrash. Imagine what it would sound like if classically trained Uruk-hai from Mordor formed a band. Pulling straight from Psalm 22, this song was made for moshing:
My God, my God,
Why have You forsaken me
When I need You the most?
Where are You to find?
My faith in You has vanished,
I’ve tried long enough,
You seem further away than ever,
Will I ever trust You again?
. . . The Lord is good to those
Who seek and wait for Him.
6. Theocracy, “Theocracy”
Matt Smith, lead singer of Theocracy, has noted that Jesus’s disciples and followers were often society’s rejects. Just so, Christian metal fans often feel like outcasts. He concludes, “Sometimes the ones most people don’t see, or choose to look straight through—the ghosts of society, as it were—end up having the biggest impact.”
At the center of my heart there sits a throne,
That the rightful occupant’s not always free to call his own. For how can I give the King his place of worth above all else,
when I spend my time striving to place the crown upon myself? . . .
And the seasons change, and rulers die . . .
I take my crown and cast it down . . .
Learn to grow; grow to be
A flesh and blood theocracy.
7. “Great Awakening,” Monotheist
Orlando-based Monotheist plays self-described “brutal technical death metal.” I’d compare them to old Opeth or maybe Carnifex. The lyrics of “Great Awakening” have the feel of an almost eschatological psalm:
The earth is pregnant with plagues and pestilence
Birth pangs; its pain becomes your own
You look for answers in the hands of the ones
You put so much trust in . . .
But your gods can die, and they will.
As the end approaches
There is a Great Awakening;
The masses cry out to the God they claimed was false
The living God will be their only hope.
8. “Far Beyond Death,” Crowned in Sorrow
Crowned in Sorrow’s album In Memoriam chronicles the emotions of grieving death, yet points vividly to our hope in the life to come. “Far Beyond Death” has some heartbreakingly beautiful lyrics.
Death has cast its shadow on you, but do not fall in dismay
It is but a doorway we all must cross one day
The winds of change are here . . .
Life is but a breath
A fleeting moment in the fabric of existence
Far beyond the reach of death
There is a place of pure life
only to be found through faith in Jesus Christ.
9. “Deliver Us,” Caleb Hyles, Jonathan Young
With the sting of the whip on my shoulder
With the salt of my sweat on my brow
Elohim, God on high, can you hear your people cry?
Help us now, in this dark hour! Deliver us!
Hear our call! Deliver us!
Lord of all, remember us here in this burning sand
Deliver us to the Promised Land.
10. “Salt & Light,” August Burns Red
The lyrics from “Salt & Light” remind me of an Old Testament battlecry against the wicked:
Show our eyes true color
We want to hear the trumpet roar
With words that trample the pagan’s cavalry
Pummel the darkness with the light
With your words, from our throats, we will march. . .
Words that will shake the earth and boil the seas
Trample the bones of the living dead . . .
I’m the harbinger, not the author of these timeless words
Led by the Comforter I sing to you . . .
I pray you sing one day.
11. “Fleshkiller,” Phinehas
I discovered this song while searching for a band called Fleshkiller, and was pleasantly surprised to discover Phinehas. These lyrics are prayerful:
Ignite my veins with your blood to inspire new verses
I’m drained to my dregs
Replace my eyes with your fire to burn through the curses
Leave nothing that could hinder your blinding light
Test me in the furnace of affliction
Refine me as you wish
When the die is cast
Breathe in me your animating spark
I won’t flinch when the earth gives way
So take me now; it’s not my blood to bleed
12. “Salt of the Earth,” Fleshkiller
While overtly referencing Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in the beginning, these lyrics read like a psalm of lament as they resolve in praise:
Unchain the prisoners of wicked injustice
Break the yoke of the oppressed
Bring favor from above
Salt of the earth; you are the carriers of Light.