“No contradiction”

"There are bands that clearly convey Christian messages," says religious scholar Anna-Katharina Hopflinger, who is researching the relationship between heavy metal and religion. Both deal with the darker side of life.

Interviewer: 75.000 people are at the world's biggest heavy metal festival. Symbols you often see there are the devil worshipper, devil horns, upside down crosses and skulls. Still, heavy metal has nothing on Christianity. There are even correlations, you say. What does it look like?

Dr. Anna-Katharina Hopflinger (religious studies scholar at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich): Yes, there is Christian metal. And there is a very active interplay between metal and religion in other ways as well. Not every band is automatically satanic or evil.

Interviewer: How does this interplay look like?

Hopflinger: Many bands take on religious messages – from Christian to Hindu motifs. There are bands that clearly convey Christian messages. Or there are for example bands that cover Christmas songs.

Interviewer: The bandBlack Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne bit off bats' heads. There are other stories of bands splashing their audience with pig's blood. And of course the upside down cross. Doesn't all this rather speak against Christianity?

Hopflinger: In heavy metal there is really everything. And of course there are bands that really belong to the "Church of Satan" – but just not all of them. The idea that virtually all metal is so powerful actually dates back to the '80s. There was a kind of "moral panic" there in the U.S., the idea that heavy metal was seducing the youth. Heavy Metal should not only lead to sects and evil occultism, but also to rampant sex, violence or drugs. There was also a list put out at the time of the fifteen worst bands, nine of which are really heavy metal bands on that list.

Interviewer: But there's also the counter argument that bands actually perform with Christian messages. In the past, this was called "white metal", or white metal. That's not quite up to date anymore, is it?

Hopflinger: Today one speaks rather of Christian Metal. The interesting thing about this Christian metal is that it crosses all the genres. There is classic power metal, there is Christian black metal, death metal, Christian metal and so on. Behind it there is a relatively active young scene, which is also very well organized.

Interviewer: What kind of people listen to that?

Hopflinger: These are usually Christian young people, often from free churches – but not only. These are people who tend to say they like to have a positive message behind the songs. If you then look more closely at the songs, you see the message is not necessarily more positive than with classical bands. But it's a message that takes ie with Christianity, perhaps calls for a better life, and also gives a little moral finger-pointing.

Interviewer: The classic prejudice against metal is that fans don't even listen to the lyrics. Does it then depend at all on the lyrics?

Hopflinger: There are bands, you can sing along with the lyrics, even with screaming and cheering. And of course, there are bands in the more extreme realm, like in black metal. There you don't understand the lyrics. But the fans are already dealing with it, they also read it and they know their stuff.

Interviewer: Now you are a scientist at the University of Munich and have been dealing with this question, religion and heavy metal, for more than ten years. What do you actually experience when you go to concerts?

Hopflinger: In terms of religion, there was one experience that really impressed me a lot. This was a female fan who told me that this very radical music helped her deal with the death of her brother. The music somehow calms them down, brings them down from their everyday stress and allows them to deal with the darker sides of life. That was quite impressive.

Interviewer: There are also chaplains at the festival and also a church service. The chaplains themselves say that last year, for example, they conducted over 200 counseling sessions. Does that actually play a role at a festival like this then?

Hopflinger: In any case, this is a huge opportunity for both sides. On the one hand, the churches can also become active here. But conversely, of course, it's a huge opportunity, because at this festival you experience a kind of time-out from everyday life that is ecstatic. There's a lot of beer consumed, but maybe that allows strong emotions to burst out as well.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

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