Christian Metal: History, Ideology, Scene. Marcus Moberg. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2015. 200 pages. $20.45CDN (Kindle); $36.76CDN (Paperback).
Marcus Moberg’s Christian Metal examines an aspect of contemporary Christianity that, according to Moberg, has received a negligible amount of academic attention (p. 33). The primary goal of this book is to discuss in a systematic fashion a “marginal” form of Christian expression that has emerged out of the heavy metal scene and has become a small transnational, evangelical phenomenon (pp. 1-2). Moberg first situates Christian metal within the world of metal music and offers the reader a brief history of the music scene. This is a necessary step not only for the reader but it probably also reflects Moberg’s own process of acclimatizing to a music scene which he is not well acquainted with. One complication of the book is that Moberg is not a native to the world of metal music. Nevertheless, his academic instinct sees him through this initial stage as he proceeds to synthesize the work of a number of heavy metal scholars. On the plus side, he provides a sampling of the work of heavy metal scholars which can serve as a guide to someone who wishes to begin researching topics that are connected to metal music.
An interesting question which Moberg explores is if a metal concert can facilitate a religious experience. He considers some functionalist arguments which argue in favour of the possibility of having a religious experience at a metal concert (p. 21). According to Moberg, popular music does possess the ability to allow an individual to transcend everyday life, and yet he denies that Christian metal can accomplish this feat due to the proximity of the “transcendent” to the “transgressive” (pp. 68-73). Moberg claims that Christian music as a rule is concerned with “policing popular music’s transgressive potential” (p. 72). He admits that extreme Christian metal that imitates the musical styles of black metal and death metal offers the possibility for listeners to lose themselves in the music. Nevertheless, he insists that Christian metal possesses an inbuilt safety mechanism which prevents any risky boundary crossing (pp. 72-73). The weakness in Moberg’s analysis is that he relies too much on philosophical musings and seems to even ignore his own fieldwork. For instance, Moberg asserts that in interviews he has conducted with Finnish musicians, they often claim to have had experiences of the Holy Spirit during live performances (p. 78). His belief that there is a limit to the degree to which a person can experience transcendence at a Christian metal concert thus could benefit from further research and debate.
Moberg presents some interesting insights into how Christian metal is a means by which Christians who are likewise metal enthusiasts can engage in an alternative way of practicing their faith (p. 80). This phenomenon can perhaps be thought of as the casting of Christianity into a metal matrix. The outcome is actually quite interesting. For example, Christian metal-heads employ war tropes which are common to metal music in their lyrical content about spiritual warfare and apocalyptic scenes (p. 54). Moreover, the rebelliousness of metal music is adopted by Christian metal-heads who claim to be rebelling against the supposed immorality of modern Western society and culture (p. 48). The image of young Christian rebels sporting heavy metal attire is certainly fascinating. The way in which Christians can rally against the status quo through metal highlights Christianity’s ability to transform a countercultural and potentially anti-Christian music scene to suit its own purposes.
Moberg also discusses how many Christian metal musicians wish to evangelize to a larger metal audience (p. 136). Musicians who intend to proselytize among “secular” metal-heads state that attempts to convert people through metal is an effective means of reaching an audience that would mock traditional techniques of Christian conversion (p. 136). Despite this claim that metal is an effective method of converting non-Christians, Moberg mentions that the “secular” metal community has largely rejected Christian metal. He suspects that this might be due to the “deeply ingrained individualistic ethos of secular metal culture” (p. 148). Apparently, despite the originality of their approach to evangelization, the message of Christian metal musicians might be falling on deaf ears. Unfortunately, Moberg does not offer a great deal of primary evidence which can shed light on the dynamics of these interactions between “secular” metal-heads and Christian metal musicians and fans. He presents both sides of the argument, abstaining from critical engagement or further comment. Accounts of the actual attempts at evangelization and the interactions between both Christian and non-Christian metal fans has been left largely unexamined by Moberg and is certainly worth investigating.
The ingrained individualism of “secular” metal is quite different from the uniformity of the international Christian metal scene which Moberg continually highlights throughout his book. Moberg states that his research shows that Christian metal musicians are prone to musical disagreements but rarely if ever experience conflict about the core Christian message of their music. Moreover, denominational differences do not seem to present any points of disagreement as far as belief is concerned (p. 132). Christian metal not only leans towards doctrinal uniformity but it is also apparently unaffected and independent of the “increasingly global, evangelical popular culture industry” (p. 118). In this sense, it is truly a fringe group within the realm of Christianity. According to Moberg, the Christian metal community is not tied down by outside evangelical influences and likewise experiences a high degree of unity (p. 118). If his conclusions are correct, the Christian metal scene presents an interesting opportunity to study a modern, alternative form of Christianity, which belongs to a larger metal community that often rejects Christian metal-heads. Moberg’s Christian Metal is an important opening into the world of Christian metal music, which has helped pave the way for what can potentially be a more extensive and thorough avenue of research into alternative forms of contemporary Christianity.