A Theological Defense of Hardcore Music

Mark Beuving —  August 14, 2012 — 9 Comments

I bet you weren’t expecting that title. Here’s the thing: I’ve always “enjoyed” hardcore/screamo/rapcore/metal music, but it’s always been a guilty pleasure. You’re not likely to finish a Tool album feeling uplifted.

More recently, however, I have done some reflecting on why I resonate with hardcore music, and I’m convinced that there’s something to it. My goal is not to convince you to start listening to Metallica, but everything is worthy of theological reflection, so this should be beneficial for you Yanni fans as well.

I’m not a very angry person. Most things slide off my back. Plus I don’t have a very difficult life. So why is it that when I listen to Rage Against the Machine shouting out the injustices of working on “Maggie’s Farm,” I’m ready track down Maggie and take her farm by storm? I mean, really. Something about the pent up aggression in the music of Tool, Deftones, Rage, and other bands gets me riled up.

So here’s the question: is that necessarily bad?

There are a few things to consider here. First of all, if anger is always evil, then we can rule out most hardcore music right away. But here’s the thing: anger isn’t always bad. Paul tells us: “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Now, I think it’s very difficult for us to be angry without sinning, and that’s why Paul follows this with a warning to not let the sun go down on our anger. But he is not condemning all anger. As a matter of fact, God himself is described as angry. When his people sin and reject him, God gets angry.

If we live in a world that has been twisted by sin (and we do), then we will find plenty of injustices to be angry about. Anger is the appropriate response to many of the things that happen in the world. Of course, we need to be careful about how we respond to that anger, but the anger itself is a right response to injustice (coupled with things like sadness and longing).

Let’s take Rage Against the Machine as an example. They were definitely angry. And their form of anger aligned closely with Marxism. Karl Marx was angry because he looked at the fruit of the Industrial Revolution and saw injustice. Here were people taking good means of production and perverting them by pursuing obscene profits at any cost. The cost was overworked men, women, and children who were being treated as less than human. Marx’s solution was overly optimistic about mankind’s ability to govern himself, but he was right to be angry at these injustices.

So with Rage Against the Machine. Much of their yelling stems from anger over exploitation and a misuse of power. So we can yell along with them. I’m not saying that everything they yell about is right on, or that yelling is necessarily the right response (it certainly can’t be the sum total of our response), but I think we can safely affirm the outcry over injustice.

Not every hardcore band is legitimately concerned with injustice. Even Rage Against the Machine yelled about a lot of things besides injustice, including how amazing they were. So it’s not that yelling in itself is a good thing. But I think this type of music taps into a side of the world that we all experience. Something is horribly wrong, and the proper response is to cry out. I think that Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” captures this well. The world is not what it ought to be. Screaming is appropriate.

So let’s affirm the yelling, at least in some respects. But let’s not pretend that everything in every hardcore song is worth affirming. Let’s still stand against those aspects of hardcore music that represent idolatry. But when we find ourselves resonating with the outrage in hardcore music, let’s remember that there is indeed something wrong with the world, this “something wrong” must be opposed, and the solution is found in Jesus Christ alone.

 

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving

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Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.
  • Alex Grabb

    Thanks for this post! I find most people just get scared when something heavy or aggressive hits their ears and they have a gut reaction that says “TURN THAT GARBAGE OFF!”. But I always try to do what you’re doing here and explain why some band use a heavy style. Metalhead are people wrestling with issues just like everyone else and they use their art to express and work out their thoughts and feelings. Maybe it doesn’t always lead to Christ but it’s a place that Christans should see as a mission field. The motivation just isn’t there to much because of the fear I mention earlier.

    • MarkBeuving

      I’m glad you resonated with it, Alex. I agree that we too often shun, mistrust, or even fight against what we don’t understand SIMPLY BECAUSE we don’t understand it. That’s unfortunate.

      • Alex Grabb

        Agreed. Luckily at my church I’ve been able to communicate and help people understand that even if they don’t like the style, they can respect it and realize that it can be used for God’s glory. Thanks again!

  • Just a Guest

    One Bible reference a “theological defense” does not make. This is much more a discussion of the validity of different types of music/the internal messages of music.

    Good article, but there’s no theology here…

    • MarkBeuving

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. In my view, what makes something theological is not the number of Bible verses. Dealing with biblical themes is just as theological as citing a verse (perhaps much more so if the verse is being isolated from its context and/or misused). Assessing something theologically means viewing that thing in its relationship to God. Not that it matters much, but I’m still comfortable with the title of the article because my discussion on whether this particular style of music is valid is not based on taste or musical considerations, but on theological themes of injustice, anger, the fall, etc.

  • dholzemer

    So what do you make of the bands that makeup thewhosoevers.com, the metal bands like underoath, P.O.D., Brian Head Welch, IconForHire, August Burns Red, etc.
    The “Christian” metal bands.

    Just curious to get your thoughts

    • Mark Beuving

      Great question, David. I had meant to address that in the post, and I guess I just never got there. I’m sure each band would have their own take on the level of aggression in their music. I’m pretty sure that some bands simply use the hardcore genre as a stylistic choice, which I think is great. There is no such thing as a Christian or a nonChristian style. In these cases, I think the bands are using an angry sound to sing about something beautiful—the tension between those sounds and lyrics is fascinating. In other cases, I think some bands are using the inherent angst in the hardcore style to scream about injustice and sin, but they continue on from anger to exploring the solution that we as Christian see clearly. It’s probably a mixed bag as to exactly why and how Christian bands are using hardcore sounds.

      What do you think, David? You’ve been working closely with some of these guys, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

      • vanessa

        I agree that there is no such thing as a “Christian” or “nonChristian” music style. The words and the intent are the point, and the style is just a choice of medium. Many of the lyrics written by bands that “dholzemer” listed above would be described as beautiful and heartfelt by the majority of Christians, but then when those same people heard those songs put to the band’s chosen medium of music, they would insinuate that the music was somehow “less God honoring”. The fact is that people who have listened to and enjoyed a particular music style their entire lives are not going to become a Christian and suddenly have a switch flipped in their heads – “I like Steven Curtis Chapman now! Not that heavy stuff…” It just doesn’t work like that. Those bands not only provide a musical genre for people in that situation, but also they tend to write about the harder situations in life, the situations that the lighter styles of music don’t usually address… It’s pretty hard to imagine someone singing about God delivering them from a life of drug use, or taking refuge in Jesus after having suicidal thoughts, etc to a gentle acoustic guitar. Hard topics make you want to scream inside… there’s nothing wrong with letting that out in the form of music, especially when the overall message or the concluding message is God honoring. On the other hand, even if the song doesn’t have a nice story-book conclusion, I think there is something to be said for an artist putting themselves out there and letting the world know that Christians have struggles too and sometimes life is hard and you don’t have all the answers. Many times an album has a progression of songs, depicting a period of time – where some songs talk about despair and don’t have a resolution written into the song, while later songs on the album talk about the resolution. That is fine with me, although not everyone would agree.

        • Mark Beuving

          Great thoughts, Vanessa!

          My favorite thing you said: “The fact is that people who have listened to and enjoyed a particular music style their entire lives are not going to become a Christian and suddenly have a switch flipped in their heads – ‘I like Steven Curtis Chapman now!'”