Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Sunday, March 9

So, why should the Devil have all the good music?

Two things I like:
  • heavy metal music
  • things with Spanish subtitles.
Si it was with great delight that I found some YouTube clips of one of my favourite bands - Amon Amarth - with Spanish subtitles.

I have to say it was delightful.  Their music hits all the right notes for me - the perfect combination of a wall of solid sound but with subtle nuances in rhythm and melody and riff, the perfect image, the perfect content, etc.  I know this is not everyone's cup of tea, but it just blows my mind.  Amon Amarth seem to epitomise up everything that I love about heavy metal.  except the growling vocals - I prefer the higher vocals of Iron Maiden.  But the growl does work well for Amon Amarth.  OK, You get the picture - I love the music.

So we get to the Spanish subtitles.  These were great (although wildly inaccurate in places).  The growl means its hard to pick out the words, so he subtitles helped me to know what was being sung.

Now I have always known that the group is Viking-themed, and most of the songs are about heroic sagas and tales of the Norse gods.  No problem there.  It starts to get close to the knuckle in The Victorious March, which tells of five victorious warriors returning form battle.  Its all going in fine style until it emerges that they have been fighting Christians, with the line "No Christian woman was left un-raped" (that's my translation of the Spanish subtitle).  This starts to be a little anti Christian, as well as the more general evil of endorsing rape (especially as an act of war which is now agreed to be a war crime).  But a more worrying song is "Thousand years of oppression".  This tells two themes, one of the thousand years of oppression, which if I have the song right is intended to mean a thousand years of Christian oppression of believers in the Norse gods, and the other is the story of Odin.  In Norse legend the god Odin hangs himself on the world-tree and pierces himself with his own spear in order to obtain the runes so that (in the Amon Amarthsong) mankind can live by them.  This has clear parallels to the Christian story of Jesus, and so can be seen as either confirmation of that story or a blasphemous parody, depending on your perspective.  Now it has to be admitted that the treatment of pagans by Christians has been substantially less than ideal.  But the song repeatedly states (and again this is my translation of the Spanish subtitle), "Let the world hear these words once more: 'From the fury of the Norsemen, Lord, save us'", which of course was part of the medieval liturgy during the times of Viking raids.

Now this phrase could be interpreted as an incitement to religious hatred - illegal in the UK.

So how do I, as a Christian, respond to this?

The whole song seems to be a Norse equivalent of a Christian praise song.  If you swapped the Jesus story for the Odin one, and reversed that line I quoted and took at as a metaphorical reference to future judgement by God rather than a call for violence now, then we could probably sing it in some of our more modern churches.  But it is a song dedicated to a pagan God.  So is it equivalent to Baal worship in the Old testament?  This would make it something that we should steer well clear of.  On the other hand, in the New Testament, Paul allows the eating of food sacrificed to idols because the idol is nothing.  Likewise, Odin is nothing, just the imaginings of ancient Swedish story tellers.  And so the equivalent of eating food sacrificed to idols is to listen to Amon Amarth taking deep, deep pleasure in the music and ignoring at the lyrics.

Other paths might be to treat the Odin story as a re-telling of the Jesus story, and enjoy the song on that level, and take the more violent threats as just part of the artistic style.  I do have leanings in this direction, but CS Lewis in 'The Last battle' warns against the blurring together of true and false gods.  Alternatively, we can take the song as a lesson to understand the wrongs wrought by the church in the past against pagans, and take our opportunity to apologise and rebuild relationships, and so open the door to more effective communication of the Christian gospel.  I think this is valid, alongside either of the proposals in my previous paragraph.

I've done the rejection of all my pagan music in the past.  I threw away all of my Rush cassettes, because Rush believes in self-determination and preaches that we should not dance on the strings of powers we cannot perceive.  I now listen to Rush happily, enjoying the music and just feeling sad that they don't know the Lord.  So I lean mostly towards continuing to listen to Amon Amarth.   The music is truly outstanding (though if you are not a heavy metal fan you will say all their songs sound the same - like Status Quo), but I do continue to find these anti-Christian lyrics distasteful to say the least.

There really is a shortage of top quality Christian music in heavy metal and other styles.

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