Two of the most searched-for questions about Metallica on Google might be a surprise to some fans: “Is Metallica Christian?” and “Is Metallica anti-Christian?”
There’s no denying that some type of faith has been a major influence on James Hetfield and his songwriting over the last four decades, but what is it about Metallica that leads people to search for questions about the thrash metal legends and Christianity?
James Hetfield and Metallica’s Current Interest in Religion
In conversation with David Fricke for a radio special that celebrated the release of 72 Seasons, Hetfield told the music journalist, “Being a human is not easy. All this stuff is out of our control.”
His comment was in response to a question about his lyrics on 72 Seasons and the apocalyptic themes and feelings found in the songs.
As he continued to think about it, he told Fricke he didn’t want to bring religious stuff into his remarks, but he did say, “I study the Bible somewhat. And I’m in Bible groups and this stuff has happened since day one. So, we’re not uniquely special that this has just happened to us. Humanity has experienced this since day one. I had a feeling that I’m not alone. I have a faith in mankind that we will get through this.”
Hetfield isn’t alone in his interest in religion. As Pastor John Van Sloten detailed in his book, The Day Metallica Came to Church, Metallica found out that Van Sloten was going to focus on their lyrics in a sermon and play clips of their music during the church service. Rather than try and squash his use of the music, Metallica actually sent a camera crew to the church to tape the event.
Van Sloten recalled that the representative for the band told him, “Lars [Ulrich] heard about your church service this week, and all they want is to see it for themselves. The band left town this morning, and they’re already setting up for their next concert, so they obviously can’t be there personally.”
Later on, he detailed the story of hearing Ulrich talk about the church service during a radio interview. The drummer told the DJ about Van Sloten’s sermon, “That is so cool.”
As Van Sloten put it in his book:
When I heard his response, I couldn’t help but smile. Since when has a Christian church received that kind of reaction from a heavy metal rocker? Over the past two decades, this band has received more than its fair share of condemnation from the Christian church. Rarely, if ever, does anyone draw a positive faith connection to their lyrics. Who could imagine Metallica’s angry cries resonating with God’s? Maybe God could.
Metallica’s Lyrics and Faith
It isn’t difficult to dive into Metallica’s lyrics and start to see some of this interest and influence come out in their songs.
You can start with Metallica’s most recent album, 72 Seasons, as a clear sign of Hetfield being influenced by belief in a higher power. Songs such as “Lux Æterna” — which means “eternal light” — and “72 Seasons” — the lyric “wrath of man” might be inspired by writings found in the New Testament book of James — highlight themes that, while not exclusively rooted in faith, have significant connections to varied belief systems.
You can also go all the way back to Metallica’s debut full-length, Kill ‘Em All, to get a sense of the young thrashers pulling out ideas from the seasons that came before. For example, when Dave Mustaine was kicked out of the band, Hetfield re-wrote the lyrics for “The Mechanix” and changed the title of the song to “The Four Horsemen,” an illustration found in the book of Revelation. Another example from Kill ‘Em All is “Jump In the Fire,” a song that is, simply put, all about Hell.
Perhaps the most obvious song in Metallica’s catalog, though, comes from Ride the Lightning — and it might be one of the band’s most popular: “Creeping Death.” Hetfield’s lyrics for “Creeping Death” are influenced by the Old Testament book of Exodus, specifically Exodus 12:29-30. The NIV translation of these verses reads:
At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
Hetfield almost assumes the role of a preacher in the song, though his words take the perspective of Death as he sings, “So let it be written / So let it be done / I’m sent here by the chosen one / So let it be written / So let it be done / To kill the first-born Pharaoh son / I’m Creeping Death.”
Other songs that highlight some sort of influence include “Leper Messiah,” — a direct commentary on the abuse of the broader church — “To Live Is to Die,” — which includes the lyrics, “Cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home” ��� or “The Judas Kiss” — the title itself is inspired by the most famous betrayal in the last 2,000 years between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ.
James Hetfield Grew Up in a Christian Science Household
As he explored the first 18 years of his life on 72 Seasons, a significant focus for Hetfield was on his childhood growing up with parents who practiced Christian Science.
Hetfield has been open about his childhood in the past, admitting it was difficult for him to come face to face with the beliefs of his parents as those very beliefs led his mother to refuse medical treatment as she was dying from cancer.
“We watched her wither to nothing,” Hetfield told Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker.
She had religion around her, inside her. She had practitioners coming over. But the cancer was stronger. I thought she cared more about religion than she did her kids. It wasn’t talked about, either—if you’re talking about it, you’re giving it power, and you want to take power away from it. So admitting that you’re sick, that’s a no-no. We just saw it happening.
After his mother died, Hetfield told Petrusich that he didn’t know what to do. “There was nothing solid to stand on. I felt extremely lost.”
These feelings of anger, confusion and despair are explored in many different Metallica songs, notably on “The God That Failed” from the “Black Album” and “Chasing Light” from 72 Seasons.
On the former, Hetfield sings, “I see faith in your eyes / Never you hear the discouraging lies / I hear faith in your cries / Broken is the promise, betrayal / The healing hand held back by the deepened nail / Follow the god that failed.”
On the latter, he explores the heartbreaking reality of being alone: “Lost his way through wicked streets / But he is someone’s little boy / All the love a young one needs / Thoughtless elders have destroyed / It is destroyed / He’s just a boy.”
Petrusich wrote in The New Yorker, “If Hetfield saw his mother’s unwillingness to receive medical treatment as an inadvertent embrace of death, rather than as an expression of faith, it would make sense for his life’s work to interrogate that impulse. ‘There are times when I’m so afraid of dying,’ Hetfield told me. ‘Other times, it’s, like, I’m good,’ he said. ‘I feel cleaned up inside.'”
Hetfield’s struggle with faith wasn’t only found in the tragic loss of his mother. In Enter Night, Mick Wall wrote that when a young Hetfield suffered from a migraine, the only help his parents offered “was prayer or reading the Bible.”
Ben Apatoff detailed Hetfield’s relationship with his father, Virgil, in his book, Metallica: The $24.95 Book. He quoted Hetfield saying, “When [my dad] talked to me, it would be in scripture. I felt like an outcast from the beginning. It was hard to explain to my parents that I didn’t understand this, because they were so immersed in it … I felt very alienated from school, from my family and spent the rest of my life looking for family.”
Is Metallica a Christian Band?
That’s the question people want answered according to Google. The quick answer is pretty simple: Absolutely not. There has never been a moment in the history of Metallica where they would have ever been confused as a Christian band. Phrases like “Alcoholica” or “Metal Up Your Ass” are clear giveaways, as are Metallica’s covers of anything-but-Christian songs like Anti-Nowhere League’s “So What?” and Misfits’ “Last Caress / Green Hell.”
READ MORE: The Best Album by 30 Legendary Metal Bands
Is Metallica an Anti-Christian Band?
As much as people Google the first question, this second question seems to get a lot of attention online, too. And much like its predecessor, it is a seemingly easy one to answer: No way.
Though Metallica should never be confused with Christian music, they’ve also never done anything to lead fans to think they’re anti-Christian — or really, anti any religion. In fact, as detailed above, it’s clear they’re open to wrestling with beliefs and faith out in the open, and thus invite their listeners — the Metallica Family — to do the same.
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Metallica: The Week They Released ’72 Seasons’
There’s no question that Metallica’s new album, 72 Seasons, was already one of the world’s most anticipated releases of the year when it came out on April 14. Leading up to that release, Metallica only upped the anticipation with performances and appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Howard Stern Show and with their global listening party on Thursday, April 13. There was a lot more that happened to celebrate the release, too, so we put together some of our favorite moments of the 72 Seasons release week in the gallery below.