Earlier this week a British cleric, Reverend Rachel Mann of St. Nicholas's in Burnage, Manchester, hit the national headlines because of an article she wrote in the Church Times. In the article she stated that Christians have much to learn from the "liberative theology of darkness" on which heavy metal is based. Major broadsheet newspapers, including The Guardian and The Telegraph, ran with the story, which has seen the issue of metal and Christianity enter the limelight like never before.
In response to this unprecedented media activity, METALLICA and SLAYER biographer Joel McIver interviewed Reverend Mann for the respected music web site The Quietus. Excerpts from the chat follow.
The Quietus: Which metal bands are you into, Rachel?
Rachel Mann: Where do we start? Let's go back to the classics. Of the Big Four of thrash, I especially love METALLICA. I also love SLAYER. My all-time love affair, which started on the "Piece Of Mind" tour in 1984, is IRON MAIDEN. Of the more recent stuff, I like TOOL and MASTODON. SYSTEM OF A DOWN are fantastic. I also love music that brings a smile to my face, like TURISAS. How can you not love a metal band that has an accordion player? How cool is that?
The Quietus: Are you into Christian metal?
Rachel Mann: I'm not a huge fan, because STRYPER came along in the '80s and just made me weep. They were desperate. There are Christians active in metal bands; Nicko McBrain of IRON MAIDEN, for example, but I'm uncomfortable with any style of music where there's a preaching agenda and it's about conversion. STRYPER were using metal as a vehicle for the gospel, and that doesn't interest me. I saw on the Metal Hammer feed on Facebook that there is a metalcore band called UNDEROATH, and I noticed in the comments that a lot of people were basically saying, "Eff off, Christians" and that others were saying, "This is just crap music" — and for me, the priority is the quality of the music.
The Quietus: How did you come to write your much-quoted article on metal and Christianity in the Church Times?
Rachel Mann: I have a huge love of rock music, and metal in particular, and I was at Sonisphere this year and I thought, "This needs to be commented on." The Church Of England, with all its stuff about sexuality and bishops, has got too serious, and it needs something to wake it up — and for me, metal is one of those things that wake us up. It brings a smile to our faces, and it can also teach us some interesting things.
The Quietus: What, specifically, can Christians learn from heavy metal?
Rachel Mann: My original phrase in the Church Times article was that there is a serious gospel lesson to be learned. It's partly about the power of darkness. You've got to recognize the dark: maybe that's also a place where people can learn and grow from. I don't want to get too pompous about it, but for me the Christian faith is all about wholeness. It's about being a human being, not just being holy, and to be a proper human being you've got to have light and shade. Metal is not afraid of the dark, whereas most Christians are afraid of the dark. Not all, but most.
The Quietus: What do you make of the Westboro Baptist Church, who picketed Ronnie James Dio's funeral in order to air their views about all gay people going to hell?
Rachel Mann: If they're right, I don't want to go to their heaven. Their whole agenda has gone beyond religious conservatism into psychopathic self-hate. They just hate human beings: there's a total lack of humanity and respect there. Lunatics. There's about 60 members and they all belong to one family: it's terrifying.
The Quietus: Norwegian black metal is founded on blasphemy. Do you like any of it?
Rachel Mann: It's not something which floats my boat, partly because the vocals don't thrill me. I grew up listening to Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson. For me, black metal is just another step in music's development. All interesting arts such as music push at the edges, and black metal is one of the ways in which a bunch of artists do that.
The Quietus: If a parent from your congregation came up to you and said, "Rachel, I'm worried because I heard my son listening to 'Fuck Your God' by DEICIDE the other day," what would you say?
Rachel Mann: [Laughs] Things like that do happen occasionally. But telling people that they've got to stop doing something often pushes them further into it. I would hope that in most cases, people would be mature enough so that you could discuss the pros and cons in that situation.
Read the full interview at The Quietus.