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A Jesus Piece: Looking Back at Christianity’s Role in Metalcore

Every Time I DIe
Underoath

Just one decade ago, music looked a hell of a lot different than it does right now. Metal, in its various capacities, was reigning supreme in the mainstream: nu-metal was performing its transition into its more modern alternative counterpart before the progressive boom of the early 2010s, and bands like Periphery were quickly gaining ground while Deftones prepared for the anticipated release of Diamond Eyes. Over in the theatrical realm, shock-rocker Marilyn Manson dropped The High End of Low just two years after Eat Me, Drink Me, which featured his infamous Lolita-themed single “Heart-Shaped Glasses.” Eventually, the projects that bubbled up over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s became more than the sum of their parts as they collectively influenced the biggest movement of that moment: metalcore.

While the genre sometimes took on different names, whether they be post-hardcore, screamo, or my personal favorite, crabcore, the “-core” moniker was the central element to the recipe. Combining punk-style drumming patterns, death metal-inspired breakdowns, and a distinct clean/growl vocal divide, a long hodgepodge of rock had made metalcore what it was. Nevertheless, its practitioners were the first among the metalheads to have their heads shoved into lockers and toilet bowls when it came to Internet debates in the primitive days of YouTube.

While the degradation of heavy music itself was usually the first insult to be thrown around, the violation of its traditional themes was also on the hit list, with the most notable being an affinity for Jesus Christ and all his glory.

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Before the 2000s, Orange County glam rock outfit Stryper was the main artist who came to mind in terms of bands who made professing love for Christ a part of their shtick. By 2009, a switch had flipped, placing any secular metalcore act in a seeming minority. The Devil Wears Prada, blessthefall, and August Burns Red (just to name a few) not only incorporated biblical symbolism and language, but they dominated the towering wall of band t-shirts in Hot Topic. The light of the lord seemed to place a gag on the satanic chaos professed by heavy metal in the 1980s and 1990s, both in the United States and abroad. After years of the simultaneous humor and oppression in being accused of dabbling into the devil’s work for listening to metal, the tides had shifted, and fast — but why?

The first answer was metalcore’s viral traction. In a case of sheer timing, metalcore became one of the first scenes to come out of the Internet, utilizing user-generated platforms like YouTube and MySpace to spread the word like wildfire. It marked a new era for DIY — one not tightly groomed within one club in one city a la New York hardcore, but rather, an entire generation of youth that grew up with Macbooks and Rock Band. As a result, the fly-over states were brought into the equation with no more than a working Internet connection. And with children of the corn came children of Christ. In a sense, metalcore did for heavy music what Insane Clown Posse did for hip-hop, welcoming a whole new group of fans who otherwise never would have tried on such genres for size. Eventually, the values of this populace bled into unlikely music platforms.

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As metalcore began to form its own meta-identity, further symbolic rebellion was deployed. While metal has oftentimes been associated with masculinity run amuck, metalcore took on a softer edge. Hair was styled cleanly into short, fringy doos dyed in funky shades of Manic Panic. Pants — even those of the Tripp variety — began to be worn close to the groin. While men who rock makeup are becoming increasingly accepted in 2019 thanks to beauty vloggers like James Charles, coal-rimmed eyes and colorful eyeshadow was still an extremely bold statement to be making just ten years ago. It even became stylish for clean vocals to take on a notably androgynous tone with Sleeping with Sirens’ Kellin Quinn and Alesana’s Shawn Milke leading the charge.

But when guyliner wasn’t enough, there was god.

Metal effectively rebelling against itself became the crux of metalcore, and with it, even more newcomers were brought to the table. The blow of heavy music was cushioned by a softer edge, which helped welcome an increasing number of young women. While women of all ages obviously enjoyed metal prior to the take-off of metalcore, gatekeeping, safety concerns, or even the stigma of liking something hyper-masculine may have prevented teenage girls from turning out en masse. Criticism, especially from parents, for sporting black band merch could instantly be met with the retort of “but it’s for a Christian band,” and Warped Tour was a much easier sell for permission than, say, Ozzfest. While lesser figures in the scene used this trend to their own depraved advantage, others used their religious values to build a place of safety for kids to enjoy heavy music.

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The problem was that the kids who came up in the glory of metalcore’s grace didn’t stay kids forever. As going to college has become increasingly the norm and religiosity on the decline, scene kids spread their wings and moved on to greener pastures, limiting their allegiance to Underoath’s Define the Great Line to an intermittent nostalgia trip. Some bands even lost their religion in the spotlight. Enduring force Bring Me the Horizon shed the belief in god professed in their classic single “Chelsea Grin” after vocalist Oli Sykes began to grow disillusioned with religion, particularly as it pertains to addiction treatment. By entering a new period of enlightenment, religion is practically slept on. Espousing satanism was edgy when America was still in a Christian chokehold, and then declaring love for Jesus became another pot-stirring rebuttal. But, now that non-affiliation is new affiliation, there is not much left to rebel against.

While metalcore isn’t dead in 2019 scene, it’s surely not what it was. Some bands have lived out a path of longevity through ingenuity, while others faded into obscurity as they failed to adapt to the changing tides. While the Internet at first brought in a whole new demographic, with time, it flattened out our divides, exposing us to new religious ideas and musical movements alike. While metalcore will perhaps always carry a stigma when it comes to its larger place in metal, one of its deepest marks will always be its Christian roots running as above, so below.

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