Tonight we have a highly interesting essay relating the apocalyptic and revelatory themes in the bible to the message of hope expressed through metal music. Our author is Varun Modi, here’s a bit about him.
With my family originally coming from India, then moving to the United Kingdom and then New Zealand – one could say I’ve been around a fair bit. Having settled in Rotorua and completed high school, I decided to come to Auckland University to study 1st year Biomedical sciences with the aim of getting into Medical School. As per the requirement of the course I was to pick up a General Education paper, and ended up choosing TheoRel 101G. Having come from Anglican schools I was fairly familiar with the Bible, but less so with Popular Culture – and I thought that learning the interlinking of these two would aid me in becoming more street smart, whilst being a nice break from all the science. The reviews online were fabulous for the course, and as it fit into my timetable – why not? Having particularly enjoyed the apocalypse week, I decided to base my essay around this topic – linking one of my guilty pleasures of metal music to this was a ‘Revelation’ (Pun intended :P)
Enjoy the read, and have a good night.
The Revelation of Metal Music
One can argue that metal music isn’t included in popular culture, yet one could also argue that it allows one to express one’s feelings and thoughts in a form that can often be deemed as angrier. Therefore, metal music has its own niche in popular culture, acting as a medium for emotions and thoughts to be expressed. One theme prevalent in metal music is that of hope, utilised by bands such as Avenged Sevenfold. This mimics the theme of hope in the book of Revelation, and as such, metal bands use explicit and implicit allusions to Revelation to aid the deliverance of their underlying message. Yet, different interpretations of this book have led to unique perspectives on Revelation, thus allowing for varying portrayals of hope, anxiety and fantastical descriptions of oppression.
‘The Beast and the Harlot’ is a song by Avenged Sevenfold that portrays a theme of hope for those who have sinned. This contradicts what is stated in the book of Revelation, yet the song still utilises explicit allisions to it. Therefore, the apocalyptic theme of hope is used to similar effect, but the text is used in a different application. This may reflect a modern interpretation of the text. The song describes the ‘symbolic woman’ that sits on a ‘seven-headed beast’ with ‘ten horns raised from his head’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). This is an explicit allusion to the description in Revelation 17:3,15; thereby creating a similar setting to the story in Revelation. The woman’s actions of ‘fornicating with our kinds’ directly relates to Revelation 18:3, she is ‘a dwelling place for demons’ and is referred to as ‘Babylon’ who is fallen; these descriptions cement the song’s allusions and background (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). The destruction ‘in an hour’ marks God’s judgement day (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006) – it is here where the storyline deviates. In Revelation hope was for the servants who stayed loyal, whereas in the song hope is portrayed for ‘all us sinners’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). The song states that ‘you’ve made the wrong decision and it’s easy to see’, referring to a sin, and also that ‘you’re welcome to the city where your future is set forever’ to ‘serve above’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Beast and the Harlot’, 2006). In contrast, Revelation states in 21:8 that sinners are place in ‘the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is second death’.
One can argue this change is due to taking the original text in context with other biblical texts and modern Christian tradition, thereby sinners would be allowed into the new city. Revelation 21:27 states that ‘only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ ‘will enter it’. In Anglican tradition, it can be thought that if one repents one’s sins and is forgiven then one can be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lamb is often used as a synonym for Jesus, and therefore if one who has sinned repents, they may be allowed into the new kingdom where ‘nothing accursed will be found there’ (Revelation 22:3). Therefore, the more modern context creates a similar theme of hope like Revelation, yet does so for a different group of people than the original text.
‘The Wicked End’ by Avenged Sevenfold shows Revelation from a radical perspective, offering a different modern interpretation that uses implicit allusion whilst providing a theme of people being in a position of oppression yearning for hope – similar to this theme in Revelation. One can argue that the song’s perspective is of a person with the mark of the beast, who has been bullied into wearing this mark yet is still to have judgement day ruled upon him. This person has accepted that they ‘won’t be here tomorrow’, whilst still asking the prophet to ‘feel sorrow for mankind’s chance to survive’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005) – which has somewhat of a resemblance to a plea. The only direct allusion to Revelation is of 13:18, where the person states, ‘we have grown into the numbers six hundred sixty six’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005) – this signifies that they are one with the mark of the beast. The reason as to why the person appears to be oppressed, in a time where it would be liberating to be sided with the beast, is that they suggest they have lived a ‘life of misery’. The person seems aware of ‘man becoming more corrupt now, godless, wicked and cruel’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005) – suggesting they don’t agree with these actions of mankind. This allusion aids in cementing the context relative to Revelation and the position of the person in the song, who is in an oppressed state – oppression being like the faithful people in Revelation but unlike them in the sense of who is being oppressed.
Furthermore, there are other Biblical references alluded to in this song, such as in the second chorus where the person says to ‘dust the apple off, savour each bite and deep inside you know Adam was right’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005). This explicit allusion is to Genesis 3, referencing what can be viewed as the first sin of humankind. The suggestion to savour each bite emulates a relishing of sin, whilst also appreciating that one cannot freely sin – replicating the theme of how the beasts reign was only for 42 months (Revelation 11:2), a limited period of time. The notion of Adam being in the right can be interpreted in many ways. It could be viewed as stated in Genesis 3:6 where Eve ‘gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate’ – showing someone following in the footsteps of the first person to have sinned, such as the person may have done in this situation – perhaps against their will. Furthermore, it could be said that it is a necessity for Adam and Eve to eat the apple to allow humankind to flourish to their true nature and not always be protected by God (Frank, 1995; see also the Book of Job). The point of this allusion is to signify the persona as a sinner whilst trying to convince us as a judge that the sin is justified due to potential oppression. The other Biblical allusion is to that of ‘Mary’s words rang so true’, which can be interpreted as a reference to Mary’s song, the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-55. The allusion to Luke 1:46-55 shows that God is a powerful saviour, exemplifying his strength over the beast and everything else through creating ‘chastisement worse than the flood’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005).
The presence of implicit allusions to Revelation in the song are of ‘heaven’ falling, ‘his sins’ and the ‘churches burning, women ravaged, children crying’ (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005). These refer to the formation of the New City, the sins of the Beast whom the people with the mark of the beast are now ‘left with’ and the fall of Babylon respectively (Sevenfold & Murdock, ‘The Wicked End’, 2005). The use of these implicit allusions here helps portray the desired perspective of the judgement the person is to face whilst keeping the original context of Revelation. This modern interpretation taken by Avenged Sevenfold emphasises this theme of oppression and hope, and serves as a plea for help from those who have been wrongfully forced into sinful situation – this can be a common occurrence in modern society, for example, people in situations of religious oppression, and those who do things they don’t believe in only to save their own lives.
Implicit and explicit allusions can be used to varying effects to portray a theme of hope, yet these are not separate and can exist on a spectrum to access the advantages of both to portray a theme. A theme portrayed in Revelation is anxiety of the people at the time this book was written, represented by the four horsemen – Conquest, War, Famine and Death (Revelation 6:1-8). In Metallica’s ‘The Four Horsemen’, the titles of the horsemen are Time, Famine, Pestilence and Death (Metallica, 1983). The explicit allusion of using the same idea of the Four Horsemen and keeping Famine and Death, whilst also the implicit allusion by changing Conquest and War to Time and Pestilence shows the transition in the anxieties of the times. Some anxieties seem to be set in time whereas others fluctuate, and the fact that Metallica deviates from the original text shows modern acclimatization of these apocalyptic themes in metal music. The similar effect of portraying anxieties of the time in Revelation is copied here. On the other hand, themes from Revelation copied in metal music are not always used to similar effect. The use of fantastical imagery is ever prevalent in metal music, as it is in Revelation, especially in a genre known as power metal. Bands such as Dragonforce and Sonata Arctica emphasise this imagery by their high anthemic and choral vocals. Yet nowadays, in comparison to Revelation where fantastic imagery was used to describe oppression discreetly and to hide critique from a political power, this imagery is more often used to express individual feelings and thoughts rather than to critique a particular political agenda.
The use of themes of anxiety, hope and oppression in metal music expresses the bands’ own frustrations and thoughts, sometimes hidden behind vivid imagery. Therefore, there will be an overlap with apocalyptic themes in this context – yet not many songs create allusions to the book of Revelation. These allusions allow for these themes to be expressed in a different light from the original context, using implicit or explicit allusions. One could argue the place of apocalyptic themes in the metal fan base is necessary to resonate with a fan base during tough times – as the musicality can often help vent frustrations or calm oneself. The expression of these themes utilising metal as a genre creates a medium that can lend itself to more fantastical imagery, destruction and freer expression as opposed to other genres of music, which may conform to certain boundaries imposed by the music industry powers-that-be.
Frank, S. (1995). Eve Was Right to Eat the ‘Apple’: The Importance of Narrative in the Art of Lawyering. Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, 8(1), 79-118.
Metallica, P. C. (1983). The Four Horsemen [Recorded by Metallica]. Rochester, New York, United States of America. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Metallica-the-four-horsemen-lyrics
Sevenfold, A., & Murdock, A. (2005). The Wicked End [Recorded by A. Sevenfold]. Los Angeles, California, United States of America. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Avenged-sevenfold-the-wicked-end-lyrics
Sevenfold, A., & Murdock, A. (2006). The Beast and the Harlot [Recorded by A. Sevenfold]. Los Angeles, California, United States of America. Retrieved from https://genius.com/Avenged-sevenfold-beast-and-the-harlot-lyrics
The Bible, using verses from Book of Revelation, Luke, Genesis and notion to the Book of Job