By Terry Lindley, professor of history
I grew up in the 1960s on rock ‘n’ roll, which by the end of the decade had evolved into hard rock and metal. This is the genre of music that I like and still listen to today. Rock ‘n’ roll has had critics from day one, arguing that it promotes and even glamorizes, sex, drugs and booze. When Christian rock came along, it was also vilified from the conservative as well as the Pentecostal wings of the church. One opponent wrote that rock music was “born in the womb of Satan,” a statement pregnant with implications.
One of the most attacked Christian bands was Stryper, founded in 1983 by the brothers Michael and Robert Sweet, who were saved as teenagers watching Jimmy Swaggert on TV. Later Swaggert would label the band as demonic, evil, given to alcohol and fornication. Stryper’s evilness was obvious to critics given their loud music, long hair and yellow-and-black spandex outfits. Stryper, a four-man band, objected to being branded a Christian rock band. They preferred the term a group of Christians who played metal music. They never recorded on a Christian label, always a secular one, and toured with secular ‘80s metal bands like Anthrax, Ratt and Bon Jovi.
The Sweet brothers still take the gospel where many Christian ministers cannot or fear to go—heavy metal crowds. Their musical ability can win over the crowd in 10 to 15 minutes, while their in-your-face Jesus lyrics challenge the concert goers. At one point, they stop the music and throw New Testaments out into the audience. At some venues, Michel Sweet will explain the gospel to the crowd, at others he will pray and still at others, he lets the lyrics speak for themselves. They are still rocking for Jesus today.
A second metal band of interest is Sabaton, a Swedish secular band. They are almost a one-of-a-kind group in that a majority of their songs deal with military history. From the Spartans and Vikings, to the Thirty Years War and the Great Northern War between Sweden and Peter the Great’s Russia, to the 20th century conflicts of World War I, World War II, the Six-Day War, the Falklands War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the band sings about heroes, land battles, air conflict and naval engagements. I use Sabaton songs with accompanying videos from YouTube in every history class I teach but one. It is said that if you go to a Sabaton concert and listen closely to the lyrics, you will leave knowing more history than when you arrived.