After surviving a heavy metal concert, Lyle Enright reflects on what God was up to in the meantime.
“As soon as I say, ‘F---ing explode,’ I want all you motherf---ers to f---ing explode!!”
This was the exhortation Matt Heafy gave to us as he closed out the set with his band, Trivium, last month at the Chicago House of Blues during the last night of the Sounds of a Playground Fading tour, headed up by Swedish heavy metal band In Flames.
And by “‘effing’ explode,” he meant for all of us in the audience to begin throwing ourselves at each other as hard as we could. Which we did. Jubilantly.
For everything that heavy metal has ever been known for, ‘restraint’ has never been one of those things, and this applies thematically as well as socially. “Do I end this all for the world to see?” Trivium asks on their newest album, In Waves. “I know that death approaches fast - What’s the purpose if this life won’t last? Pulling everyone down with me.”
No one, of course, is thinking about the metaphysical implications of such questions in the moment, but they do enjoy the “pulling everyone down with me” part. To be in the middle of an authentic modern metal concert is to participate in a hurricane of bodies and limbs. I earned my tour shirt, and by the end of the night it was covered in blood, sweat and tears. And booze. And spit. And tobacco. And pot.
“So...there is no ‘God’ part to this?” (Yes, I can hear you.)
It seems as though this sort of event, this sort of place, would be where you check God in at the door and leave him there while you go and have a good time. This is certainly what most of us do on a regular basis with far less ‘questionable’ activities. “My way is hidden, my cause is disregarded by my God,” we may be tempted to say with Job in order to justify ourselves, secretly hoping that it’s true and all the while knowing that it’s not.
But I’d been there before. I know what it’s like to think in those terms, so this time I decided to try an experiment: Let’s take Brother Lawrence up on his challenge and practice the presence of the Almighty while in the middle of something that otherwise seems so unwelcoming to him.
The truth is: He’ll follow you anywhere.
It’s a surprising experience, letting yourself get carried away like that. You wind up finding things you would never have expected - the huge smiles you get from people in the mosh pit, the ones who will pick you up and set you out of the way to catch your breath just after they’ve knocked you down, those who don’t even know your name but will seek you out throughout the show to make sure you’re alright and haven’t broken a rib yet. And the occasional drunk dude who adopts you as his best friend for the evening but is still very, very nice about it.
These are the sorts of things no one expects from something like the heavy metal community. There is the pervasive (and not unwarranted) assumption of misanthropy and resignation to Hellfire, but ultimately these people are just like you and me. Or you can argue that I’m just like them and nothing like you, and to that I intend to heap burning coals on your head by replying, “I receive that, brother (or sister; I’ll cover my bases).”
The point is, they don’t hate each other, they don’t hate you, they don’t want to hate you - they’re looking for redemption, just like you and I are. We all need redemption. This is the way they’ve gone about it and somehow, sometimes, they think they’ve found it. They at least believe they’ve found someone who’s asking the right questions. And here they’d be right.
“I won’t let the world break me, so I need to change direction. Nothing special, I’m far from perfect - Light the way for me!” sang Anders Frieden as he and In Flames performed the song ‘Where The Dead Ships Dwell’ off their new album, Sounds of a Playground Fading. Now that isn’t exactly a cry of “Hail Satan!” or a moan of self-pity and alienation.
For twenty years, In Flames have been consistently writing songs that lead their fans to ask questions about bigger things, and to look outside themselves for the answers. None of the members make any statement of faith, but the sense of social responsibility and the need for rescue and reconciliation that comes through in their lyrics is unmissable.
“Fear is the weakness in all of us,” they insist on the same album. “It’s not meant to be easy but you drag us down; burden of the evidence grows... Faith has been denied, let’s not pretend this is the first time we just don’t belong.”
Clearly, there are others out there who see that faith should be a necessary part of our lives. They’re out there, making the claims and asking the questions - loudly, and from the stage - and leading thousands of others to ask them too; people we wouldn’t necessarily think even cared about things like that.
But In Flames was who we all came to hear that night, and many went to hear the words of a God they don’t know sung by voices that they did. And the Word isn’t picky about who shares him, or where.
“If I ever, if I never, make me understand the thought, whatever,” Frieden and company sang to close the night, and I prayed right along with them: “Make me see, make me be, make me understand you’re there for me: Take this life, I’m right here; stay a while and breathe me in.”
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
Lyle Enright is an editorial intern with Relief and will graduate from Trinity International University with a degree in English this May.