Heavy metal, and particularly the doom genre, has often been a domain for artists exploring the dark side. One encounters allegories of war and mayhem, often concocted with the aid of narcotics.
But not everyone toes that line. Indeed, some of the finest purveyors of the form have spiritual lives somewhat inconsistent with their work.
- Jason McCash (left) stands in the shadows in this Gates of Slumber promo photo by Scott Hunter.
A Christian Viking: Jason McCash
Jason McCash, bassist for Indianapolis viking crew The Gates of Slumber, was raised in a big Mormon family, but he began to question the faith of his fathers early on. Eventually McCash left home, broke away from Mormonism and headed out on a pilgrimage during the mid-1990s to visit places of worship along the East Coast. He wanted to learn more and see different lifestyles and cultures.
"It was a pretty eye-opening experience, a personality builder," McCash said. "It taught me to be more open-minded."
As he got deeper into religion, however, McCash became frustrated with dogmatic thinking. Still, he considers himself a spiritual person.
"It's still a strong component of who I am as a person," McCash said. "It's a part of everything I do."
Even the songs he writes for The Gates of Slumber, they of the Sabbathian sledgehammer school, have a spiritual bent.
"It's nothing preachy," McCash said. "I just touch on Biblical stories. I have a song I'm working on for the next record that's about the apostle Paul that I think is an interesting take. Some people get it, some people hate it."
He notes that a lot of artists use their platform to exhort their beliefs, be they spiritual or political. McCash doesn't prefer that method.
"I just see it as another story that can be told," he said. "There's so many stories that can be told out of the Bible, or even H.P. Lovecraft novels. I'm not trying to say it one way or another, just make people think."
- Victor Griffin.
Slathered in corpse paint, with agape love: Victor Griffin
McCash can look up to Victor Griffin, the seminal doom metal guitarist who currently fronts the Knoxville trio Place of Skulls. Spirituality has always infused Griffin's music, even when he played in a band called Pentagram.
"It gives me a basis to express myself and my beliefs," Griffin said. "I'm not trying to push my beliefs on anyone else, but if I can somehow be an encouragement to someone else who has experienced the same kinds of things I have, then it's a blessing."
Said experiences are of the cliched, "Behind the Music" type.
"I've lived pretty hard at times with the whole partying and drugs and alcohol, that whole thing," Griffin said.
By his late 30s, he conceded that all the steps he had taken to make his life worthwhile had failed. Around the same time his father and three other close family members died within a year of each other.
"I guess there's a point in everybody's life where you have to look at yourself a lot closer...It was time for me to let go of the reins of my own life, so to speak, and look to God and Jesus Christ," he said, adding how the world always wants to remind you of how much fun you had when doing certain things, while neglecting to mention all the crap that came along with it. "Things have ultimately been better than anything I could've done on my own."
He's still had his missteps. In 2007 Place of Skulls (a Biblical reference to Golgotha) were riding high with the album The Black is Never Far. That title hit close to home, as personal issues for Griffin and bassist Lee Abney overwhelmed the band's momentum, causing a three-year unplanned hiatus.
"I rely on my faith almost exclusively," Griffin said. "For a while there I let the world become too influential in my spiritual life. I started to get back into the things that drug me down in the past."
What Griffin doesn't apologize for is the kind of music he plays. There was a time he questioned his path. After all, as a member of Pentagram, he wore corpse makeup and performed on stages adorned with pentagrams (naturally) and upside-down crosses. He's been on both sides of the spiritual divide, heard the complaints that rock and roll and spirituality don't mix. But ultimately Griffin considers his talent a gift from God.
"There's no rule that if you write a rock and roll song it has to be about getting high or partying," he said. "I accept it for what it is. It's the kind of music I play. It can be used for light instead of darkness."