The King James Bible and Heavy Metal

The King James Bible has had an amazing impact upon all aspects of English-speaking culture. We all quote the KJV in our idioms and literature. There is no doubt that the KJV is a huge part of the English language, and many people recognize its influence upon traditional Christian music such as hymns. However, I have never heard of anyone who talked about the King James Version’s relationship with heavy metal music. In fact, many of the people who read the KJV are the same people who say that metal is the “devil’s music”. However, there are many examples of the KJV’s appreciation within metal, and I wanted to write a post that brought that to light.

First of all, let me say that many people dislike the metal for its extremely dark lyrics, but the Biblical poets were actually very metal, consider the following verses of Biblical poetry:

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones (Psalm 137:8-9).

Samaria shall become desolate;
for she hath rebelled against her God:
they shall fall by the sword:
their infants shall be dashed in pieces,
and their women with child shall be ripped up (Hosea 13:16).

The Bible can certainly be very metal. In fact, there are also churches that worship with “metal masses“. 

Some of the quotations from the KJV in metal lyrics can be extremely straightforward. For example, here are the lyrics of “Shadow of Deth” by Megadeth:

Auxilium meum a Domino
The LORD is my shepherd I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside the still waters
He restoreth my soul
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
For his name’s sake
Yea, though I walk through the valley
Of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil for thou art with me
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me
Thou preparest a table before me
In the presence of mine enemies
Thou anointest my head with oil
My cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house
Of the Lord for ever
The first line of this song is actually a quote from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible in Psalm 120:2, “auxilium meum a Domino qui fecit caelum et terram”. The rest of this song should be extremely obvious to everyone. These lyrics are simply Psalm 23 in the KJV. Here’s the same psalm in the KJV for comparison:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Another very clear example of direct quotation from the KJV is the song “Psalm 9” by Trouble. I am going to quote the song here with the KJV in parallel (KJV in bold):
The Lord shall endure forever
For he hath prepared his throne for judgment
And they that know thy name will put thy trust in thee
For thou Lord have not forsaken those that seek thee (Trouble)
But the Lord shall endure for ever:
he hath prepared his throne for judgment (KJV, v. 7)
And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee:
for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. (KJV, v. 10)
I will praise thee O Lord
I will sing praise in thy name
Don’t forget the cry of the humble
Have mercy on me (Trouble)
I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart;
I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in thee:
I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. (KJV, vv. 1-2)
Put them in fear O Lord
That the nations may know
Let them realize they are just men, just men (Trouble)
Put them in fear, O Lord:
that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah (KJV, v. 20)
Thou hast rebuked the HEATHEN
Thou hast destroyed the wicked
Won’t forget the cry of the humble
Have mercy on me (Trouble)
Thou hast rebuked the heathen,
thou hast destroyed the wicked,
thou hast put out their name for ever and ever. (KJV, v. 5)
Seeing them in parallel, one can really see the amount that the song writers borrowed from the King James Bible. Here, I only referenced the quotations, but the full song does have some additional material that is not taken from Psalm 9 in the KJV, but is still in the same spirit.
Many of the other examples that I have found in metal are less obvious, but they are there when one looks at the lyrics. For an example of this, see Metallica’s “Creeping Death”. In this song, the events of the Exodus are retold. One verse in the song says:
Now, let my people go
Land of Goshen
Go, I will be with thee
Bush of fire
Blood, running red and strong
Down the Nile
Plague, darkness three days long
Hail to fire
The phrase “let my people go” is a classic from the King James Bible. It is one of those phrases that has entered into English idiom, and many other versions of the Bible adopt that same reading as a result. It first appears in Exodus 5:1.
And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.
However, that phrase (“let my people go”) appears many more times in the KJV’s translation of the book of Exodus.
A similar song to this is Iron Maiden’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, which should be a very simple one to see. The phrase “hallowed be thy name” is a quotation from the Lord’s Prayer in the KJV. The song says:
Yeah, yeah, yeah,
Hallowed be Thy name
Yeah, yeah, yeah,
Hallowed be Thy name
The Lord’s Prayer reads:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen (Matthew 6:9-13).
The last song that I want to bring up as an example also uses the Lord’s Prayer, but it is reinterpreted in a very interesting way.  Folk metal band Eluveitie, in their song “The Nameless”, adapts wording from the Lord’s Prayer into a song about the god Sucellos and the otherworld, Antumnos (which were both found in Gaulish-Celtic mythology). Eluveitie’s song says:
Holy Father in Darkness
Hallowed be Thy name
Thy kingdom came
The rise of Thy reign
The parallels with the Lord’s Prayer in the KJV are pretty obvious here.
Two of my favorite things in this world are the King James Bible and heavy metal, and they actually do overlap, despite the stereotypes. Considering the nature of this blog, I felt that this was worthy of a post. We explore various ways in which the KJV effects translation, liturgy, and idiom, so we should definitely talk about the influences of the KJV upon music.
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One thought on “The King James Bible and Heavy Metal

  1. Pingback: Weekend Reading 25 – Saving the Game

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