It’s no surprise that heavy metal’s decadence and debauchery can wear on a person. Whether it is the substance abuse or the hundreds of miles on the road, the lifestyle of a musician can truly decimate any hopes of being a normal, well-adjusted citizen. For many of the ’80s and ’90s rock heroes, it was hard to separate from the booze and the drugs. Often, musicians would try to fill that hole that partying left with an alternative “high.” Some would collect vintage cars, while others would cover themselves in a fresh coat of tattoo work. One of the most common tactics for the aging rocker is to find spirituality. Why is this so common, especially in a genre that almost exclusively rebels against religion? Here are the top five cases of bad-boy gone blessed to help get a grasp on where “God” fits into metal.
Dave Mustaine: Let’s get this one out of the way. For over 30 years, Megadeth’s mastermind Dave Mustaine has been…well, vocal, about his opinions on everything. From politics to former bandmates, Mustaine has never been bashful about letting his beliefs be known to the metal masses. As in most cases with aging rockers, his newfound strength as being a committed Christian came out of his time in Alcoholics Anonymous. In the early 2000s, this affected Megadeth’s live gigs and festival appearances due to the desire to not share the stage with such bands as Rotting Christ and Dissection, while also omitting classic tracks that dealt with vaguely anti-Christian themes. In more recent years, Dave has backpedaled a bit on these commandments, with tracks like “The Conjuring” making reappearances. With fellow reborn Christian David Ellefson back in the Megadeth bass position since 2010, prayer circles before gigs and an on-site sermon at the band’s boot camp for fans have become commonplace. Even with two reborn Christians in the band and 34 years under their belt, Mustaine and his cohorts still can create visceral and relevant metal, as we saw with 2016’s Dystopia.
Nicko McBrain: Regardless of their sometimes austere or fierce lyrical content, Iron Maiden has always donned a veil of levity and fun. This mostly likely has something to do with the 15-foot iconic “Eddie” that commands the stage, but a large chunk of this comes from longtime drummer Nicko McBrain. Whether it is dancing behind the drum set, or his backstage buffoonery, Nicko has always been one of the most jovial members of the band. This drummer’s path to finding god (or ‘The Guv’nor’ as he refers) came in 1999 when he converted to Christianity. Unlike other musicians, McBrain didn’t have substance abuse problems that led him there, as he has noted he hasn’t smoked marijuana since 1986 and has only recently discussed possible sobriety in interviews. He is also one of the only other musicians who hasn’t let his personal faith intervene in his rock and roll day job. Iron Maiden still performs songs like “The Number of the Beast” and has images of Satan on its merchandise and stage sets. McBrain realizes that performing these songs is just telling a story, not necessarily glorifying Lucifer or evil acts.
Blackie Lawless: It can be increasingly arduous to wrap one’s mind around the concept that the deviant who brandished a sawblade codpiece and penned the song “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” could be so heavily invested in his current faith. That is exactly the case with W.A.S.P.’s Blackie Lawless. The former ‘Wild Child’ grew up in a Christian household, yet spent his teenage years and early W.A.S.P. career being “mad at God,” as he has put it. Not only has he made one of the largest leaps from occult to pious, but he has also been extremely eloquent and candid with his current beliefs. Lawless claims to not need anyone else telling him how to believe or worship, as he has his own personal relationship with the big man upstairs. The drawback for the modern W.A.S.P. fan is the undeniable Christian lyrical content on newer records like 2015’s Golgotha (“Jesus I need you now”) and the exclusion of a large amount of classic material in current setlists.
Peter Steele: Much like the other heathens turned heavenly, the late great Peter Steele had a personality (and a mouth) that rivaled his physical stature. Whether it was appearing in Playgirl, or being a guest on the Jerry Springer show, the Type O Negative front-man never minded ruffling some feathers. After a mid-2000s stint in Rikers Island, Steele seemed to reconnect with his faith. In lieu of referring to himself as born-again, he used the term “dead again,” which was also used as the title of his swan-song 2007 album. The album is littered with references to his beliefs, and at many points insinuates Steele’s assertion of himself being an actual mouthpiece of God, or a “Prophet of Doom” in his own words. Since his untimely death in 2010, Peter Steele and Type O Negative’s influence is more present than ever before. Countless young bands (most prominently in the American hardcore scene) have been shamelessly wearing their Type O influence on their sleeve, regardless of the fact that Steele’s belief structure might have grotesquely varied from their own.
Dan Spitz: Maybe not the most instantly recognizable name on this list, but Dan Spitz was the lead guitarist for thrash legends Anthrax for two stints that added up for about 15 years total. He played on all the band’s classic material, but split for the first time in 1995. Two years earlier, Spitz converted to Messianic Judaism, which is essentially a sect of Christianity that believes Jesus was the messiah while still retaining old Jewish traits and traditions. Surprisingly enough, his faith wasn’t the main reason that he decided to step down from his role as Anthrax’s axe man. Spitz parted ways with the band to learn how to build, maintain, and repair luxury watches and timepieces in Switzerland. He has since risen to prominence in that field, even recently being featured in a video on CNN. While watchmaking is his current passion, he remains active in (mostly Christian based) bands, such as his Red Lamb project that featured contributions from Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine. Spitz has recently announced a new “thrash” project featuring former Journey drummer Deen Castronovo, who is also a reborn Christian, but has been in some hot water since a 2015 incident that included felony sexual assault charges. Hopefully their brand of devout metal will secure them a spot inside the pearly gates for the afterlife.