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I was doing a bit of web surfing awhile back and came across an article about spiritual imagery in heavy metal music. I’ve always been intrigued by spiritual imagery in both music and literature so clicked the link to have a read. I confess I’m not very up to speed (at all) on the heavy music scene these days, which probably went a long way to explaining my surprise, no, my astonishment at what I read.
Nicko McBrain…is a Christian.
Okay, I best backtrack and explain a little, or perhaps a lot.
Nicko McBrain is the drummer with heavy metal/rock band Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden have for years been considered one of the best heavy bands around, especially live. They play many songs on many topics with sometimes deep and heavy lyrics, no ‘manufactured popcorn pop’ here. Among the famous songs they play and sing are Number of the Beast, The Clairvoyant and The Evil That Men Do. They also have a mascot called Eddie who represents a kind of demonic figure. In this band, playing these songs with that mascot…the drummer, Nicko McBrain (real name Michael Henry McBrain), is a Christian.
For anyone reading this who knows all about the heavy music scene, this will come as no surprise at all. To someone (like me) who hasn’t engaged with this music for years, it came as a shock on the scale of a minor earthquake. I wasn’t surprised he was a Christian; God can save anyone, anywhere, at any time. What surprised me, more than a little, was that he was still a member of Iron Maiden. How does he justify this?
He had been to church in Boca Raton in Florida, where he and his wife Rebecca had made their home. His wife (who had herself been converted via the testimony of a neighbour) had asked him to accompany her to church but all the minister spoke about was money and he said he wasn’t going back.
Rockgod website takes up the story,
“But Rebecca didn’t give up … and neither did God. Rebecca suggested they try a different church. She had heard of Spanish River Community Church, and decided to give that church a try. Nicko was “blown away” at the very first service. The music was contemporary and similar to what he had known. A drama team performed a sketch that was related to the message. And the sermon dealt with real-life issues that he could relate to. Nicko continued to attend Spanish River during breaks in his tour schedule. One morning he was lying in bed physically depleted from a rigorous tour. Rebecca woke him up and asked him if he was going to go to church with her. “I just lay in bed, completely exhausted, and said, ‘No, go on without me,’” he recalls. Rebecca then retorted, “If you don’t want to go for yourself, then at least go for your son.” That was it. Nicko couldn’t go back to sleep and prepared himself for church, and — unknown to him — an appointment with God. “I can’t remember what it was,” he says, “but right in the middle of one of the songs, I starting crying my eyes out. I just stood there saying, ‘What’s the matter with me?’” Pastor David Nicholas asked everyone in the congregation to stand for the closing prayer, and Nicko couldn’t maintain his balance. “I just sat there thinking, ‘I didn’t drink last night … why can’t I stand?’” Nicko believes the hand of the Holy Spirit was on him in a mighty way. “If you’d like to know Christ in a personal way,” Pastor Nicholas said, “then you need to open your heart and ask Him to come in, right where you are.” Nicko started crying again. All the years of running away and of living life on his own terms came to a collision point as Nicko came face to face with the One he was created to know. He quietly asked Jesus Christ to come into his heart and redirect his eternity.”
Afterwards, the question of his place in Iron Maiden came to the fore and he had to “…make that agonising decision of whether he should go out for another tour…after lots of prayer, he felt God’s affirmation that it was the right thing to do.” He admits that he didn’t get much time to become grounded in his faith before he went back on tour.
Anyone who knows about Iron Maiden’s famous songs won’t be surprised that the obvious question didn’t take long to be asked. How can he still play songs like Number of the Beast, with lyrics, “666, the one for you and me”? McBrain reasons, “…it’s a story. If you look in the Book of Revelation it tells you all that…I’m not glorifying him (the devil) – if I was I wouldn’t be Christian.” He goes on to explain that the song is based on a nightmare that bassist Steve Harris had.
Nightmare or not, the biblical imagery and message are unavoidable. He describes the band’s demonic mascot Eddie as a “cartoon character” who can be “whatever you want him to be”.
Of course playing or singing a song doesn’t mean you believe the words (does everyone in a church who sings the hymns really believe all the words?) but should a Christian play these songs at all? Especially when literally thousands of adoring fans at their worldwide concerts hang on their every word?
On the other hand, McBrain has been able to share his faith and has,
“…given his testimony in front of heavy metal fans, and seen them commit their life to Jesus and he also frequently talks with fellow Iron Maiden members about his beliefs.”
It’s great that fans hear testimony and come to Christ through his witness and they’d listen to him, one of their own, before they’d listen to anyone in a church. But does that justify staying in the band; God could surely reach them without McBrain’s presence there?
Clearly McBrain has been able to accommodate his continued membership in Iron Maiden within his conscience but it won’t sit easily with many Christians, particularly in light of verses like 1 John 1:6,
“If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth”.
It’s rarely painless leaving the world you knew behind when you receive Christ but surely the Spirit of Christ, which indwells every Christian, would not uphold the devil, or qualify him as “just a story”?
McBrain’s conversion has particular resonance for me because I listened to Iron Maiden in my youth and had many of their albums. When I attended Computing College for a time one of my friends there was into Iron Maiden as well and I would borrow albums to listen to (I think they were on cassette, shows how long ago it was!). When I became a Christian, part of me still liked the music but deep down I knew there was a conflict. The crunch came for me when I felt God asking me what I’d say if another Christian (or anyone) asked me why I listened to it? I knew that any defence I gave would be an excuse. For me, to say it was just a story wouldn’t have been a sufficient reason to keep listening.
When Iron Maiden released their album A Matter of Life and Death in 2006, McBrain said, “The lord really blessed this album.” You can detect glimpses of light in the song lyrics and of those in 2010’s Final Frontier. Perhaps this reflects McBrain’s influence although their songs cover many topics. But again the question remains; does this justify remaining in the band? Or is there a case for him remaining in the band but not playing songs questionable from a Christian viewpoint, like Number of the Beast, The Clairvoyant and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son?
If you are in a group (not necessarily music related) which conflicts with the teaching in God’s Word, should you stay? Is it even a question that needs to be asked if the answer seems obvious? What if God’s answer surprises us? Are there times when God might say, “Stay where you are and be my witness”?
When you read McBrain’s testimony it’s hard not to be impressed with his enthusiasm and his love for Christ is tangible and contagious. When a fellow Christian fan asked about his Christian faith on an Iron Maiden website forum, only a few years after his conversion, the brief chat went like this,
Ben: “Can you speak a little bit about your new-found faith in Christianity? Being a Christian myself, I was so excited to hear about your rebirth. Thanks.”
Nicko: “Hi Ben. Yes I am a Christian. I came to know the Lord and asked him into my life going on three years now. It has changed my life. I have only just started my walk with God but I know that the footprints next to mine are those of Jesus. Praise the Lord.”
Sometimes people are suspicious when celebrities suddenly embrace God (particularly in America where embracing God can bring commercial benefits) but for a member of a heavy metal/rock band singing songs frequently littered with references to darkness, there is no obvious benefit in publicly declaring a conversion to Christianity. In fact quite the opposite.
Yet there is a troubling dichotomy. When not on tour McBrain plays the drums in his church band, glorifying God. The next week he plays songs for Iron Maiden with lyrics like, “666, the one for you and me”.
The question remains, should a Christian remain in a group which contains such anti-Christian sentiments, even if they do think of it as “just a story”? Or should a Christian remain and try to influence from within? Or does the inner witness of the Holy Spirit leave no room for such an accommodation. Clearly McBrain believes he is in the right place. Perhaps the day will come when he feels God leading him to leave the band, perhaps not.
What do you think?
Stay tuned for a follow up article on a member of another heavy metal band who became a Christian but decided he had to leave his band.
Thanks for reading 🙂