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According to the people who claim to be his messengers on earth, God is pissed about rock music. From the moment that guitars, drums, bass and vocals were joined together, representatives of the major religions have decried the resulting music as blasphemy and have done their best to curb any chance young people have of enjoying it. Whether it's burning CDs, rallying to government to shut down concerts, or just posting up outside of an in-store appearance with a homophobic slogan on a sign, those who claim to be Heaven's messengers will always find a righteous way to attack an art form that inspires only joy.
But while religion has disliked rock'n'roll as a whole for ages, certain artists have become the ultimate scapegoats of those doing the Lord's work. These musicians have angered church-goers so much -- whether with insensitive quotes, satanic imagery, or the implication that they might occasionally have sex -- that their work and/or live shows have been banned (sometimes, they've even been held at gunpoint). For the sake of celebrating these rabble-rousers, we put together a list of those artists against whom religion has raised its torch and pitchfork the highest.
Here are 10 artists whose songs, concerts, or very presence were banned by the church...
For going on three decades, Marilyn Manson has been the ultimate scapegoat for religious groups. The shock rocker’s career is peppered with incidents of offended Christians trying to shut him down, including having his live show banned in South Carolina in 1997 and being banned from an Australia resort in 1999. Even the Church Of Satan wants to be distanced from him, having clarified his role within the church to a T so as not to have anyone think he's a minister therein. So divisive you’re pissing off the satanists -- the shock rocker's golden ring.
The ol’ ‘Bigger than Jesus’ line caused an odd speed bump in the rampant Beatlemania of the early ‘60s. In 1966, two broadcasters from Birmingham, Alabama, named Doug Layton and Tommy Charles went on a hardcore ‘Ban The Beatles’ campaign over Lennon’s “blasphemous” quote, causing record stores and radio stations around America to burn their Beatles records and ban the band. The beef was squashed in 2010, when the Vatican officially forgave the Beatles for their hubris. Good looking out fifty years later, Rome.
There was something about Slayer’s brand of hard-hitting, blood-soaked satanic thrash that freaked out religious figures in the ‘80s like no other music. Slayer fandom soon became the ultimate symbol of an adolescence gone wrong. Pastor Bob Larson led the charge, making a big show of touring with the band and “outing” them as everyday metalheads. But it wasn’t just in America’s sensitive midsection that the band were pariahs; their 2006 album Christ Illusion was recalled by EMI India after Christian groups protested. It’s good to know Slayer remain universally feared by sensitive Christians all over the world.
Of the bands on this list, Behemoth are one of the few who have fired shots back at the church. The Polish death metal band's frontman Nergal was charged with Blasphemy for ripping up a Bible onstage in 2007, for which he even went to trial (the charges were dropped). The band were later included on a list of bands who focus on murder and Satanism, which resulted in Behemoth being banned from Poznari in 2014. Of course, Nergal also trolled Christians and metal fans alike by making up a story about being ejected from the YMCA on tour, so the feud is still ongoing.
In the modern day, it’s important to remember that ‘the church’ is a broad term, encompassing a wide spectrum of religions that perceive music as the enemy for no good reason. An example of this was Lamb Of God’s being banned from playing a festival in Malaysia after the Office Of Islamic Development of Malaysia became worried about the band’s lyrics, specifically those of the Kiladelphia intro which contains lyrics taken directly from the Quran. The show was finally shut down because the band’s shows were “found to infringe on religious sensitivities”, and because the promoter was receiving death threats. So remember, don’t be close-minded -- all religions have fundamentalists who are enemies of rock music!
The original heavy metal rabble-rousers, Black Sabbath were hated by religious authorities the minute they exploded onto the scene. The problem, of course, was that Sabbath weren’t satanists, and so their constant persecution felt especially plastic. “There was one incident where we were due to play in a town and we got banned by the church,” guitarist Tony Iommi recalled. “The show was announced in all the papers for two weeks before we got there. The church managed to ban us. And then the bloody church burned down and we got the blame.”
One doesn’t usually think of The Everly Brothers as the kind of band who the church would want to crush, but the pop-rock oldsters managed to get banned in Boston for their lovers lane anthem Wake Up Little Susie. The city’s Catholics considered the song unseemly due to its sexual themes (even though the whole song is about two teens who didn’t have sex). It’s just a solid reminder that no matter how sensitive people get about music right now, back in the day you couldn’t even talk about the idea of sex without bible-thumpers calling you a heathen.
Oddly enough, for all their devil-mongering and perversion, it wasn't Cradle Of Filth's lyrics or shirts that got them assailed by armed guards and kicked out of the Vatican. The vampire metallers got in trouble in 1998 when they entered St. Peter’s Square while their keyboard player Lecter was wearing a priest’s outfit. “Strangely enough it wasn’t because I was wearing a tacky ‘I love Satan’ T-shirt that I’d just been given, or that our guitarist had a ‘Jesus is a C**t’ shirt,” Dani Filth told Kerrang! in 2019. “It was that Lecter was dressed as a priest and apparently that’s illegal there. They’re a law unto themselves and they could have held us for the rest of our lives if they’d wanted to.”
Of all the metal bands in the world, Sepultura feel like a weird one to think that God would hate; the band have an open-minded spiritual bent to them that so many other acts don’t. But that didn’t stop their Lebanon show from being canceled, with authorities accusing the band of “insulting Christianity” and being “devil worshippers”. The implied bigger issue, however, appears to have been that some members of the band had posed prominently in their videos around sites in Israel, which is reason to outlaw the band from entering the country (bands with Israeli stamps in their passports cannot enter Lebanon, for the record). The only real victims here were, of course, Sepultura’s fans.
Greek blackened death metallers Rotting Christ certainly picked a name that sounds solely intended to upset religious figures. And while plenty of loudmouths have protested their shows, the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Esfirmenou really went all-in, getting the band’s concert in Patras, Greece, canceled due to their offensive and satanic messages. Taking the accusation one step further, the monastery even implied that Rotting Christ’s unholy image was part of why Greece was facing a socio-economic crisis. Blaming a metal band for your country’s problems for playing death metal -- the ultimate in cultural acrobatics.
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