Part 2 of “The Black Scare: Metal, Christianity, and Satanic Hell” – Click here to read Part 1.
The creation of Satanic Hell was also influenced by elements of the Christian right’s culture war that were closer to home – the experience of my good friend Ron, who was part of our role-playing group in high school. We all hung out daily at school and on the weekends doing Satanic things like eating pizza and playing Altered Beast on the Sega Genesis. None of us were religious, including Ron, but he came from an Assembly of God family. The Assembly of God church, if you didn’t know, is the friendly, down-home fundamentalist Pentecostal church that takes the Bible literally and believes in speaking in tongues, faith healing, spiritual warfare, and opposes social dancing. You know, American, like apple pie and fruit loops.
Ron lived with his mom and two younger brothers. He had to turn all his fantasy books around so the bookends wouldn’t be revealed, lest his mom find out he was reading the evil works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Phillip Anthony because, as the church put it “only God can perform magic.” His role-playing games and activities were also hidden because they were also considered Satanic. While his mom was worried about Satanism influencing her son, she was, in fact, really friendly and not authoritarian. Ron and his mom got along well. He said she was strict on the God stuff when he was younger, but had mellowed out after the divorce from his father. Ron and I talked a lot about his upbringing under the religious environment and how crazy we thought it was, along with the current religious tirades we were witnessing on TV. We also listened to a lot of metal, especially Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, which fit well into our obsession with sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. We were constantly on the prowl for music that was more and more “Satanic” (thank you, Slayer). The irony of the Christian war on metal music is that the publicity and inane arguments against it helped metal album sales skyrocket out of hell and smash through heaven’s gates. When we walked into the metal section of the mall music store, it was like looking at a wall of demons as bands competed to fit the most pentagrams and half-naked succubae on their album covers. Ron was the first person I showed my drawing of the original, skeleton-like metal band Satanic Hell, which I came up with to parody the Christian hysteria around Satanism. Ron loved the Satanic Hell idea and we often joked about it.
Sadly, Ron’s mom passed away in the 11th grade from cancer and Ron and his brothers moved out of state to live with his uncle, a pastor in the Assembly of God church. Suddenly, he was going to church every day and forced to join youth group. We kept in touch with him and visited him once. He appeared to be the same old Ron. He said his uncle was crazy but he had to stay there to watch over his little brothers. Several years later in college, six of us made plans to unite and visit him. He was going to an Assembly of God bible college in Minnesota. When I spoke with him on the phone, he said he was excited to see us again and he was only going to the bible college because his uncle was helping pay and he couldn’t afford anywhere else. We arrived ready for a weekend of role-playing madness just like old times. Instead, Ron acted like he didn’t know we were coming. He was stand-offish and while we talked, it came out that he accepted the Bible and God. He didn’t reveal anything more than that. The next day, he asked us to leave and we did. The rest of us are still friends but we never heard from Ron again.
It was sad to lose a friend. I can only surmise that Ron succumbed to the intense fundamentalist conditioning of daily church, youth group activities, his uncle the pastor, and the fundamentalist Bible college environment. My experience with Ron certainly had an effect on the creation of Satanic Hell. Throughout the years, I’ve encountered many people who have managed to escape this fundamentalist worldview. I hope to meet many more.