Ep 157: Can you sing when life is hard?
Life is hard for many people at present - is it appropriate to sing? What would you sing? We join a lover of heavy metal music for a conversation about extreme emotions and extreme music that offers solace in troubled times.
Our guest: Ben Pakula is assistant minister at Harrington Park Anglican Church, in South Western Sydney. He enjoys progressive metal music and coffee, and has written several music albums including his latest album Songs in Hard Places.
This show was recorded as a part of a series called Songs of the Heart. To explore more, download a free reading guide.
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Bigger Questions asked in the conversation
Now Ben, you love progressive metal music. So what’s the difference between progressive metal and heavy metal?
You love music - what stimulated that love?
Well, to kick off Bigger Questions we like to ask a couple of smaller questions - we like to have a bit on the show. And today we’re asking Ben Pakula about singing when life is hard, so Ben, I thought I’d test you on “how much you know about songs about pain, sadness and suffering”.
Heavy metal music and exploration of feelings
So Ben, it seems that there are songs people sing when life is hard, and there is pain. Indeed that Ranker survey says that metal music, is “one genre of music that seems to always accurately captures the feelings of loss, loneliness, and isolation that can come when someone is hurting.” Do you agree - does metal music accurately capture feelings of pain and difficulty?
The song goes on to talk about ‘deathly loss’, of feeling ‘in hell’ and being filled with emptiness. Is metal music the appropriate musical genre to capture these themes?
If you consider the names of metal bands, there seems to be a fascination with a darker side of life - names like Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, Morbid Angel, Five Finger Death Punch, Savage Master - so does metal music capture something of the dark side of human experience that Eurovision pop songs may miss?
But they sound very angry - is there a place for aggression and anger in music? Does the music help with anger? Does it express it?
Ben’s story - Metal and God?
You love heavy metal and this was particularly the case for you when you were a teenager - what attracted you to it?
Bible’s answer - Psalm 89
There is a Psalm in the Bible which perhaps would be appropriate to be sung in a heavy metal style. It’s Psalm 89, which for the first 37 verses outlines the strength, goodness and faithfulness of God. But then at verse 38 the Psalm takes a surprising turn. After outlining God’s goodness and faithfulness, the Psalmist suddenly seems to get very angry with God, by saying,
But you have rejected, you have spurned,
you have been very angry with your anointed one.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant
and have defiled his crown in the dust.
This seems quite an aggressive accusation to lay at God. What is he saying here?
He goes on and gets frustrated by Gods apparent absence and asks some big questions of life, so in verses 46 and 47 he says,
How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Remember how fleeting is my life.
For what futility you have created all humanity!
Why is this in the Bible? What ideas is the Psalmist capturing?
This was probably a song - would heavy metal be an appropriate style to sing this?
Yet despite all this he writes at the very end the Psalmist writes
52 Praise be to the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen.
Is the ending of this Psalm significant?
Impact of Bible on Ben’s story
Was there time in your life when life was hard?
Could you sing?
A lot of discussion, anxiety and uncertainty at the moment about CoronaVirus - is this a time to sing?
What would you sing?
The Big Question
So Ben, can you sing when life is hard?