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‘Hellfest’ Shakes up France

JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD /AFP

Aleteia - published on 07/01/14

Thousands flock to controversial festival, donning demonic dress-up

France recently held its annual "Hellfest" heavy metal concert where thousands of fans flock to the ‘hell-decorated’ venue donning demonic and bondage-style dress-up.

The intense festival has received some bad press over the years for their hard-core tone, with various religious and political groups calling for sponsors to withdraw their support. Coca cola actually withdrew in 2009.

The Associations Familiales Catholiques (Catholic Family Association) sued Hellfest in 2010, requesting that no one under 18 years of age be allowed to enter, and that the titles of the songs be changed. They did not win the case.

Aleteia speaks to Dr. Robert Letellier, an expert in music, literature and cultural history from Cambridge University, UK, about the nature of this heavy-metal music culture and its possible dangers.

Are there dangers in making reference to hell and wearing daemonic clothes, even if it is not explicitly thought of as satanic worship?

For many this type of imagery is a mode of expression, and alternative symbolism intended to make a statement of difference, or even to shock traditional middle class attitudes and values. Real evil lies in the hearts of mankind (cf. Matthew 15:18-19), and is expressed in the horror of war, murder, terrorism, genocide, persecution, displacement of peoples. Since the horrors of the two world wars, and the unspeakable suffering of humanity (36 million dies in the Second), hell has come up onto the surface of the earth. There is not need to fear infernal imagery, but rather the hearts of men.


Is there a moral responsibility in music? For example, during the Hellfest concerts there are often the use of swearwords, blasphemy and demonic undertones, with a lot of screaming: is this harmless fun, or is this morally wrong? Does it lead to an inner darkness? Is there a proper way to compose/play music? 

Music or any kind of artistic expression does not innately have any moral responsibility. As the expression of the inner individualism, creativity and dynamism of the human race, it is a source of distraction, pleasure, joy or even transforming power. Music can soothe and inspire, but it can also be used to accompany deeds of hatred and destruction (as in political propaganda inciting hatred or violence). The use of dark or negative imagery and behavior is not in itself morally wrong (even if one might personally find it off-putting, sinister, repellent). Only if it is deliberately manipulated can it be used for improper or sinister purposes. It could never be said that there is a proper or improper way to compose or play music.


Why does beauty matter in music? Is there such thing as objective beauty in music? 

Our concepts of beauty as a transcendent value goes back tot he underpinning of so many of our cultural assumptions in the philosophies that have helped to shape our consciousness. Platonism (with its theories of deal forms to which why we seek to aspire especially in our noblest creations), and Aristotelian metaphysics (with its assertion of being as relating to the absolute, the good, the true and the beautiful) have instilled a high sense of beauty. The German writer Friedrich Schiller sought to explore the innateness of beauty in art, but proving such absolutes remains controversial and unattainable.  We are instinctively attracted by lovely smells and repelled by bad odours, usually a reflection on the one hand of innate wholesomeness, or on the other a warning against something bad or harmful. But whether beauty can be objectively proven is a contentious matter.


On the hellfest website, they sometimes use biblical words, e.g. "altar" and "temple" were the names of the stages; is this blasphemous? 

Loose usage of sacred concepts, names, objects, is uncomfortable to those who believe, and see values vested in such terminologies. But the misuse of or abuse of such concepts is a matter of social linguistics, and not in itself blasphemous, unless this is the intention of those using the concepts. It makes no difference to the reality of the truth. From a Christian perspective, however, we have a responsibility to consider the sensibilities of the less strong, and not to do anything that might offend the weaker (c. Romans 14:13-23).

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