If you are a fan of doom metal, sludge metal, or stoner rock, then you’ve probably heard of the band Sleep. This California music group has a legendary status and cult following — given that they are such an important influence upon the contemporary metal world of doom and sludge. Formed in the early 90s, Sleep crafted a fascinatingly unique sound and aesthetic.
For example, the album shown above — titled Dopesmoker — flaunts one of the best album covers I’ve ever seen. It features just two songs: “Dopesmoker” which is 63 minutes long, and “Holy Mountain” which is 11 minutes long. The sound features low, heavily distorted guitars, playing in hypnotic rhythms. It’s a wonderfully transcendent and dark experience.
For their first album Volume One (1991), the band was comprised of members Al Cisneros (vocals/bass), Matt Pike (guitar), Justin Marler (guitar), and Chris Haikus (drums). However, after Volume One’s release, something crazy happened: Justin Marler left to become an Eastern Orthodox monk.
Marler joined the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery (which is located in California). During this time, he began meeting with other individuals who also left punk and metal communities in pursuit of a new, religiously focused communities. As many of them converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, this budding community was nicknamed “Punks to Monks.”
The Punks to Monks community gained notoriety, and companies as diverse as Focus on the Family to Washington Post wanted interviews. However, Marler didn’t care too much for the mainstream attention — a consistent attitude for a monk. Instead, Marler and his colleagues formed a zine to interact with teens in the local metal communities. It was titled Death to the World.
Originally, Marler and friends wanted to advertise their monastery in a metal music magazine (Maximum RocknRoll). However, they were denied, given that the magazine only advertised bands or zines. That’s when they were hit by the idea of starting Death to the World.
Summary of Issue 1
In their first issue (published in 1994), the authors talk about the experience of dissatisfaction with the state of the world. This dissatisfaction, they believe, is experienced by many in our society, which prompts a spirit of rebellion against those social norms and structures. However, the authors believe that this rebellion ought to be pushed further — toward a relentless pursuit of higher truth and a relationship to the divine accompanied by a denial of the world (which are all common monastic themes).
On page 3, they ask: “How can one help a world with festering wounds until one mends one’s own wounds?” Their proposed answer is to reject the nihilistic tendencies within culture that deny truth, love, beauty, value, and God. Instead, the authors call for a new kind of rebellion. “True rebellion will stop at nothing in the fight for the good of the world, for the good of others, and for the good itself in whatever way it manifests itself. It is necessary to wage a revolution in the heart in order to conquer evil with good so as to have a rebellion in truth. This is the kind of rebellion that must take place or else it isn’t rebellion at all.” (page 3)
After two short statements about the nature of the zine and the rebellion these monks believe in, we are given a short poem summarizing the ideas thus far stated.
Then, the authors discuss the vulnerability experienced as one matures and reaches adulthood — e.g., the pains, fears, disappointments, monotony, strife, etc. — and how individuals often seek to remain ‘innocent’ from the harsh realities of life. The solution proposed by the authors is the Christian understanding/narrative of God, who stands as a transcendent and eternal reference point — both providing meaning/value to our lives and identifies with our suffering in the Christian understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus. Thus, in the authors’ minds, the intense pain and vulnerability experienced in adolescence can be a good thing because it can turn individuals toward toward higher, transcendent, and eternal meaning in God (page 9). Trying to avoid ‘selling out’ to the adult world ultimately fails because the whole world already sold out. Thus, the zine argues that God could be the only source allowing us to avoid ‘selling out’ and giving into the corrupt and exploitative systems of the world.
The next section tells the (allegedly true) story of a living Orthodox priest — Father Gabriel — who protested communist rule in the country of Georgia near the Black Sea. By protest, I mean this dude burned down giant propaganda portraits of Stalin and Communist leaders (during a funeral vigil for Stalin in Gabriel’s country), and exclaimed “The Lord said, […] ‘Thou shalt have no other gods!'” He was subsequently beaten and barely survived — losing all friends for his stance against tyrannical communist rule.
The last two sections feature quotes from famous saints in the Christian tradition and one of the author’s poetic thoughts on suffering, rebellion, and forgiveness.
First, I absolutely love the mixture of Eastern Orthodox and metal/punk aesthetic. The authors and artists blend them together flawlessly. The art alone is reason enough to check this thing out.
Furthermore, this is a fascinating zine to read, and it blows my mind that Eastern Orthodox monks made a zine for teenagers who were into metal/punk music. I hope it generated some interesting dialogue and discussions. It’s great that two communities — often seen as averse to one another — could have some type of communication. The original publication of Death to the World only had 12 issues, but it has since been rebooted. You can find their official website here: http://deathtotheworld.com/about/
I’ve also included pictures of the zine below. If you have a difficult time reading them, you can download the pdf here (or use Google): http://www.desertwisdom.org/dttw/links/dttw-zine01.pdf