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Going Down-Market: Satan Rules the Night at Jaxx

Springfield, Va. has improbably become an East Coast mecca for fans of Black Metal-- an intense, darkly anti-religious music genre.Video: Michelle Boorstein/The Washington PostEditor: Jacqueline Refo/

For Bittinger and his friends, the ideas raised by black metal are intellectual nourishment for people who find humor in horror and calm in the chaotic. Be warned, though, the scene can be snooty.

"We're like an evil Mensa," Bittinger says.

Hanging out at the show with Bittinger is Eric Buchanan, a 26-year-old father of three from Stafford who got into black metal when he was 13 and who studied music theory in college. The soft-spoken Buchanan is into Mesopotamian mythology and did his senior thesis on comparative religion. He considers himself a Christian. Yet he isn't appalled when Naglfar, another Swedish band playing that night, wails about "failed abortions that never should have been born."

Sometimes, in his view, the bright lines drawn between good and evil by mainstream religious rhetoric are too simplistic to handle the messiness of being human. When Buchanan was operated on in 2006 for a growth on his brain, his wife brought both a crucifix and a Dark Funeral CD -- both helped, he says.

Buchanan once played in a band that faced criticism for thanking God in its CD liner notes. "Some people take the satanic thing too seriously," he says.

But some of this is just about teenagers trying, in time-honored fashion, to find a way to fit in, or stand out, or just release their angst. At the show was Christopher "Lord Kratos" Burke, a Montgomery County high school senior whose band, Valhalla, was one of the night's early acts. Just after playing, the sweaty singer-guitarist flipped his long hair and checked his streaked whiteface makeup as he explained that Christianity "doesn't seem real enough." It seems like a fairy tale, he said.

"If you can figure out what they're singing, tell me, because I'm afraid it might be 'Kill my mother, Kill my mother,' " Nancy Burke, who brought her son to perform, said with a nervous chuckle. "At heart he's a great kid. I don't think he wants to kill anyone."

That's black metal -- blurry lines: between loving and hating God, between fantasy and reality. Even Bittinger, who calls church "boring, inconvenient and droll," won't be pinned down when asked, point-blank: Is there a God?

"There might be, there might not be. If something is there, I don't want to limit myself."

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