|By Frances Kennedy
BBC News, Rome
At first glance, Cesare Bonizzi looks like the archetypal Capuchin monk – round-faced, stout, with twinkling eyes and a long flowing white beard. But beneath his robes beats a heart of metal.
Brother Cesare is the lead singer in a heavy metal band which has just released its second album. A former missionary in the Ivory Coast, he lives in a small friary in the Milan hinterland. The 62-year-old monk’s love affair with heavy metal began when he attended a Metallica concert some 15 years ago. “I was overwhelmed and amazed by the sheer energy of it” he says.
Hard rock and heavy metal have, over the years, been criticised as the work of the devil. It’s a claim which Brother Cesare, also known as Brother Metal, says is nonsense. He started playing and recording cassettes, firstly with “lighter” metal music, but gradually he realised that what really moved him was the hard core.
||People think that I am in fancy dress, they can’t believe a robed monk is on the stage playing their music
Brother Cesare Bonizzi
The members of his band were at first sceptical at the idea of teaming up with a Capuchin monk but their doubts soon evaporated. “Five minutes after meeting Brother Cesare I decided to go ahead, because he manages to convey so much energy, that other musicians and youngsters often don’t manage to express,” lead guitarist, Cesare Zanotti, told Reuters.
Sex, drugs and alcohol
Brother Metal recently appeared in the Gods of Metal festival in Italy, along with giants such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer, playing to a crowd of leather-clad hard-core metal fans. “It was wonderful being there among all these young people” he told the Rome newspaper La Repubblica. “The only problem was that at one stage out slipped a “what the f…” because each time some people think that I am in fancy dress, they can’t believe a robed monk is on the stage playing their music”.
With a booming voice, Brother Metal belts out lyrics that are decidedly gritty, talking about real-life issues and not shying away from sex, drugs and alcohol. He does touch on faith and religion but is adamant that he is not seeking to draw people to Catholicism through his stage performances. Video clips of his performances on YouTube have helped spread his popularity and fan base.
Devotion to God
His second heavy metal album, “Misteri” (Mysteries) has just been released. In a sign of Brother Metal’s eclecticism, it drew inspiration from a group of women in southern Italy who sang about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a heavy metal version of that song is on the CD. Other songs talk about how alcohol warms the heart but excess drinking can damage the liver, and how important sex is to man.
Brother Cesare says he has never had any trouble with his superiors over his choice of musical career and would like to send his new album to the Pope. “He is a music lover and metal is music!” he says. While Brother Cesare always wears his traditional brown robe and sandals as a reminder that he has chosen a life of devotion to God, he is keen to distinguish established religion from faith, and from proselytising. “I do it to convert people to life, to understand life, to grab hold of life, to savour it and enjoy it. Full stop” he says.