And now for something completely different….
If you are a regular reader here, you know of my love for the liturgy. The Western Rite needs music to go along with it, and that music is very often beautiful, enriching, and edifying. JS Bach and Gregorian chant come to mind, with pride of place. They fit with the church year like a hand in a glove. There’s no shortage of beautiful, historical music out there, just waiting to be picked up and put to use in Christ’s church.
I listen not only to church music, or church-y type music (this will shock some of you, I know.) I listen to LOTS of different types of music, and always have. Scroll through the music player on my phone, and you’ll see Johnny Cash next to The Clash next to Miles Davis next to Shostakovich next to…you get the idea. I like everything from old school, twangy country to modern metal, and everything in between. Music calms me. It helps me think. It gives me a way to express myself or a way to approach life. Music is a big deal for me.
A couple of years ago, I noticed something odd happening. A number of bands or artists that I had formerly followed and listened to, some rather avidly (Deftones, the Afghan Whigs, Lana Del Rey), were beginning to espouse occultic or pagan themes and imagery in their lyrics, artwork, and on social media. They had never done this before. This was distressing to me, but I decided I could no longer follow or listen to those artists as closely, or buy their music. It wouldn’t be worth it, frankly. My faith in Jesus is too precious for me to let it be eaten away at its foundations with music and ideas that are antagonistic to the gospel. That’s just a fact. Like the Apostle Paul in a different context, I too “have the Spirit of God” (I Cor 7:40, 11:16) and I hope that on this score, the Lord will make clear to you in time that we should fill ourselves with what is good, noble, right, and true, just as He urges (Phil 4:8), if indeed you think differently.
To that end, I’ve been refurbishing my music collection, with the help of the Internet. Like most people in their early (ok, mid) 30s, I haven’t added much music beyond my college years. Life happened, and I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to popular culture anymore. (Still don’t, unless someone shows me something or I get asked about it as a pastor.) As a consequence, there are huge swaths of the music universe that are terra incognita to me, and I’m just starting to explore again.
One particular strain of hard rock that I didn’t even know was out there is metalcore. It takes the harsh guitars of metal and crosses it with the rampaging tempos and screamed/shouted vocals of hardcore punk. (If that sounds at all appealing to you, you’ll want to keep reading. If not…you can browse through my posts on the sanctoral calendar, or wait for the next time I post a sermon.) Apparently there’s a fairly enormous explicitly Christian metalcore scene out there. It sprang up after I drifted away from following new music and became an adult (well, got older, anyway.) Christian rock used to be embarrassing — preachy, mushy, out of date, out of touch…soft. You can still find plenty of that, but the bands on the following list are anything but soft.
At the extreme end, there’s Christian black metal, or unblack metal, as it’s sometimes known. This can sound like a car crashing into a brick wall at 60 mph over and over, with nigh-undecipherable vocals screamed, shouted, rasped, or grunted, but even within that musical style, the lyrical content can either be for Christ or against Christ. The black metal scene is notoriously satanic and anti-religion, but some artists have chosen to subvert that template by borrowing the musical style while taking the lyrics 180 degrees in the opposite direction, to honor Christ. One might debate the effectiveness or the impact of this, but there’s no denying that these artists are using everything they have to try and serve their Lord Jesus.
These bands have Christian names, their artwork and presentation are suffused with Biblical imagery, they talk with honesty and intensity about issues real Christians face. Some of their lyrics consist of actual quotes from Scripture. And they’re not only for Christians. Some — admittedly not a majority, but more than you might think — have crossed over and have appeal and cachet among secular metalheads, as well. They play festivals alongside non-Christian (sometimes unchristian) bands. They carry the light of Christ into dark places where the stereotypical middle-class American Christian might not be welcomed, or feel welcome. They are salt and light in a segment of society that a lot of Christians, rightly or wrongly, would be inclined to write off as the devil’s domain. In that regard, we can approve of Christian rock bands, because they follow the Lord’s example and reach out to those whom their society disregards or disdains.
What follows is a list of the bands I’ve discovered who play aggressive hard rock, of varying genres, and are Christian. This list is by no means exhaustive. You’re encouraged to do your own reseach if you like this stuff. As with everything except the Scriptures, read and listen with your filters intact and functioning. “Test everything.” The bands below are not uniform in the way they voice their Christian convictions, nor are they in lockstep with the extent that their Christianity influences their art. Be discerning, but make sure you support the Christian artists whose work you appreciate, so they can keep making it. I’ll give you the list first, and in a future post I’ll give my comments on a number of bands whom you might start with, if you’re interested in getting into this music. Maybe this list can help you, or a friend, child, or grandchild.
There’s such an enormous variety of music in the world, and so much worthwhile Christian music being made — including really abrasive, preternaturally aggressive rock music – that there’s no point in insisting on something anti-Christian or opposed to the Bible when you can have a similar sound with God-honoring content. I still listen to music that isn’t explicitly Christian, and contemporary Christian may very well never be my favorite. But of the music I do listen to, a much higher percentage of it is Christian now than formerly. That’s just because there’s so much good stuff out there. This list is alphabetical, so you can make your own judgment about the artistic merits of each one. Enjoy the list, and let me know what bands you’ve discovered and like.
- A Plea for Purging
- Alstadt (unblack metal)
- Ark of the Covenant
- August Burns Red
- Becoming the Archetype
- Corpus Christi
- Death Therapy (industrial/dance metal)
- Demon Hunter
- Destroy the Runner
- Drottnar (unblack/martial metal)
- Earth Groans
- Fit for a King
- For Today
- Holy Blood (folk/Viking metal sound)
- Hope for the Dying
- Impending Doom
- In the Midst of Lions
- I, the Breather
- Mychildren Mybride
- Oh, Sleeper
- Ritual Servant (vintage thrash sound)
- Saving Grace
- Silent Planet
- Sleeping Giant
- Suspiria Profundis
- Texas in July
- The Ascendicate
- The Devil Wears Prada
- Vials of Wrath
- War of Ages
- Wolves at the Gate
- Your Memorial