SEVENTH ANGEL are stunning the national media with the most ear-splitting, demon-shaking brand of rock ever to emerge from British Christendom. Tony Cummings reports.
The clock says 4pm on a Thursday but in over a million homes it's still telly time. On Channel 4 earnest talking heads belonging to presenter Brian Redhead and assorted vicars debate with earnest dullness 'the issues facing the Church today'. Suddenly the programme seems to literally explode. A buzzsaw guitar riff careers like a jagged axe all through the muggy air of polite religiosity. A drummer, his bright orange mohican flashing in the studio lights hits his kit with the frantic abandon of thrash metal. Only the lyrics stop the stunned viewers from believing their worst nightmares that their TV selectors have somehow leapt into an MTV hardcore video. Those lyrics tell another story. Growled by the guitarist in a voice, which belies his obvious youthfulness and suggests a lifetime gargling gravel, the words rise triumphantly above the stampeding rhythm. "Lord of all is Jesus Christ/ Accept him now into your life".
Seventh Angel's appearance on Four's 'Not On Sunday' programme in January was just the latest unlikely step in a decidedly unlikely journey which has seen the band rise from church hall obscurity to become the most talked-about white metal band in Britain. Their second properly produced four-song cassette is just out (a blistering item entitled 'Heed The Warning') is out now and the band are due to begin recording tracks with top American metal producer, Armand John Petri. They were even given a plug recently in the Daily Telegraph, as "one of Britain's leading Christian thrash metal bands". Their evangelistic songs have titles such as 'I Of The Needle' (anti-drugs) and ' Divine Takeover'. But all this interest in Britain's only Christian thrash band has not in any way gone to their heads or deflected them from their main task. "We're ordinary blokes with an extraordinary God," comments the band's lead singer/guitarist Ian Arkly. "We don't think we're anyone special we're just four lads playing the music we enjoy most. We feel that God has called us to do this and we want to reach out to people through the music.
If anyone gets saved through the message in our music that's brilliant." Ian was the founder of the band. Struggling both to find a consistent line-up and an original sound. After their formation in 1987 they played West Midlands gigs until their stunning, original variant of thrash evolved and their line up finally settled on Ian, Scott Lawson (rhythm guitar), Simon Bibby (bass) and Andrew 'Tank' Thompson (drums). In 1989 Seventh Angel (at that time still a trio) played the Greenbelt Festival and carried off the difficult task of following the clamorously acclaimed One Bad Pig from America. The fact that they succeeded says much for the band's musical chops and spiritual maturity. "One Bad Pig, who were sensational, were an incredibly difficult act to follow," comments Seventh Angel manager Dave Williams. But Seventh Angel did it and by the time the band closed with "Divine Takeover" there was an incredible atmosphere in the Big Top and the crowd were really going ecstatic at the front.
In 1990 the band went into White Rabit Studio (used by secular heroes Uriah Heep and even satanic metal band Sabat) to record their first mini album with their settled line up. Explains Dave Williams "We'd previously done a private three-song tape called 'Seventh Angel' which, amazingly, sold really well. We even had an order from a shop in the States for 60 copies. But we recognised the time had come for a proper recording with the new line up so we cut a totally rewritten' Heed The Warning'. It's got all the power people have come to expect from Seventh Angel." It certainly has. Four artfully arranged songs, which utterly belie the myth that thrash, is all super-fast anarchic rough-and-tumble. The title song, with a superlative riff from Ian, is a stern warning on the dangers of ignoring Christ while "Forbidden Desires" is a torrid expose of sexual temptation set to a made-for-moshing beat and "Seven Angels" is literally a chapter of Revelation set in 'doom metal'.
The band recognise they 're at a transitional stage. Precious few Christian venues in Britain are willing to book a band as profoundly radical as Seventh Angel. So more and more they're moving towards secular gigs which suits the band. Scott Rawson comments, "A lot of our songs deal with issues like abortion and drugs but the main thrust of our ministry is an evangelistic tone, reaching out to the unsaved. So obviously the best place to do that is in the world, in the same venues that the secular bands will play. "We've done a few on a tour with White Cross. We did a club in Newport called Lasers and a nightclub in Belfast called The Play Pen. We do mainly halls, Stourbridge Town Hall, Erdington Art Centre, neutral venues." The band are keenly aware that they are involved in a spiritual battle every time they play. "It gets pretty heavy some times," admits Scott. "Some of the gigs we've done we've had a lot of opposition. There's been a heavy presence there, like at a concert we did in Londonderry. Whenever we play live we have a good prayer meeting beforehand where all the band gets together with our manager and with the people who work closely with us. We address the situation for that particular gig, if there is a heavy spiritual presence, we'll remind Satan that he's lost the battle already because of what Jesus did on the cross."
Andrew Thompson, nicknamed 'Tank' (appropriate considering his build),
is cheerfully matter-of-fact about the demonic opposition the band' s
ever-increasing profile is attracting. "We found out recently that we
are being prayed against by some occult group, a coven or something.
We heard that from a kid in London. We know the Enemy hates us but we
know we have protection through the blood of the Lamb". Ian and Simon
were in a car smash in February. Being driven by two visiting friends
their car was in a ghastly dual carriageway pile-up. "The police said
it was absolutely unbelievable nobody was killed," comments Tank. "The
car was a complete write-off. Yet we were playing in a school two days
after that. "Scott had to switch to bass and Ian sang through a
mouthful of broken teeth but the concert still went on. Afterwards we
talked to all these kids wearing Anthrax T-shirts. They were asking us
about the band...and about Jesus".
Britain's most radical Christian band still has much to achieve in terms of the Showbiz Bigtime. Gaining the bright lights is not what motivates the band however. As Scott comments, "As long as we are doing things as a band, and the Lord blesses what we're doing we're quite satisfied because whether we become very big or remain as a small local band really doesn't matter to me." Remarks Scott, "I want to reach as many people as we can with the gospel, but it's up to God, how far he will take us that way."