Dave Williams, manager of Christian thrash band Seventh Angel, records the fast-changing history of metal's mega-volume revolutionaries
'Men of the planet lust for death and power, nuclear warfare wills the final hour. If you live by the sword and hasten its wrath, you will die by the sword and feel its thrash." (White Metal band Saint on their 'Timesend' album). White Metal (alias Christian Heavy Metal) takes its cues from a throbbing secular music genre, which has raptured armies of younger people and almost ruptured some older ones. Those bursting with something to say against heavy metal rock warn that its instigator is none other than that serpent of old called the devil. But music fans today have turned the beat around and are using it to blast away the darkness. However, because of the stigma attached to the form, Metal is still in its emergence from underground beginnings. The lyrics are usually plain enough - often painfully clear, just take a look at the opening quote -but that is part of the reason for the objection: The raw sound and the raw lyrics - would Jesus like this? The answer which seems to be given is "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some (1 Cor 9:22) and it is a fact that the beat-less music and 'meek and mild' lyrics of the traditionals simply do not interest the white metal fans, and they certainly don't minister to those tapped into the world of heavy metal - something white metal does do. White metal is not all crash, bang, scream and shout either - in fact there is a surprising variety of styles within the form, with a vast array of imagery.
Their common ground though, is the power to prick the ears of 'safe', middle ground Christianity and confront those issues, which have been kept in the closet for too long. It is this radical approach which has caused walls of resistance to rise in the midst of the Christian community and some bands have been shot down in flames while trying to run the gauntlet of prejudice and break away from the one-party pop culture of the mainstream Christian labels. But, as already mentioned, the music, which receives the cover-all description 'heavy', is stylistically pretty diverse. As a kind of Beginner's Head banging Guide let's identify the differing styles, and their exponents, starting at the point where rock stops and something akin to metal begins.
There seems to be a trend to associate 'adult oriented rock' (AOR) with 'soft-metal' and this may be the point of crossover. But the true down-to-earth follower of metal music will, I believe, always demand far more than most AOR bands can deliver. Keyboards and synthesizers play a major role and the musical style makes use of polished vocals and pop-orientated melodies. Strong ballads and catchy commercial mid-tempo songs are the speciality of AOR bands. Fans of secular bands such as Reo Speedwagon, Foreigner and Boston should appreciate Christian acts Petra, White Heart and Idle Cure.
Glam rock/metal originates from 70s bands such a Slade, Sweet and T Rex. The style relies heavily on showy, glamorous, many would say effeminate, stage costumes and make up. Secular bands like Wrathchild, Tigertailz and Poison make up part of the modern glam scene. Christian bands have been slow to adopt the style and fans are left with a very small choice. Scarlet Red are probably the only real Christian glam band. The band consists of three men and one woman, however at first glance, it may be difficult to tell them apart. Stryper, easily the main success story of the White Metal industry could once be placed in this category.
Hard Rock was really the predecessor of true heavy metal. The 1960s saw the start of Hard Rock with bands like Cream. Led Zepplin and Deep Purple. A little known' band called Steppenwolf cited as being composers of the first heavy metal song. ("Born To Be Wild"). To most fans the heavy rock styles just falls short of what is today considered to be true heavy metal, since its vocal style is generally less aggressive and the guitar sound slightly less distorted. Christian bands in this category include Rez (formerly Resurrection Band), Daniel Band, Jerusalem and more recently the highly popular Kings X.
Straight ahead metal pioneered by Black Sabbath and later taken up by bands like Judas Priest, Saxon and Iron Maiden is the true cornerstone of heavy metal. The style has a distinctive feel often assisted by the Marshall valve guitar sound. Straight-ahead metal can be slow, mid-tempo or fast with a more aggressive often higher vocal style than heavy rock. White metal is represented in this area by the likes of Bloodgood, Bride, Messiah Prophet, Barren Cross, Saint and Sacred Warrior. A subculture of this genre is Pop Metal, far more commercial and happier sounding than standard metal.
Pop metal is represented in the secular world, by hugely popular bands such a Skid Row, Bon Jovi and Europe and in the Christian world by Shout, Mastedon and Zion.
Thrash metal can be found at the end of the spectrum opposite pop metal with its roots grounded originally in the crossover between punk rock and heavy metal. Secular pioneers of thrash are to be found in the United States, with bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth leading the way. Musically the style is often fast and furious with an extremely distorted, crunchy guitar sound. Thrash metal is believed by some to be a mindless noise, yet on closer inspection it becomes apparent that it takes competent musicianship to handle the complex passages and technical guitar riffs. Thrash often employs acoustic guitars to create a moody atmosphere mostly in song introductions. The songs vary within the style from between three-second classics to songs lasting maybe 15 minutes. The vocal style varies between slightly aggressive to completely crazy. Leaders in the field of Christian thrash include American bands such as Deliverance, Vengeance and Believer to British thrash band Seventh Angel. Some hardcore bands make use of metallic guitar riffs and can sometimes sound very similar to thrash metal - The Crucified are one of these bands.
Doom Metal often shares the same following as thrash metal bands due to its very heavy sound. The style originated when bands like Trouble and Candlemass took the Black Sabbath style of guitar riffing one stage further making use of a very bass-heavy and distorted sound, often being slow and gloomy with almost morbid lyrics. Very few Christian bands have adopted this style with Saint's 'Timesend' album being an almost doom classic. Recent Vengeance and Seventh Angel material shows doom influence. It seems that now and then the boot is on the other foot with secular bands making use of Christian-style lyrics. However, to take the secular group Trouble as an example, their lyrics expose a shallow understanding of Christianity.
It is the similarities in musical style, and band imagery shared between secular and Christian metal bands, that have caused the controversy within the Church over the existence and ideals of Christian heavy metal. It is very true to say that a great percentage of secular metal makes use of either sexual connotations or the occult in its lyrical content. Secular metal listeners are encouraged to ignore the message of Christ, and sometimes even to turn from it. White metal bands are here to reverse this trend and to ensure that metal listeners will be given the opportunity to hear the true message of Jesus. I see no problem with relating the heavy metal image to the Christian - since it was Jesus who said that it is the heart and not our physical appearance that matters to God.
(And how can you possibly sing from the heart about such topics as abortion and not show righteous aggression?) Unlike most other forms of music that have been taken up by Christian's, white metal has begun to make an impact on the secular world and receive its due credit. Major record labels have signed Christian bands and distributed their music through the high street shops. Enigma records currently distribute for Stryper, Barren Cross, Vengeance and Guardian and if the professional trend in Christian metal continues to grow I see no reason why more bands should not be signed to major labels. Major American radio stations like California's KNAC and Z-Rock give airtime to white metal bands and mainstream magazines such a Powerline and Kerrang regularly include articles on Christian heavy metal. It was said by Kerrang magazine of the debut album 'Human Sacrifice' by Christian thrash band Vengeance "Yep, truly a great album". It is bands signed to Christian labels that may find greater difficulty in receiving major recognition. The mainstream Christian labels depend more on sales through the Christian bookshop or the music mailing list to promote their bands and the music. White metal bands need to see their music widely distributed through to the high street record shops in order for their ministry to take effect. I believe this will eventually come and the white metal industry will grow to become an unstoppable force for our white metal missionaries.
A survey taken during o Christian youth conference in the north of England showed that:
55% of the 14-19 year age group like heavy metal.
61% of the 19-25 year age group like heavy metal.
There was 22% overall dislike to heavy metal.
75% of everyone surveyed regularly read the Bible.
23.5% read Kerrang magazine (Secular metal mag].
163% read 21st Century Christian.
1 3% read Jam
2% read Strait magazine.
The most popular white metal bands among those surveyed were: Stryper, Petra, Leviticus, Rez, Bloodgood, Tempest, Shout, Barren Cross, Servant, Force 3, Saint.
Brief history of the debut release dates for Christian hard rock/heavy metal bands: 1974 Petra, 1978 Jerusalem, 1979 Resurrection Band, 1980 Barnabas, 1981 100% Proof, 1983 Daniel Band, 1984 Philadelphia, Stryper, 1985 Leviticus, Saint, Messiah Prophet, Joshua, 1986 Bloodgood, Barren Cross, Bride, Emerald, 1987 White Cross, Tempest, Dual Edge, 1988, Zion, Neon Cross, Vengeance, Shout, Rosanna's Raiders, Valour, Force 3, Kings X, 1989 Deliverance, Mastedon, X-Sinner, Believer, Lightforce, Scarlet Red, The Crucified, Angelica, Rage Of Angels.
Researched by Dave Williams and Ian Arkley.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.