A foursome from Little Rock, Arkansas, LIVING SACRIFICE take a seriously heavy noise unto the Lord. Tony Cummings ports.

Back in the early '90s the band Living Sacrifice gained something of a reputation as being the heaviest rock band in Christendom. Certainly, their three albums for REX, 'Living Sacrifice' (1990), 'Non Existent1 (1992) and 'Inhabit' (1994) were death metal with belching Sepultura-style vocals. But then in 1997 the band surprised their legion of fans by signing with Tooth & Nail Records. Not that Living Sacrifice suddenly metamorphosed into a neo-punk band. As HM magazine eulogised, "It's refreshing to find a band in 1997 - when everybody and their brother is trying to jump on all the different offshoots of the alternative movement -that is not ashamed to call itself heavy metal. Its music is characterised by low guttural singing, even lower and more guttural musical riffing, and drumming that machine guns through the speakers."

The period between the band's REX albums and Tooth & Nail's 'Reborn' was very difficult. The band's new lead singer Bruce Fitzhugh told HM magazine at the time of their T&N release, "We totally had to humble ourselves. The Lord had to definitely do a work in us. And we had to submit to what we knew he wanted to do, and to essentially lay down some musical pride, and to do what we were supposed to do as far as being in a band and trying to reach people. Not compromising musically at all, but just letting God make us better songwriters, ultimately, in order to reach more folks. To let them know how awesome God is."

Although the music is tight, the playing itself serves to enhance the songs, instead of being an end in and of itself. "We don't consider anything we do now as being necessarily a solo," explains Fitzhugh. "We might have a lead part with a harmony and some dissonance that compliments the song. We don't want anything really to take away from the whole of the song." The songs are blunt and to the point and the goal is immediate and clear communication. Unlike some of the "hair and make up" bands from the '80s, Living Sacrifice put the heavy back in heavy metal.

"Our stuff has kind of a serious tone to it", states Fitzhugh. "Not that we're serious people all the time, but this is just the style that appeals to us and it tends to take a serious tone. As opposed to, I don't know, a happy-go-luck type tone. I guess most people would liken our sound to a hardcore metal sound. But to us, we've just always kind. of grown up listening to metal of all kinds. When metal became really commercial, that's when we kind of dropped off listening to it with some of the glam bands of the 80's and some of the that." Their music supports the seriousness of the lyrics. "We want good songs," explains Fitzhugh, "but we also want them to be powerful. That kind of goes along with the sounds we get out of our guitars and our amps, and just a really heavy drum sound, really low drums and stuff."

"We play what we like to play," says Garvin, putting it simply. "We don't like to bow down to commercialism, or anything like that." Not only does this music serve the members' musical preferences, but it also compliments the group's ministry ideals. "This type of music draws the type of crowd we feel we're called to peach the Gospel to," says Garvin. "We're called to preach the Gospel to anybody, but particularly these kinds of people -the hardcore kids, (and) the kids that are into Satanism."

"When somebody comes to a show," theorizes Fitzhugh, "they come to hear music, I think, probably first and foremost -whether they're Christian or non-Christian. And that's what we want to give them; we want to give them something that's good and entertaining. That's basically what they're paying for. But at the same time, God has commissioned us, we feel, to just share our hearts to these folks, to share what God has done for us in our lives. To let them know what we believe in and why we are playing the music we are playing. Hopefully, if they like the music and they are open to the message, then I think we've accomplished something."

At a gig in Southern California guitarist Jason Truby said from the stage that they were worshipping when they were playing, and that the audience ought to worship right along with them. "It's a different style than most people think of when they think about worship" says Gavin. "But it's the only type of worship that we get into". In other words Living Sacrifice worship loud and proud.

At the moment the group is in suspended animation. Jason and his brother Chris have left the band, the latter to go to Bible college. But the group are adamant they haven't disbanded.

The songwriting process for Living Sacrifice is unusual. "We all contribute," states Fitzhugh. "We usually all have something to put into it," adds Garvin. "And that's good, because there are four different ideas (put together). It's very rare that we write a song, and then that never changes. If I come in with a whole song, usually by the time we're finished with it, it's completely rearranged. But that's good, though." And as it often is with songwriters, the music usually comes first, then the lyrics. "Lance will have an idea," continues Fitzhugh. "He might have a verse or two. And once the song is written, then we know where the lyrics need to go. I know that when I write a song, after the song is completed I usually end up rewriting the lyrics to fit the riffs. When I have to sing it, a lot of things work as is, but some things have to be reworked. But that's what we pretty much have to do with the music, and that's a good thing."

The group still call Little Rock, Arkansas, home. And they're all quite happy there. There may be fewer rockers like themselves down South, but this probably makes them a closer-knit group. "I think it creates more of a closeness," says Fitzhugh, "because there are not as many of us. But the ones that are tend to gravitate to each other, because we have that in common. And it creates really good fellowship."

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.