MORTIFICATION, a synonym for necrosis or putrefaction, is also the name of Australia's leading Christian heavy metal outfit. George Russell plots their history.
No band has done more to alert Christendom to the thrilling creative potential and evangelistic opportunities of thrash metal than Melbourne's Mortification. Their leader Steve Rowe's guttural growls have become beloved by the head bangers of this parish while their pioneering albums like 'Blood World' and 'Primitive Rhythm Machine' won them numerous US awards and brought reviews that they "should carry a government health warning not to listen unless you've had the foundations of your house checked first." But behind the thunderous noise of their music lies a deadly serious mission, to take the gospel to the unchurched of clubland. Several tours of the US and, in 1995 a European tour with Decision D, have meant that thousands owe their conversion to this unflinching band of metal musicianaries.
from the classic power metal band Lightforce in the late '80s. When
the band split up in 1989
Steve Rowe moved the band into a more thrash-oriented direction, recording the album 'Break The Curse' in1990, still as Lightforce. Later that year their name was changed to Mortification to suit the new sound and direction, the album 'Mortification' being more conventional thrash. At this time the band consisted of Steve, Jayson Sherlock and Michael Carlisle.
In 1992, with 'Scrolls Of The Megilloth', the band moved into death metal and grindcore, a popular trend for headbangers at the time. Almost a year later the band retraced its steps towards its metal roots. As Steve Rowe explains, "I decided that I really did not want to put any boundaries on the band for the music or limitations and following 'Scrolls' we were in danger of being just boxed into the style of grindcore music. If you look at what we are doing now, we combine so many different elements of music."
The albums 'Post Momentary Affliction' and 'Live Planetarium' captured the maturity and diversity of the band's new musical vision. This innovative combination of extreme styles began to set Mortification apart from the many contemporary bands pumping out vintage thrash, but all sounding the same. After assisting on these albums, Jayson Sherlock left the band to play with the doom metal outfit Paramecium, to be replaced by Phil Gibson.
'Blood World', released in 1994, saw Steve and the band incorporating a modern groove sound to the music which increased their audiences significantly; 'Blood World' is, to date, Mortification's biggest selling album. In December 1994, the band underwent upheaval once again. Mike Carlisle had family commitments, Phil Gibson was reading Physics at University: both were unable to fulfil upcoming tour opportunities. Steve travelled to the USA in January '95 and went on tour with Bill Rice and Jason Campbell whom he had met on the Canadian leg of the 'Blood World' tour. 'Primitive Rhythm Machine', the only Mortification album recorded in the USA by Frontline, was produced in LA by the legendary ex-Deliverance guitarist, George Ochoa.
After his return to Australia, Steve reformed the band, now with drummer Keith Bannister, a roadie who became a Christian on the first Mortification tour in 1991, and Lincoln Bowen on guitar. The album 'EnVision EvAngeline' released in January 1996 combines power metal, grindcore and punk influences, many elements of hard music making up the distinctive Mortification sound. 'EnVision EvAngeline' is a concept album about Jesus Christ's life and ministry. Rowe Productions have made an accompanying video compilation with great potential to be used in drama and outreach situations. Says Steve, talking about 'EnVision': "I decided with this album that I want to put not just a Bible study but a salvation prayer, so that people are in no doubt how to become a Christian if they want to. One of the things I noticed when I was in America last year was a lot of guys coming to the shows saying, 'I have got your albums and heard the message and I want to receive that message and become a Christian but I do not know how'. I remember vividly leading a guy to the Lord at a merchandise table in America last year, which was really cool."
The latest offerings from Rowe Productions are two live EPs, 'Live Without Fear' and 'Noah Sat Down And Listened To The Mortification EP While Having A Coffee'.
Mortification are an acquired taste. Like Seventh Angel, what first inspired me to listen to the music was the Christ-centred lyrics. Fortunately the lyrics are provided on the albums as most tracks are guttural, aggressive and generally unintelligible, as you would expect from this musical genre.
The Church in the UK is still wary of white metal: there is a lot of education to be done. The purpose of this article is to review the history of the band, but mainly to present their ministry as a valid part of God's global strategy for evangelism, boldly going where few nice Christians would dare to go, as Mike Bloodgood puts it, as Metal Missionaries. It is easy to question motives; I recall all the advice Cliff Richard was given to get out of the sinful Showbiz scene when he admitted to being a Christian. I am always interested when I read or hear opinionated judgements of motive; as far as I know, God is still the only person with access to all the facts and therefore the only one qualified to make judgements. Steve Rowe's motivation is plain enough: "We are a fun band, we like metal and hard music but the main focus of this band is to let people know about salvation through Christ and how that can be an awesome change in their lives, not just eternity with God when they die."
I would guess that most Cross Rhythms readers are not into heavy metal at all, but are interested in people; I want this article to challenge readers to support the band in prayer. In a recent prayer letter, Steve revealed that he has just been diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukaemia and is now on chemotherapy. His faith in his Lord is inspirational: "The pain I am experiencing is great but I am feeling Jesus closer than ever to my heart; I am lying in his safety net and believing for a miracle. My faith has soared this past week with the realisation that Mortification has had such an impact against Satan's plans for the world metal scene that such punches are coming our way. Many people are being saved through the band's ministry, Hell is being plundered and God glorified." Steve Rowe is on a mission from God and, like many before him, is experiencing attack from the enemy. I want to challenge you to examine your own hearts; are you adding to the enemy's assault by criticism of brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to evangelise through hard rock or heavy metal? When is the last time you prayed for those working in the danger zone? Steve Rowe has received death threats and curses from a number of satanic metal communities; if this isn't the danger zone, what is? Steve is not just a musician, or a fellow Christian who needs prayer at the moment. He is part of the family of God, your support for his family and ministry are not optional; it is demanded by the Lord of the Church. Please pray for Steve, his wife Kate and the family, the other members of Mortification and the community of bands encouraged through Rowe Productions to go into the world and communicate the Gospel.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.