Tony Cummings reports on one of America's hottest white metal bands SACRED WARRIOR.
Thanks to some well intentioned but decidedly dumb attempts at injecting journalistic street cred into Britain's middle class Christian magazines by journalists who don't know the difference between heavy rock and speed metal, the UK's growing legion of white metal fans are understandably suspicious of rave reviews. But you can trust Cross Rhythms! Sacred Warrior from Chicago are HOT!. . . white hot!
The new wave of American white metal bands shows no signs of receding. Glam metal pioneers like Stryper go from strength to strength while bands like Vengeance are now making major inroads entering into the forbidden territory of thrash. Taking in many of metal's diffuse sub-divisions are Sacred Warrior, a Chicago based band who are now enjoying healthy sales with their first UK release, the scorching 'Master's Command' (Frontline Records, Word (UK) in Europe). 'Master's Command' has occasional excursions into anthemic commercial metal ("Beyond The Metal"), thrash ("The Flood") and even heavy metal worship! They build their unique powerhouse sound on drummer Tony Valezquez's double kick drive and Rey Parra's individualistic vocals. Since the band's formation in 1988 the band have grabbed the attention of America's white metal fanzines, where their appearance at Chicago's Cornerstone '89 Festival was described as "a blazing show creating tremendous crowd response".
Sacred Warrior's origins however are rather less encouraging. Prior to their current name and line-up they were Nomad. For three years secular band Nomad hustled the small gig circuit, splitting, reforming but getting nowhere. Comments Rey Parra,"They were reunions in the flesh despite our Christian intention. Being 'born again' was something we said we were, but we weren't living it at all." Then God intervened: Keyboardist Rick Macias was delivered from a cocaine habit and adding members, Bruce swift on guitar and Steve Watkins on bass, the band fully committed their lives and talents to the Lord. Soon afterwards, as Sacred Warrior, the band played their first show through the Warehouse ministry; the famed outreach headed by veteran Chicago metalers Rez. In 1988 the band recorded their debut album 'Rebellion' for Graceland/Intense Records, which US fanzine Heaven's Metal described as "an album of the year contender."
In January '89 the band embarked on a national tour with Rez. Yet the band clearly see their role as ministers of the gospel rather than subcultural entertainers. "We're reminded every day of our call to follow Christ," says Steve Watkins. "He's really become our cloud by day and our fire by night." That's born out by a story recounted by Parra. "We did a show in Gainesville, Florida, and after we played a guy came up to me and said, 'A friend of mine turned me on to your album. I own a record store and he told me to pick up some copies of your album, so I did. I sold 'em all within a couple weeks.' "The real catch was that not one person who bought the tape was a Christian. A few weeks later some lady came in there with a tape in her hand "Did you sell this to my son?' she asked. He said, 'Well, yes I did, ma'am. I'm sorry if it offended you.'
"She goes, 'Ever since my boy bought this tape: When he wakes up in the morning he's playing it; when he eats breakfast; when he eats lunch; when he goes to school; when he comes home; that's all he ever listens to, this tape. My son hasn't gone to church in five years, and ever since he's got this tape, he's been going to church...eight Sundays in a row. Praise God!' She's a Christian. That blew me away. We don't even get to see a lot of the fruit, but it's there. That was really exciting for me to find out."
Sacred Warrior is a band that takes it's music seriously and a lot of thought goes into not only their lyrics but also how the message is put across. "It seems like every day there's a new Christian band comin' out," says Bruce. "A lot of 'em need to write deeper lyrics. 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus saves, Jesus rocks.' That's a good message, sure. It's hope. It's real. But a lot of people mention Jesus out of a sense of duty. Christ Himself preached in parables. If someone says, 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus saves,' it seems immature and phoney. It doesn't seem real. I didn't relate when I heard stuff like that as an unbeliever.
"There's a lot of bad production. It seems a lot of companies are signing anything that says 'Jesus'. They need to search the band first and make sure that they're real. Then their music is gonna be real. It's gonna be anointed big time. I'm not saying we have all this. We don't yet. These are our goals. We're reaching and going for 'em.
"If you're gonna play skilfully for the Lord, produce skilfully. Get out and teach skilfully. Do all things skilfully and 100 percent. A lot of bands just rush into things. You need to be careful about that and go by the Word. Put music second and God first. A lot of metal bands go, 'Let's do it'," says Rick. "Saying they're, a Christian band and they're not. This is serious business. It's for real. We're in the last days and definitely need to be ready and reach as many kids as we can with this music that the Lord's given us. I think we all need, to take it a little more seriously. We need to wake up and walk as children of the light."
"I think we've entered a phase where everybody is thinking that it's cool to be in a Christian band and to preach and to teach," says Tony. "We've gotta be careful that it's what God wants us to do. A lot of people wanna rush into it and you just can't do that. We didn't do it. We just kicked back and said, 'We're gonna minister with or without music'. That's an attitude I challenge everybody to have: To go out and win souls wherever you're at. You don't have to be in music to do it. Your lifestyle should be the ministry first. If God wants you to play music, it'll happen. Just kick back and ask God what he wants. What might be right for us is wrong for somebody else. That's why the commitment to Christ is so important, because he is the One who's gonna guide you. Like it says in Proverbs 3:6, that 'if you acknowledge me in all your ways, I will direct your path.' It may not be in music. It may be in something else. We need to be aware of that," he said.
Life on the road is not always roses, as the band have found. Their apprenticeship with the Rez band put Sacred Warrior on the right tracks though. "We realized that we're human," says Tony, "and that we make a lot of mistakes. Praise God that we're learning how to deal with those problems." "We probably wouldn't have found a lot of these things out," says keyboardist Rick Macias, "if the Lord hadn't put us together on the road. Plus, being with Rez has been like music ministry Bible College. It's been great. We're learning from somebody that's been out there a long time and knows what they're doing. They're totally spiritual and on fire for the Lord. "That's important to us. We could've been on the road with a lot of the other bands, but I praise God for being on the road with Rez. It's really taught us a lot about servanthood," says Rick.
Rey continues, "Another thing we've learned is how to put up with each other and go to Jesus for a lot of things. You put 10 guys in a bus. . .and arguments can occur. We've been really learning how to deal with it biblically.
"I think every band will go through it. It doesn't matter how on fire for the Lord you are, it'll happen. You just have to learn to deal with the problem as it occurs. We're really getting closer and our love for each other has really grown a lot more, more than we thought it ever could," he comments. Quite often rock and the church have had a similar relationship on the road but the Warriors are building a few bridges in that direction too. "It's real sad," says bassist Steve Watkins, "all the fighting and bickering that the church is doing. Some believers are against what we're doing. They can't see the fruit that's come forth. It's really sad when we're out here, doing this for God, and the church as a whole doesn't really appreciate it. There's a lot of people that do, but the church as a whole can't see that we are working for God. They have some weird image of what we're doing.
"That goes along too with the bickering between the different denominations. I know people who are in a Lutheran church, who wouldn't have anything to do with a Pentecostal church. If they got caught in one, it would turn their stomach. "The thing is, we're all believers. We're all Christians and it's time that we put down our petty differences and just really come to the Lord as one church, one body and then fight against the person we're supposed to be fighting against; and that's Satan." Worship and Heavy metal are not usually synonymous but the Warriors have made worship a part of their vocabulary with Holy Holy Holy Lord.
"To us," says Rick, "It just happened that way. It's just the Holy Spirit working in the band. It was a really good song to end with, but we really didn't know the kind of effect it would have. "It's such a neat effect to leave the stage when the whole audience is in total worship of the Lord. It kind of kills two birds with one stone: It takes us away and off the pedestal; and they are in total worship of the Lord. I love that. That song will be on the second album," states Bruce, "praise God. "At the end of the show it puts the glory where it needs to be," says Tony. "I'm singing to Jesus," answers Rey. "We wanna leave everybody in a state of worship. We don't want 'em to remember Sacred Warrior. We want 'em to remember Jesus most of all." This article was based on a Sacred Warrior interview by Doug Van Pelt in issue 20 of US magazine 'Heaven's Metal.'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.