Classic Christian Metal: Louder and Faster for the Master!
Of all the sub-genres and offshoots that have sprouted forth from Heavy Metal's family tree over the years, Christian Metal seems to be the one that's most often misunderstood, scorned, or simply ignored by metaldom at large. Ever since Stryper first stormed the L.A. club scene in the early '80s with their then-controversial combination of Marshall amplification and evangelism, hundreds of bands have followed in their wake, adapting just about every conceivable metallic style to the cause of spreading the Word. These bands may enjoy sizable fan followings within church youth-group circles and on the Christian music-festival circuit, but beyond that most of them have remained virtually unknown to metalheads in the "outside" world. That's a shame, because there were some pretty damn (sorry...!) good bands in the Christian Metal scene over the years, particularly during its so-called "golden age" (i.e. the late '80s/early '90s).
Of course, the constant argument from so called "true" (or perhaps that should be "tr00") metalheads is that Heavy Metal is, was, and always shall be the "the Devil's music," and that therefore Christians have no business dabbling in it. I'm not exactly Ned Flanders when it comes to religion (I'm the type of guy who goes to church when someone gets married or someone dies, and that's about it), but I've always felt that this mindset is, to be blunt, total crap. If I find a band I happen to dig, I personally don't care if they're into God, Satan, Captain Kirk, or the Teletubbies. With that in mind, I'd like to present a list of the Top 10 Classic Christian metal CDs currently in my collection, all of which are well worth seeking out even if you've never seen the inside of a church.
Deliverance - DELIVERANCE (Intense Records, 1989)
This Southern California combo's motto was "Faster for the Master," and on their classic debut album they showed they had the musical goods to back it up. Led by the crushing guitar team of Jimmy P. Brown II and future Hirax axeman Glenn Rogers, Deliverance whipped up a crunchy blend of sanctified speed/thrash metal that even heathens like me could appreciate. Their second album (1990's WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE) tends to get more love from the band's fanbase, but I've always had a sentimental attachment to this one, as it was my "gateway" album into a whole new underground metal scene that I never knew existed.
Barren Cross - ATOMIC ARENA (Enigma, 1988)
Barren Cross were often tagged as "the Christian Iron Maiden," due mainly to vocalist Mike Lee's very Dickenson-ian delivery. This sophomore effort saw them moving away from the standard choir-boy preaching of their debut album (1986's ROCK FOR THE KING) and dealing with more "street level" lyrical topics (i.e. drug abuse, abortion, terrorism, etc.), backed by some of the most rock-solid musicianship of the era. This one easily makes my list of Top 10 '80s Metal albums EVER, Christian or otherwise.
Saint - TIME'S END (Pure Metal, 1986)
If Barren Cross was Christian rock's Iron Maiden, then Saint was its Judas Priest. This leather-clad crew sported a very British metal sound (even though they hailed from Oregon) with Halford-esque vocals and appropriately apocalyptic lyrics. TIME'S END could easily be mistaken for a long-lost Judas Priest album that might have been released between BRITISH STEEL and POINT OF ENTRY.
X-Sinner - GET IT (Pakaderm Records, 1989)
Sometimes you just gotta plug in and rock out, and in 1989 this California band's debut quickly staked a claim as one of the Best Air Guitar Albums ever. Owing a major debt to AC/DC (particularly in the amazingly Brian Johnson-esque vocals of David Robbins) and early Def Leppard, GET IT is certainly not the most original album in Christian rock history, but what it lacked in innovation, it more than made up for in terms of catchy, riff-heavy goodness that blew away many of the band's "secular" hair-metal contemporaries.
Stryper - AGAINST THE LAW (Enigma, 1990)
By 1990, Stryper had been the flag bearers for the Christian hard rock scene for a number of years, but the times were changing and their trademark ballad-intensive brand of hair metal was heading for the exit door. The band wisely chose to strip down their sound (and drop the silly Yellow and Black trappings) for their fourth studio album, and ended up releasing their most mature record (and the one that's aged most gracefully over the years). Of course, their fanbase hated the change, the record tanked, and the band split up shortly after its release, proving once again that music is a cruel business. (SIGH)
Sacred Warrior - REBELLION (Intense, 1988)
Sacred Warrior was Chicago's entry in the Christian metal sweepstakes, and they did their hometown proud over the course of their four album career. This debut has always been my favorite, putting together a a classy blend of Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and early Fates Warning.
Die Happy - DIE HAPPY (Intense, 1992)
Many Christian headbangers continue to be fascinated by the groundbreaking thrash act Vengeance Rising (and their rather bizarre legacy), though I honestly never cared much for them due to the deranged growling vocals of Roger Martinez, which re-defined the word "irritating" in my book. However, when the rest of the band bailed on Roger and re-convened with a new vocalist under the name Die Happy, they released one of my favorite records of the early 1990s. Die Happy's hard-edged metal with hints of thrash (think Metal Church) still holds up well today.
Bride - SNAKES IN THE PLAYGROUND (Star Song, 1992)
Naming Bride's "best" album often depends on which fan you ask and how old they are, because these Kentucky natives have been notorious trend-hoppers throughout their long career. Depending on what's "hot" at the time, they've done records as a "true" heavy metal band, a hair metal act, an alternative rock band, and for one shameful moment, a rap-core combo. (GAG!) However, they totally hit one out of the park in 1992 when they decided to hitch their wagon to the Guns N Roses/Tesla/Aerosmith sleaze-metal trend. SNAKES IN THE PLAYGROUND rocks hard and still sounds great today. It remains the band's best selling album, and rightfully so.
Recon - BEHIND ENEMY LINES (Intense, 1990)
If Queensryche, Iron Maiden, and Dokken got into a van accident on their way to a Tent Revival meeting, something like this band might have crawled out of the wreckage. Recon's soaring vocals and stellar musicianship made them one of the few Christian metal bands to get some attention from the mainstream metal scene at the time. Unfortunately BEHIND ENEMY LINES turned out to be this promising combo's one and only studio release, but the CD has been a hot commodity in metal collector's circles ever since.
Rose - HEALING (Intense, 1992)
Wow, Christians can do doom/stoner rock too. Who knew? But seriously, this underrated band (fronted by former Mad at the World drummer Randy Rose) delivered a nice twist on early '90s metal on this disc, sounding like a combo of The Cult, Danzig, and Black Sabbath, peppered with a hint of Soundgarden for good measure. If nothing else, Rose easily disproved the notion that all Christian rock songs have to be about sunshine and rainbows.
That Should Do For Now...
If you've read this far, then these 10 albums should get you started on your journey into the world of Classic Christian Metal. Please keep in mind that not all of these CDs may be easy to find, as some of them have been been out of print for years (although many have been reissued several times since their respective heydays). Some of the particularly rare titles command collector's prices on eBay and other auction sites. However, all ten of them are well worth the time and trouble it'll take to seek them out. If you like what you hear once you've tracked down some of these titles, a quick Google search can help you find numerous web sites devoted to Christian metal which will aid you in seeking out more bands/albums just like them. Happy hunting, and enjoy!