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HM Magazine Chooses Top Christian Metal Albums of All Time

Solid State Records

HM Magazine, which spotlights the best and brightest in Christian music — as in alternative and edgy metal, not church hymns — has published its top 100 Christian metal albums of all time.

It was an undoubtedly arduous undertaking, and editor Doug Van Pelt took Noisecreep through the list and the process all the while espousing the virtues of the bands and albums that made the list and why. The issue hits streets Sept. 3.

What were the top 10?

In this order, from 1 to 10:
Vengeance Rising — ‘Human Sacrifice’ (1989, Intense Records, to be re-released this fall on Intense Millennium Records)
Tourniquet – ‘Psycho Surgery’ (1991, Intense Records, available as a re-release directly from the band, tourniquet.net)
Deliverance — ‘Deliverance’ (1989, Intense Records, I believe it was re-released by Retroactive Records recently.)
Whitecross — ‘Whitecross’ (1987, Pure Metal, album re-recorded and released as ’1987′ on Retroactive or Girder Music.)
Extol — ‘Undeceived’ (2000, Solid State)
Stryper — ‘To Hell With The Devil’ (1986, Enigma)
Sacred Warrior — ‘Obsessions’ (1991, Intense)
Bloodgood — ‘Detonation’ (1987, Frontline)
Bride — ‘Snakes in the Playground’ (1992, Star Song)
Believer — ‘Sanity Obscure’ (1990, R.E.X.)

Was it hard to sift through 100 albums or was it struggle to come up with 100? I know there are a lot of Christian metal albums, but stil … it’s such a niche genre.

It was extremely difficult. I did two lists — one for HM called ‘The Top 100 Christian Rock Albums of All Time,’ which covered everything from techno, industrial and indie rock all the way to black metal. I started on the rock list before the metal list, but took a lot longer with it. I had 500 CDs on my desk for about four months, listening to older albums that I hadn’t heard in a while, in addition to a bunch of vinyl. I had to make sure it still sounded good. Going from 400 or so down to 100 was difficult. There were a lot of great albums left off the list.

What were the criteria for narrowing it down to the top 10 or so? How did you whittle down the list? Can you offer some insight into the selection process behind the scenes? Lots of coffee, pizza, late night arguments in a room with staffers or yourself?

For HMs rock list I did a lot of consulting with industry comrades and polling on our Facebook account with fans and friends, too. At the end of the day, though, I knew I wanted to make all the final decisions. The metal list, however, was a completely different beast. We have a 12-man crew that decides all editorial and so we used the committee approach to choose our 100 albums for this list.

We used five categories or filters that each album had to go through. First, each of us had to love it. This is the first criteria that put an album on the list. The remaining four criteria are what kept that album on the list. The next criteria was GREATNESS. Did the album achieve something great? Was it a breakthrough? Did it ‘touch the sky’ so to speak? Next up was POPULARITY. As snobby as critics can be, it’s hard to argue with a million consumers. So, if an album went Gold or Platinum, this was a big deal. HISTORICAL IMPACT is a huge factor.

With an album like Stryper‘s ‘To Hell With the Devil,’ for instance, it kinda put Christian metal on the map. Believer had a huge impact with their technical prowess. P.O.D.‘s ‘Satellite’ album was huge and catapulted the newer wave of Christian metal and ‘hard music’ to the big-time and to the mainstream. The last factor would weed out a lot of bands … and that is what we call CLASSICNESS. The test behind that is: ‘Does this album stand the test of time? Does it still sound good five, 10 or even more years later?’

There was lots and lots of arguing — late night and such — but it was done via email and a Google group we have. These sorts of arguments test a friendship. I warned the crew that it would be tough because we had done a ‘Top 50 Best of the Second Half’ list in HM #100 a few years ago, which had an awesome cover illustration by Derek Hess; it was a best of ‘the second half’ of Christian rock, which meant early ’90s to the new millennium. I had to remind the crew that we needed the freedom to vent. We hashed it out over which album to pick from some bands. It was neat to see some consensus on albums like ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ by King’s X, instead of the fan favorite ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska,’ or the self-titled Deliverance instead of their much-talked about follow-up, ‘Weapons of Our Warfare,’ which saw video play on ‘Headbangers Ball.’

We had some heated arguments, to be sure. It was funny sometimes. We worked on the top 25 first, then 26-50, then 51-75 and then the rest and then went back to haggle over rankings one last time.

And another factor sometimes was ‘this is an album — not a hit single’ issue. It had to be solid. A great song does not a great album make. It might come close, but …

Also, we had to keep in mind that this was an albums list, not a bands list. It didn’t matter if such and such a band was awesome and we all loved them. This wasn’t about bands and their live show and their career so much as it was about a single album. For the rock list I had to impose a one album per band limit, just to make room for the 100 albums. For the metal list, however, it was not imposed and several bands have multiple listings: Extol, Stryper, Tourniquet, Believer.

Talk about the number one record on the list. What makes is this number one Christian metal album of all time? How about the top three? What made them worthy of that accolade?

Vengeance Rising’s debut album, ‘Human Sacrifice’ is just amazing. It tilted the Christian metal world on its ear. Imagine Slayer with Jesus-first lyrics. The band was so tight and rooted in blues, but played at 100 mph. The vocalist is now an avowed ‘Satanic atheist,’ so there is a lot of drama post the breakup of the band. The song ‘White Throne’ will just knock you off your seat. Great building song with dramatic payoff in each chorus.

‘Psycho Surgery’ by Tourniquet found this band playing as a five-member band for the first time and they really bent creativity in metal in new directions that have still not been matched. Nobody has ever sounded like this band. I mean, Between the Buried and Me and maybe System of a Down are the closest in stretching creative boundaries. You almost had to pull out a medical dictionary to understand their lyrics. Standout song would have to be the epic ‘Broken Chromosomes,’ which is a touching song about mistreated kids that are mentally handicapped. Chilling song.

The Deliverance self-titled album was like speed metal meets groove, like forerunners Metallica made popular. Two songs back-to-back have perhaps one of the top-five metal grooves of all time: ‘If You Will’ and ‘The Call,’ which segue with that killer breakdown. The singer, Jimmy Brown, had quite a voice and the band was as tight as a tick and faster than lightning.

All three of these are albums that, if we were sitting in a room with Steve Harris — and this is a hypothetical as I threw out there in some of our arguments — and he said, “Christian metal, huh? Play me something good!” These would be albums that wouldn’t be embarrassing to play. I’m sorry, but there’s some old favorites, like Messiah Prophet‘s ‘Master of the Metal’ that I just wouldn’t pull out in that situation. (Messiah Prophet did not make the list, by the way.)

What is your take on today’s Christian metal scene? How do you feel about its health? What it’s producing? It’s future? Was there a heyday?

Wow, I am thrilled with today’s Christian metal scene. Bands like As I Lay Dying absolutely kill on stage in a live setting, not to mention release great albums, as well as bands like the Devil Wears Prada, August Burns Red and Underoath, who are packing out clubs and also gaining the respect of fans everywhere, and probably their musical peers as well, inside and outside of the ‘faith realm.’ This is something that we used to pray for so long ago. “Wouldn’t it be great if our songs could get played on the radio alongside the other metal bands of the day?” Well, due to the quality of the art excelling so far that it’s appreciated on sheer musical merits, we have this. Radio airplay, videos on TV, live touring. Christian metal bands are part of the metal landscape — whether it’s Ozzfest, which has had the Showdown and P.O.D., or Warped Tour, Sounds of the Underground, you name it. There’s a few Christian bands on those bills.

I think it’s producing some great, world-class metal, which is fantastic. I think one reason for this is bands started growing up with a new model to follow. It wasn’t just the ‘music equals ministry’ model, which meant there’d be preaching and maybe even an ‘altar call’ for souls to get saved at a show. Now there were people that reminded Christians that art was a valid vocation and that Christians should be ‘salt and light’ in society, not hidden behind a fortress or four church walls. This made art for art’s sake acceptable, instead of having to force a preachy message into the lyrics.

Because these people believe in the Bible and follow Christ, their faith will find a way to weave its way into their art, but it won’t necessarily be blunt, offensive or purposefully evangelistic.

With this kind of acceptance and great, great art being made, I think the future couldn’t be brighter.

There was certainly a heyday in the late ’80s and early ’90s, with bands like Stryper, Whitecross, Barren Cross, Sacred Warrior, Deliverance, Tourniquet, Believer.

Then bands like the Crucified, who could’ve been a great match for Pantera, mixing hardcore and metal grooves in a tough, metal hybrid, and Precious Death in the late ’90s, and Living Sacrifice was killing it in the early 2000s, along with P.O.D. and No Innocent Victim — NIV, who toured with Hatebreed. People say that, if they hadn’t broken up, Living Sacrifice would’ve hit huge right alongside Underoath, Norma Jean and As I Lay Dying. It’s good to see them back together. Demon Hunter is another great band that got a lot of respect in this field.

Your fave Christian metal album of all time?

Oh crap! Why’d you have to ask me that? It changes. Let me think … ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ by King’s X, ‘Soldiers Under Command’ was not as sonically as good as ‘To Hell With the Devil,’ but it did have ‘Surrender’ and ‘First Love’ on it. Galactic Cowboys — their self-titled debut on Geffen I’ve often said is the best album in the entire universe. … Maybe it’s that one. Why did you have to ask this question?! This is too hard to answer. I don’t know. Demon Hunter’s ‘Storm the Gates of Hell’ has some great songs I love. The Barren Cross album ‘Atomic Arena’ I thought would topple Stryper and compete with Iron Maiden. It’s a hard label to define, too. Christian metal? Can you call a band like King’s X Christian metal, even though it was metal made by Christians? Does it have to be the narrow definition where the vocalist sings about Jesus? Hmmm … I’m stumped. I won’t be happy with an answer five minutes later. Can I just say the ‘Heaven’s Metal Collection’ box set? Haha. Zao? Creed? Vengeance Rising? Holy Soldier? I’m at a loss.

I might have to go with ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ or ‘Galactic Cowboys.’

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