Top 10 Christian Metal Bands
The idea of putting a positive Christian message along to the hardened sounds of heavy metal has always been a topic of heated debate in our community. Morbid Angel’s David Vincent growling about ancient demons in the abyss over a grinding guitar and drum attack is unquestionably metal, but Impending Doom’s Brook Reeves using the same vocal method to praise Jesus is still hard for a lot of people to digest.
It’s doubtful that the arguments will ever end, but whether you agree with the message behind the lyrical content or not, there has been some great Christian metal over the last three decades. Noisecreep has compiled a list of 10 bands from the Christian side of the metal world that everyone should check out.
No Christian metal list would be complete without this Southern California institution. Originally formed in the early ’80s as Roxx Regime, Stryper have easily been the most successful band to openly claim Christ as their savior while still dishing out the hard rock. Power ballads like ‘Honestly’ might have crossed them over to mainstream radio and MTV airplay, but it was the soaring anthemic metal of tracks like ‘To Hell with the Devil’ and ‘Soldiers Under Command’ that proved their prowess. Michael Sweet possesses the kind of powerhouse voice meant for arenas, and if their recent tour is any indication, it’s still as mighty as ever. Though wearing those yellow and black jumpsuits in the ’80s was a regrettable stylistic choice, we won’t hold it against them.
In 2009, the fine folks at Metal Blade Records released ‘Gabriel,’ the comeback album from Believer. Even though their last studio effort had come out well over 15 years before, ‘Gabriel’ found the Pennsylvania outfit firing on all cylinders. The band initially played a more thrash-informed style in their earlier days way back in the late ’80s, but they got they let their technical chops fly on the two fantastic albums they recorded for Roadrunner Records in the early ’90s. Of the two aforementioned records, 1993’s ‘Dimensions’ remains a largely overlooked gem of the tech-metal genre. It’s a 10-song collection where shred guitars clash with violins and violas, and highly inventive arrangements help guide the ambitious songwriting. There will always be those people who ignorantly write off Christian metal without even giving it a fair listen. If you’re one of them, you need to check out Believer today.
Folks who like their metal on the bluesy groove-based side of the spectrum are probably already familiar with this veteran act. Founded in 1979, the Chicago band took the blueprint laid out by hard rock pioneers like Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Budgie, and they injected their own unique blend of sludge and sunshine to its sonic architecture. 1984’s ‘Psalm 9′ and the following year’s ‘The Skull’ remain landmarks in the doom metal history books, let alone within the Christian metal community. Eric Wagner’s soulful crooning was a beautiful contrast to the crushing guitars that wrapped most of their output. It’s a crime Wagner isn’t mentioned among the master metal vocalists anymore. If you don’t believe us, ask Rick Rubin. The legendary record mogul signed Trouble to his Def American imprint and even produced their stellar pair of albums for the label in the early ’90s.
They’ve changed members more than Steely Dan did in the ’70s, but Zao have always stepped to the plate with the goods. They started out doing a metal inspired spin on hardcore in the early ’90s, but they’ve morphed into a more original and eclectic beast. Their numerous member changes might be one of the main contributors to their chameleon-like stylistic shifts, but they’ve reveled in the challenge. Zao have released 10 studio albums, and throughout them all you’ll hear everything from Black Flag style punk to Today Is the Day influenced noise rock. The band’s left-of-center sonic palette also stretched out to who they worked with in the studio. They brought in Steve Albini (Slint, Nirvana) to produce their 2006 album, ‘It’s the Fear That Keeps Us Here.’ Whatever path Zao choose to take their music in down the line, Noisecreep will be following.
While they weren’t exactly headbangers, Strongarm’s inventive yet always vicious take on hardcore had metal in its DNA. They were only around for a handful of years (1993-1998) and made just two full-length albums, but their influence on the current Christian metal landscape is irrefutable. Stongarm’s chaotic guitar outbursts aren’t far removed from a band like Burn and the late, great Deadguy. A lot of the bands currently rocking out on the Tooth & Nail label learned a lot about their craft from this Florida wrecking crew. A few of the members of Strongarm went on to form Further Seems Forever and created quite a successful run for themselves in that endeavor.
These Aussies have been writing and recording for 20 years now and show no signs of slowing down. One of the first heavier Christian metal acts to have their music released on a secular label (Nuclear Blast Records), the importance of Mortification’s discography cannot be overstated. It would be hard to imagine the Christian extreme metal community growing at the rate it did without the group’s records helping fuel it all. But as the people at Nuclear Blast and later Metal Blade knew, one didn’t have to be a believer in the Bible to enjoy these dudes. Their ‘Scrolls of the Megilloth’ album should be in the possession of any death metal collector, and outside of some uneven moments here and there, the group has had an inspired career with 13 other studio efforts under their belts.
These Norwegians have never gained a widespread fan base in the States, but it hasn’t been for a lack of compelling material. Over the course of four full-length albums and two EPs, Extol have managed to combine all of their disparate influences and create a sound that is all their own. The foundation to what they’ve done has been technical thrash, but their wildly inventive songwriting sets them into a class all their own. In drummer David Husvik, the band has one of the underground’s most gifted musicians. In 2007, Extol announced that they were going on hiatus, but here’s to hoping they’ll eventually come out of their slumber.
The most controversial group on this list, Vengeance Rising’s debut album alone, ‘Human Sacrifice,’ earns them their spot. Based in California, the band mostly played a speedy kind of thrash that had a lot in common with Exodus and Dark Angel at a time when a lot of so-called ‘white metal’ acts chose to perform a more commercial style. When ‘Human Sacrifice’ was released in 1988, most Christian metal listeners picked up their albums at Christian book stores. But when shop buyers got a look at its cover art and read the lyrics, the Vengeance Rising record was promptly banned. Most people weren’t used to extreme music being married with a Christian message, and the way vocalist Roger Martinez wrote his lyrics didn’t exactly help. His blood and guts approach made a lot of the more conservative-leaning people in that world uncomfortable.
That didn’t stop the album from getting into the hands of metal fiends throughout the world, though. Even thrashers who shunned Christian metal unknowingly picked up ‘Human Sacrifice’ and later Vengeance Rising releases, falling in love with what they heard. The biggest controversy the band would face would be in the 1990s when Martinez left the faith and later became an outspoken anti-Christian. He’s definitely been one of the most-talked-about figures in the Christian metal scene, and if someone out there is looking for an interesting subject for a documentary, Martinez might be your guy.
As I Lay Dying
One of the most popular Christian metal acts around today, As I Lay Dying has come a long way from their scrappy beginnings. Like Zao, they initially played an uninspired form of metalcore, but as their playing chops got sharper, so did their whole game. Fronted by founding member Tim Lambesis, AILD have thrown in melodic death metal flourishes to their sound, but it’s their songwriting that makes them worth your money and attention. 2007’s ‘An Ocean Between Us’ found them fighting fit and armed with some of the best songs they’ve ever put down on tape.
So they admittedly made a couple of un-metal albums during the mid ’90s, but when they brought it, they delivered the goods. They specifically melt speakers on 1992’s ‘Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance’ and 2000’s ‘Microscopic View of a Telescopic Realm,’ where their intriguing blend of Voivod-schooled thrash and neo-classical guitar pyrotechnics rule the proceedings. Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel also loved Tourniquet and released some of their most beloved works.