I fell in love with heavy metal with the first power chord that thundered across the stratosphere and hit my uninitiated eardrums with pure powerful bliss. I was a young’un and was busy with Hardy Boys books and role-playing games and fascinated by radio rock. We had a lot of good stations in the Boston area —WBCN, WAAF, etc. My dad had a mix tape that had Motley Crue’s “Looks that Kill” from the Shout at the Devil album on it, and I was mesmerized. I heard AC/DC’s “What Do You Do for Money Honey” at a campground pool and probably peed my shorts a bit. The sucker-punching of Angus and Malcolm Young’s guitar work shook my innocent world. I was now a metal fan. There was something about the inherent power, volume and musical assault of the style that made me feel like a superhero. Metal was the bastard child of rock and had its own subculture. There was something fulfilling about being a fan of the genre. As a kid who had trouble finding his identity, I now had an identity.
I soon got serious about Jesus after discovering metal and questioned the lyrics and lifestyles of some of the bands. A babysitter brought over his cassette version of Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil and I thought I was navigating the fires of hell. A sleepover at a youth group friend’s house resulted in a listening of Deep Purple’s Machine Head that made me feel like I had betrayed my faith.
I needed something different to listen to music-wise. Around the same time, we had family friends who were very influential on my mom. While these folks were committed Christians, they were also somewhat misguided on popular culture. Rock was of the devil for sure. These opinions influenced me, along with the teachings of a conservative summer camp I attended. I thought that I needed to give up rock of any kind, and so I did. And certainly secular rock and metal were off limits.
But soon I discovered Christian rock like Rick Cua and Steve Camp. And then I discovered Christian metal. I was in a quandary. I think I knew somewhere in my heart, even then, that the “rock is evil” motif couldn’t be entirely right. My discovery of Christian metal would help in my formation of an appreciation of musical art, Christian and otherwise. But, ah, Christian metal … it was such a cool thing.
The phone call I received in 1985 from my neighbor Jeff went something like this: “Hey Chris, I was just at the store and bought this new album by this band Stryper. Some kids at school had a cassette of theirs. And guess what? They are Christians and they play heavy metal. They look really cool. It’s an awesome album. You’ll have to hear it.”
So, yeah, I was sold—especially after Jeff begrudgingly lent me his copy of Soldiers Under Command, but I had to listen in secret. My mom would have never believed that Christians could rock that hard in the name of Christ. I had to plead and beg for her to let me buy Stryper’s To Hell with the Devil when it came out in 1986. It was the limited-edition cover showing angels tossing Satan into hell. I went into debate mode—these types of interactions resulted in my becoming a good salesperson later in life. Finally my mom gave in.
Once the cat was out of the bag and my mom had agreed to my Stryper purchase, I discovered the world of Christian bookstores and bands like Jerusalem, Messiah Prophet, and, yes, U2. There was this whole world of Christian metal that I discovered. Much of this was due not only to the Christian bookstore, but also to Dan Russell’s excellent magazine, NewSound, and then magazines like CCM, White Throne, and Heaven’s Metal (later HM). There was so much Christian metal. Much of it could go head to head with “secular” metal bands.
I’ve long been a fan of HM and have a deep respect and appreciation for Doug Van Pelt. Since he decided to relaunch the magazine, I decided I’d like to write about the Christian metal albums that most affected me and demanded repeated listenings. Oh, yeah: I’ve changed since the days when I first discovered Christian metal. I do believe in artistic expression and in the discernment God has given me in what I devour in terms of popular culture. Even if I don’t agree with a songwriter’s perspective, I can often appreciate the skill taken in writing, recording and producing the song and can enjoy it on those merits. Other perspectives are challenging — in a good way — and cause me to think about viewpoints other than my own. God created artistic expression—whether a song says “Jesus “ in it should in no way be indicative of its quality.
Well, here’s a discussion, some would call diatribe, of my favorite Christian metal albums from the time I listened almost non-stop to that genre (1985 through 1993). I don’t like top 10 lists; I think those are overdone, so I’ve avoided that type of format. I hope you enjoy it.
Jerusalem – Warrior (1981) / Can’t Stop Us Now (1983)
This groundbreaking Swedish band was probably my favorite Christian metal group since I purchased Can’t Stop Us Now in 1985 at the Logos Christian bookstore in Framingham, Massachusetts. The clerk asked if we’d like vinyl or cassette. I chose cassette, or rather my mom said, “cassette.” Those weren’t the easiest of questions for me. My dad had a great turntable and this was my first album purchase. I was torn on what format to buy. Ah, those were the days. Once I got home, it was Can’t Stop Us Now non-stop.
I was originally drawn to Can’t Stop Us Now due to the cover showing the band with their long hair and leader Ulf Christiansson’s jet-black Fender Stratocaster, but the music soon took over as the major draw. Can’t Stop Us Now was the perfect marriage of classic hard rock, passion and atmosphere. It was hard, but it also displayed influences as diverse as Pink Floyd and U2. Much later I read the band was indeed somewhat influenced by U2. Songs like “The Waiting,” “Mourner’s Parade,” “Tomorrow’s World” and “The Missing Piece” were extraordinary, and the rewind button was used often.
I wanted to hear more Jerusalem, but it wasn’t that easy. Back in the ’80s, you couldn’t go online and order an artist’s back catalog, so you had to depend on the store’s physical catalog that showed the albums that were available. The problem was that recordings would often go out of print. Most Christian rock records at that time weren’t huge sellers unless you were Stryper or Petra. So I was disappointed to find that most of Jerusalem’s catalog was out of print. A trip to another bookstore yielded the surprise find of Warrior on cassette, and I was a happy, smiling music nerd all the way home.
Man, was I blown away by what I heard. It was classic hard rock, full of power chords and Ulf’s passionate singing. This time the lyrics were more evangelical-sounding. Songs like “Man of the World” and “Constantly Changing” were full-on guitar-fueled fare with plenty of bombast from the rhythm section. “Warrior” and “Sodom” showed the atmospheric side of the band but still had all the heavy guitars and other metal flair needed, albeit with tiny particles of prog rock. “Sodom” was nearly 12 minutes long, and I’ve often referred to the tune as the “Stairway to Heaven” of Christian metal.
Jerusalem still records and performs live. Their latest, She, was released in 2010 and shows a band with no of giving up any time soon. It sounds fresh and powerful, with the evangelistic lyrics they are known for delivering. The drumming is still as fantastic as ever—there’s always been something about the skin-pounding and cymbal-smacking in Jerusalem from very early on in their recorded career. Check out the band at www.jerusalem.se
On a side note, I once “stalked” Jerusalem’s Ulf Christiansson at a music conference in Nashville. It wasn’t entirely my fault. The extremely kind musician happened to be in the hotel elevator at the same time, at the same events, etc. It was over twenty years ago, so I hope he’s forgotten that, along with the awkward request for a photo in the hotel lobby.
Barren Cross – Atomic Arena
Producers John and Dino Elefante were essentially the Mutt Lange of Christian rock throughout the ’80s and ’90s. They added their signature background vocals and spotless production to tons of records. John had spent time as lead singer of Kansas, and the recorded work of the band at the time sounds much like what John and Dino would mirror with their Christian rock production work.
Southern California’s Barren Cross were signed to Enigma Records after some time on a Christian market label. Enigma was the same record company that housed Stryper and Guardian. It was the type of label that Christian acts would love to be on—they had great distribution in the Christian bookstore market but also were a secular label so MTV and mainstream radio airplay weren’t out of the question and you could buy the albums at any record store. John and Dino were tapped to produce Barren Cross’s debut for Enigma, and the result is a legendary, powerful metal album.
Let’s be honest. Barren Cross sounded like Iron Maiden and had the talent to keep up with the legendary British metal band. This certainly didn’t hurt audience appeal. Atomic Arena starts with “Imaginary Music,” with its ultra-catchy chorus full of great backing vocals, and the album maintains its consistency throughout the remaining songs. “Terrorist Child” was always my favorite track of the bunch. It deals with the subject of children being brainwashed into terrorist activities and is so catchy that it should have been a radio single. I celebrated this album like few others.
Atomic Arena is surely one of the best Christian metal albums released from performance, production and songwriting perspectives. And the band could deliver the goods live–always a bonus. The 1988 tour for the album proved this truth to my pre-teen self, who watched the show (with my very kind dad) at the Gordon College gym outside Boston.
Resurrection Band – Colours (1980) / Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore (1981)
My dad is a guy who loves listening to music. While I was growing up, he would play classic rock and Top 40 stuff whenever he was working in the garage or in the car—when my mom was out, music filled the house at a considerable volume. I grew to love Clapton, the Beatles, Chicago, and others due to his influence. Music would later become a huge part of my life largely due to my dad’s influence, and I always carried with me the sounds and melodies from years spent absorbing classic artists. It’s no wonder I became a huge fan of the Resurrection Band, especially of the group’s early catalog.
Resurrection Band (known later as Rez Band and finally Rez and then back to Resurrection Band) was a power-chord driven classic hard-rock band, with nods to AC/DC, the Who, Led Zeppelin and others. They were one of the first heavy Christian rock bands—their debut, Awaiting Your Reply, came out in 1978– and were far ahead of many of their contemporaries in that they not only had very evangelistic lyrics, but also addressed social concerns. The group came out of the Jesus People USA organization that fed the homeless and had a community of believers who all lived together. Regardless of the recent controversies surrounding the organization, they did a lot of good things, and the work of Resurrection Band is testimony to that, not to mention helping the less fortunate and putting on the legendary Cornerstone Festival for decades.
Colours and Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore were excellent hard-rock records, and both are worth owning. It’s gritty, guitar-based hard rock with plenty of bluesy guitar leads and classic sonic adornments. Band leaders Glenn and Wendi Kaiser each had their signature vocal trademarks; Glenn had a warm, resonant, powerful voice that could keep up with classic rock legends, and Wendi sounded strangely like Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and Starship fame. Colours had great tracks like “Benny and Sue,” and “Beggar in the Alleyway.” It also had the gut-wrenching “The Struggle,” about being honest before God and the desire to grow closer to Him, coupled with great musical delivery and a powerful hook. “American Dream” was a full-throttle blow to the apathy so inherent in American culture and the sad tendency to turn a blind eye.
Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore almost acted as a companion piece to Colours. As the name suggests, the album’s title track spoke of the pain of divorce through the eyes of a child. Song after song sizzled with earnest, convicting lyrics and plenty of Gibson Les Paul-fueled, hard-hitting guitars. “The Chair,” one of the band’s best songs, addressed the lack of concern that some handicapped folks might feel in the body of Christ and seems to delve into the despondency that many handicapped veterans deal with on a daily basis. The song’s message is perfectly driven home with a jarring musical background that pounds away on the ears.
Bloodgood – Detonation (1987)
Nobody sounded like Bloodgood. Folks, myself included, loved finding the “secular” comparisons in Christian rock. You couldn’t do that with this Washington-based band. The first time I heard Bloodgood was over an Easter weekend. We had some out-of-state friends staying with us, and I was sleeping on my brother’s bedroom floor in one of those red ’80s Coleman sleeping bags. My dad’s five-pound Samsung portable personal radio/cassette player was with me, and I was perusing different radio stations when I came across Bloodgood’s “Crucify.” We didn’t have any Christian stations that would have dared playing the fast thrash metal tune, so some “secular” station must have been playing the song due to the holiday. I didn’t know what to make of it. I don’t know that I had even heard of Bloodgood yet. I initially thought the song was anti-Christian, but I wasn’t totally listening to the song; I was hearing the style and the searing, unique, made-for-operatic metal voice of singer Les Carlsen. Soon, however, I received Detonation, the album that “Crucify” came from.
It didn’t leave my boombox for months and was consistently in my portable personal radio/cassette player. Detonation was a hard, heavy record, at times brutal and fast. Les’s high-register voice and altogether impressive range were so unique, and the guitar playing of David Zaffiro and rhythm section of bassist Michael Bloodgood and bombastic drummer Mark Welling made this record a calling card not just to Christian metal fans, but to any metal fan who wanted something more than the syrupy, predictable radio metal of the time. The songs were powerful creations—you had the gang vocal punch of “Holy Fire,” the haunting “Alone in Suicide” and, of course, “Crucify.” “Crucify” was immediately followed by “The Messiah”—so you had one song about Christ’s crucifixion from Pilate’s perspective and then a gentler song that chronicled his burial and then the glory of His resurrection. It was very cool.
Many of the Frontline Records/Intense Records recordings are available for download and purchase, including this Bloodgood album and its excellent, more radio-friendly and produced follow-up, Rock In a Hard Place. There’s a steady supply of great arena-ready, anthemic songs on that one.
Holy Soldier – Holy Soldier (1990)
There were few bands in Christian metal that were able to marry tunes that could kill it on the radio and still maintain an authentic metal sound that true fans of the genre would enjoy. Holy Soldier was able to succeed in this rare combination on their debut self-titled record. They were poppy enough to gather in the fringe metal fans, but had a guitar-slinging authenticity and seasoned know-how so folks like me weren’t afraid of friends laughing when they heard the cassette.
The first track, “Stranger,” had a huge chorus and plenty of metal-fueled energy, fronted by powerful vocals. Steven Patrick had a voice that could convey the subtlest of emotions with warmth, sincerity and the type of hard music power that the genre demanded. This especially showed through when the band had their more tender moments, as on the beautiful ballad “Eyes of Innocence.”
David Zaffiro of Bloodgood fame expertly produced the album, and to this day it remains one of the best Christian metal records of all time. And Holy Soldier could deliver the album live. I saw them tour in support of the disc at Eastern Nazarene College outside of Boston. Even though they were hours late getting to the venue and barely had a sound check, they pulled it off with professionalism and took the time to chat with fans after the show.
Stryper – Soldiers Under Command (1985)
Stryper’s first full-length came out at a time when most mainstream churches didn’t even allow drums or electric guitars. Now you had a group of long-haired dudes, wearing custom-made yellow and black spandex outfits, who used more hairspray and wore more makeup than the gussied-up teen girls in my neighborhood and played loud, guitar-heavy music with searing vocals. Folks couldn’t seem to understand that the group just wanted to talk about Jesus. There seemed to be a huge dichotomy to many in the church and even outside the church.
Soldiers Under Command really put the controversial Southern California band in the spotlight. It sold a ton of copies, and they had the support of MTV and mainstream radio. After all, they were on a “secular” record label. The disc certainly only exacerbated the early rumblings about the band in many evangelical churches. The guys had the yellow and black outfits on, all the makeup and hairspray, and were standing in front of a yellow and black van holding enough weapons to provide the security for a small country, along with the oft-used reference to Isaiah 53:5 (where the band got their name).
But let’s face it, the band’s lyrics were crystal clear. They were musical missionaries. And the music was so good, so well produced, that they had a slew of fans inside and outside the church. When your record player needle or cassette player head hit the beginning of title track, “Soldiers Under Command,” you were wowed; when frontman Michael Sweet’s room-encompassing voice and vocal range hit your ears, you were floored. And you stuck with the album all the way through because it was that good and flowed so well. And who didn’t like those dual-guitar leads that bands like Boston and Thin Lizzy had mastered? These guys could also do power ballads with the best of them—and that only got better as the band’s recording career continued and their popularity skyrocketed.
I saw Stryper in their prime but was more blown away by the lights, sound, and over-the-top staging—especially for a kid who hadn’t been to any concerts of that magnitude—and I missed the musical prowess of the group. I have seen the band play twice in the last ten years, and one thing I’ve come to realize is that Stryper was simply a great pop band. If you strip away all the metal trimmings and take the songs down to their basic structures, they really stand up. It’s very much like Def Leppard. Folks have come to realize that Def Leppard was really just a great pop band, and the group’s popularity has been consistent over the last several years. I hope the same will happen for Stryper.
Whitecross – Whitecross (1987)
There seemed to be a never-ending cast of Christian metal bands that sounded like popular “secular” bands. X-Sinner came across as the Christian-music version of AC/DC, Trytan sounded like Rush, Deliverance sounded like Metallica, and the list goes on. Illinois-based Whitecross sounded like Ratt.
There was really no way for this to be covered up or denied. In fact, if you played both bands side by side, folks might think that the members of Ratt had gone through a conversion experience and just had a smaller recording budget to work with.
Ratt was one of the early metal bands, like Quiet Riot, whose tunes were accessible enough to be radio-friendly. “Round and Round” was one of the first metal songs I heard as a kid, and I instantly liked it, along with the band. So when Whitecross’s self-titled debut came out on the popular Pure Metal label and the first track, “Who Will You Follow” reared its head through the speakers, I was an instant fan. Scott Wenzel sounded exactly like Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy; guitarist Rex Carroll was an instant legend in Christian circles due to his talent. The group also was quite clear in their straightforward ministry approach and had songs you couldn’t shake from your memory. What wasn’t there to like as a young youth group kid who craved something familiar but with lyrics you could sing around the house?
I do remember the promo photo of the band was pretty goofy even at that time, but who really cared? It was the music and message we were concerned about. We could discuss Christian metal band Barnabus’s promo photos, and the imagery of several other bands, which were at least as bad. But it was symptomatic of the time; heavy metal band photos were often bad, especially when looking back years later.
King’s X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Ah, King’s X. Alongside Rush, they have long been a favorite of mine, and the talent that resides within the hard-rock trio is legendary in mainstream and Christian music circles. The combined odd time signatures, amazing playing, Beatlesque harmonies, and great songs. Live, they were unbeatable. It did take me a while to fully grasp and appreciate the band; they were so different from what was out there. I initially wasn’t sure how to process them but soon became a huge fan.
King’s X’s debut album, Out of the Silent Planet, came out on a mainstream label. The band was never comfortable being pegged as a Christian outfit, but they had a group of die-hard fans in the Christian subculture largely due to band members being involved with classic Christian artists/bands like Servant and Phil Keaggy, and the lyrics were ones believers could easily identify with. Also, who schooled in Christendom wouldn’t notice the borrowing of the album title from C.S. Lewis’s first book in his science fiction series?
“Goldilox” was an intoxicating power ballad about unrequited love; the DJ at a junior high dance played this song and I smiled and for a few minutes may have lost my fear of asking a girl to cut the rug. This, at least, got me away from the arm-wrestling table and back onto the dance floor.
The album went well beyond its one slower song. “In the New Age” swirled with prog-rock flair, plenty of ear-catching musical changes and guitar riffs, “Sometimes” grooved away and grabbed you with musical force. Ultimately, the album simply rocked with originality and musicality. Doug Pinnick had a growling low end to his bass and an almost gospel voice that few bands could boast. He had a lot of power in his vocals and could easily cut through the volume. Ty Tabor used a lot of distortion on his guitar parts to good effect. He was equal parts George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Steve Howe in his musical leanings, but was very original in his tone and in the creation of his guitar parts; he didn’t duplicate anybody. Drummer Jerry Gaskill held it all together with his legendary drumming, sometimes complex and sometimes very straightforward. All three members sang, with most of the lead vocals being done by Doug. The harmonies were ridiculously good and made one think of classic gospel and the Beatles.
King’s X is still at it today, although the band hasn’t released a new album in years. Doug, Ty and Jerry all have played in other projects and recorded solo albums—these are all worth checking out.
Galactic Cowboys – Space in Your Face (1992)
Galactic Cowboys and King’s X were both from the same area of Texas and shared a friendship and a producer, Sam Taylor. I had a hard time really getting into Galactic Cowboys until their second album came out. Space in Your Face took over where the band’s debut left off and continued the tradition of super-catchy choruses with harmonies that recalled Crosby, Stills & Nash. The album added Metallica-like riffs to the mix, often with cool time signatures and musical interludes. The musicianship, like King’s X, was staggering, and the lyrics were easily identifiable by believers. There was also a sense of humor that came through and made the band all the more endearing. “Circles in the Field” spoke of the mysterious crop circles that popped up on farms all over the country at the time and had one of those melodies you just couldn’t get out of your head. “You Make Me Smile” had that similar ear-candy feel to it. Overall, it was a juggernaut of an album with unbelievable sonics. While the first album sounded great, Space in Your Face had that extra equalization to the overall sound that was night and day.
It seemed that Space in Your Face would have launched the band to stardom. One listen and it’s obvious that a good bit of money was spent on it. Their label DGC, home of major mainstream heavy hitters, had the clout to market, promote, and sell. However, the album remained relatively unknown. Galactic Cowboys would continue, but they went the self-produced route and eventually call it quits in the late ’90s. Bassist and band leader Monty Colvin went on to form Crunchy, a more lighthearted affair with pop guitar-heavy punk sugary-sweet tunes aplenty—the albums are well worth purchasing if you can find them and really do a lot to showcase his otherworldly knack for melody.
Recently it was announced that Galactic Cowboys would record a new album. Hopefully it happens.
Trytan – Sylentiger (1990)
I was at Teen Camp for two weeks one summer, as I was most summers, at Camp Berea, a Christian camp in New Hampshire. The campus bookstore tried to stock some really groundbreaking stuff. During this particular summer, the camp gym director, who was a huge Christian metal fan, strongly suggested Trytan. He had informed me in no uncertain terms that they sounded like Rush. Let’s face it—it would be hard to imitate Rush. They were arguably the most talented rock band on the planet. Sure, there’s the legions of folks that will discuss the trio’s drumming, bass playing and guitar playing, but let’s not forget the songs. Not only did musicians leave Rush shows wanting to break their arms and fingers, but there was melody, radio-friendliness and craftsmanship in the songs that most prog rock bands couldn’t touch. So when I was told that Trytan sounded like Rush, I had to hear them, and Sylentiger was for sale in the camp bookstore. I pulled the wad of cash out of my pocket and purchased the cassette. For the next couple of weeks I listened to nothing else. I even violated the camp rule of no music once cabin lights were out due to my obsession; the thought behind the rule was that we needed to process what we had learned that day in the often-too-long teaching sessions and allow God time to speak to us. I was simply stunned. The band could play and write, and they sounded eerily like Rush. It wasn’t early Rush or even Moving Pictures-era Rush; it was more like Signals, Distant Early Warning and Power Windows-era Rush—very melodic, with pop overtones, and not too aggressive musically. There were lots of keyboards but not overpowering, and the guitars were turned a little more in the metal direction. The musicianship was excellent— it wasn’t quite up there with Rush, but they pulled it off exceedingly well. Most surprisingly, singer and guitarist Lary Dean sounded almost exactly like Geddy Lee.
What wasn’t there to like for the Christian teen who loved Rush but was mistakenly told that the band members were Satanists and felt guilty every time he listened to Moving Pictures?
Sacred Warrior – Rebellion (1988)
When I first heard Rey Parra’s vocals ripping through the speakers like a sledgehammer on Rebellion’s opening track, “Black Metal,” I had a huge smile on my face. This was Sacred Warrior, and they seemed to be the Christian subculture answer to Queensryche. Perra could wail out words with pure metal passion, and he was part of a group that played hard music that was accessible but not the type of stuff that fringe-metal arena-rock fans would like. It was loud, at times fast, and full of musical bombast that caused much head-banging. They didn’t sound like anyone else in Christian music. You could listen to Sacred Warrior and not feel like you were trading in your metal club badge as you sometimes might with more pop metal fare.
This was another one of those cassettes that did not leave my Fisher boombox for weeks. I finally had a band that sounded enough like Queensryche to fit the bill. After all, Queensryche wasn’t a band that Christians should listen to — or so my legalistic mind thought.
Messiah Prophet – Master of the Metal (1986)
Long before my parents bought me the album, I saw the LP of Master of the Metal innocently sitting in the LP carousel at the Logo’s Christian Bookstore in Framingham, Massachusetts. I had recently discovered Stryper, and the rest of the Christian metal world was new and exciting to me. The cover of Master of the Metal was full of the imagery that hard music bands were known to exhibit at the time. The cover showed an artist’s rendition of God (with the stereotypical long hair and beard) pounding an electric guitar out of a huge block of stone on an equally-large anvil. The “live action” band photos were equally jaw-dropping; they showed a band serious about their craft of rocking the flock. I remember that drummer David Thunder had a particularly sinister-looking snapshot.
The album simply rocked. It had everything a power-chord lover looked for, along with anthemic choruses and huge-sounding songs. This was one of the first albums I could play in the car, as I got my mom to really enjoy the ballad “For Whom Does the Bell Toll (Ps. 23),” based on Psalm 23. But the volume quickly went down when the metal side of the band flared up again.
I would take this cassette with me to the bus stop and play it, much to the chagrin of my schoolmates—they didn’t seem to share my zeal. Even my metal fan friend and neighbor, Derek, made faces of disgust. This did not deter me, however. I played Master of the Metal so much — between portable cassette players, my mom’s car, my boombox, and our home stereo — that the sound quality of the cassette started to diminish. This was probably the first time I realized the limitation of cassettes and was thrilled when I got my first CD player a couple years later.
I almost saw Messiah Prophet a couple of years after Master of the Metal came out. They were touring with Barren Cross as the opening act on the band’s Atomic Arena tour and were scheduled to perform in the gym at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. Unfortunately either a band member or a crew member experienced a powerful electric shock so the band didn’t play. Barren Cross did, however, and they were everything one would hope they would be.
****Okay, so I’ve discussed my favorite/most influential Christian metal albums from my formative years. There are also some honorable mentions that deserve praise and recognition.
Swedish rockers Leviticus released the wonderful Setting Fire to the Earth in 1987, and it was their best disc by far. The bass playing of Ez Gomer on his Rickenbacker was so good and sounded so huge that I wanted to break my fingers and call it quits as a young rock and roll bassist; the vocals of Terry Haw were so European, powerful and irresistible that it was impossible to hit the stop button on my boombox. Album track “Love is Love” still plays in my head, due to the powerful hook in the chorus. It wasn’t a pop-metal album per se, but it did have some of those tunes that made metal more accessible for regular rock folks without sacrificing much of the straight-ahead metal Leviticus fans had come to love.
Guardian’s Fire and Love (1990) was another great album. I didn’t like their previous record, First Watch, much. It didn’t grab me. However, Fire and Love was a complete improvement and a great collection of powerful, catchy pop-metal songs with the production of dream team John and Dino Elefante and powerful new singer Jamie Rowe, of Tempest fame. It’s another standout album in the Christian radio guitar-heavy rock of the time—there weren’t too many that had great production, great songs, and great musicianship. Usually something suffered. Nothing suffered on Fire and Love.
Canadian rockers Angelica had a phenomenal self-titled debut disc that came out in 1989 and really raised the bar for Christian pop metal bands. Guitarist Dennis Cameron (he would later join Michael Sweet’s solo band) played lead guitar lines that were so fluid and sweeping that Christian rock had another guitar hero to contend with. The songs were super-catchy and delivered with fantastic vocals and all the right radio ingredients. I lost interest after the first record as the band changed their musical direction. It would be a terrible tragedy if I didn’t mention Rick Cua and his fantastic hard rock albums, You’re My Road (1985) and Wear Your Colors (1986). Both featured great production, a cast of top-notch players, and anthemic, hooky songs. Rick was the first artist in Christian rock that I really gravitated toward. He wasn’t quite metal, so I could get his music past my mom, and his tunes had more testosterone than some of the pop metal of the time. Well, there you have it. Feel free to share your favorites and comment on mine. If any of these artists are of interest, many of these albums are still available—in digital download format at the very least. In some cases, the albums have been digitally remastered. Also, some of these artists have continued to record and release albums and are worth researching.
Callaway was a long-time HM contributor and recently published his first book, Reel to Real by Reel. It contains interviews he conducted with rock and roll giants, some in the Christian rock genre, coupled with introductions that will make you laugh, scratch your head and hopefully think deeply. It can be purchased here on Amazon: