SARDONYX is a power metal band that was known for killer music and an uncompromising message. Choosing to remain unsigned, the band reached many thousands of teens during their active touring period from 1988-1994. Many were surprised and delighted when Sardonyx returned this spring with a new cd Sons of the Kingdom that’s blowing people away with songs full of conviction, and powerful music that sounds like they haven’t skipped a beat at all.
I recently met up with singer Tom Denlinger for an evening of conversation. I ended up with so much good material that I struggled with how to present it to you the readers. So my solution is this: I’m going to split the Sardonyx interview into 2 parts- essentially “today” and “yesterday.” In part 1 you’re going to hear about the new album and the burden God has laid on Tom’s heart right now. That way, even if you’ve never heard of the band, you’ll get introduced to Sardonyx and what they are about. If you’ve been a fan of the band for years, and are wondering- where have they been all these years? We’ll get to that in part 2.
Tom Denlinger: When something comes to my mind- like I want to write a song about this- I’ll write it all out and I’ll just put in my theme and I have a whole list of them. I have a bunch of them now for future albums that I hope to connect with Rod’s riffs. and that’s what we started to do, but I still feel like we need to be faithful with what we’re doing in Alaska (missions), so we have Lightshineministries.org for Alaska and we have Lightshineministries.com for music.
Heaven’s Metal: So you’ve dropped the word “metal” from what was Lightshine Metal Ministries?
Well, yeah, and that’s partly because of the whole scene. I haven’t been doing concerts in years. I haven’t been going places you know as Tom Denlinger of Lightshine Metal Ministries. The name could come back. John Cassandra created that logo for Lightshine Ministries, you know for our label, per se. We could have metal ministries again, but I don’t want to misrepresent and say we’ve got this whole thing going on when we don’t have a foundation underneath it to support… yeah, like Pastor Bob Beeman has all these systems in place and I’m starting to realize that I better be careful. I put this forms thing on our website and now people are sending in questions and I’m like- hold on! (laughter)
We have the same thing with the magazine- people writing in and we’re like- who’s going to answer them? I’m not dealing with that. Somebody better answer them…
( more laughter) Well, yeah, when you call yourself a ministry, now you’re responsible, you know.
I just got myself into a whole bunch more work and that’s okay. One of the things I want to do is follow up the new album with some video teachings. If you look at the subjects in our songs, there’s so much to talk about. I can take one line and just go off on it. Just take “Child of the King” is talking about this flesh and blood thing and guilt and so many people in the Christian metal world said- you know, I’m tired of this whole thing and I’m out of here. And they walk away from their faith because they don’t think God even cares anymore or will he forgive today? And I say- Yes! Just keep coming back- the blood of Christ is glorious and never stops working. You can talk about that for awhile -that’s a whole teaching (laughter) Pastor Bob’s been doing that for years with the Sanctuary website. I don’t know how many different videos he has on subjects- yeah, it’s just time. I hope to get there I’m going to set up a little system here.(PR guy) John’s getting an intro video and I’ll probably start doing that because you know the guy that works with you did that really good review for us? I really appreciate him.
He said it the way it is, and was really honest. He was fair. Some of the people don’t get it that it’s not just like- oh, this guitar, this song shreds better than this one. This music shreds, shreds, shreds, shreds and I’m just like- did you guys miss this? But he actually talked about spirit filled music. Yeah, and I really appreciated his take on that.
When you’re reviewing death metal (and other types with indicipherable screaming), it gets a little hard to start talking about lyrical content)…
He (Doc) said- you know it’s sad to say, but we don’t get very many bands with biblical lyrics and that’s my point that I said earlier I believe there’s guys out there they could do this and I was chatting with… (starts name dropping different musicians) He says- I’ve gotten so close to the Lord, and I’m like- dude, write stuff! I get the whole idea a whole unit (band) is hard to put together. You have a singer and a whole deal. Having a band that’s unified- that’s a God thing. I know of bands that are really struggling with that because they have almost everything, except what they need to be a full band.
But there’s nothing wrong with being a studio bands either. There’s probably bands that you’ll never see live, just because of logistics, geography, whatever.
And with multi-track recording available, it’s like- guys, get to work. Our time is short, you know. The secular guys are writing albums. They’re shaming us. I’m not going to call anyone out. I’m just going to say for me, we are in an internship for what is to come, and we’re responsible for what we know, and if I can say anything to people who are my age- you know guys- get to work! Get back in the studio, get on your knees and face before the Lord, you know? One thing I’ve learned from some of the best spiritual influences in my life is I listen to the Word all the time and I get an audio Bible. You can listen to big blocks of scripture at work. I’m a sign artist by trade and I’ll listen to Matthew and Mark in a day, and then the next day, and I can listen to the book of Psalms 150 chapters in a day, but that’s really pushing it for time. Just plug in your earbuds. But man, it’s transforming, and when I’m writing lyrics, the stuff just pours out. If you have trouble writing lyrics, listen to the Word today and watch how it changes you.
This album has a definite audience and a definite message. How did you come up that and what is that?
Well, the audience is the Christian world, and I’ll tell you why. Some bands have a call to be evangelistic and preach to the unsaved only, but that’s not necessarily true when it comes to Christian metal world because I’m in my mid-50’s. I’m a dad. Pardon me saying- I see kids on Christian metal boards who just have no clue who Jesus is. Christian metal has almost become a haven for Christian prodigals. They are rebelling against almost everything their parents are saying: you can’t listen to this secular music. What? Okay, fine. I’ll listen to this (christian counterparts). But some of it is as bad as what’s in the world. There is a great need for Christian metal guys, especially older guys, who have been through it. They have life skills, life experiences, and they need to teach younger people what they’ve learned. I don’t want to come across like here I am to save the day. I’m just a dad. I have three adult kids, and I’ve seen some of the struggles that they face and I believe that the early Christian metal guys need to see their calling as a pastoral calling. I look forward to ministry after shows and preaching from the stage and sharing our hearts. I’ll be honest with you, Chris, that’s what one of the things that brought me to the point where I’m at. I’m not going through some midlife crisis. I have to do this- I have to- and I have to share some life experience. My desire is to see Christian metal be strong. We’re not separate from the rest of the body of Christ. The body of Christ, the ekklesia, we are one with even people who disagree with Christian metal. Be examples even to those that disagree. Men and women of God we have this “FU” attitude even within the Christian metal world. We don’t need that!
And quite frankly, it’s like when God calls Jonah, and he says- no, I’m not doing it, and God’s gets angry because it’s a calling. To answer your question, that’s what got us to do this album and that’s kind of where we got the style and that’s why it’s called Sons of the Kingdom, because we are called to (the chorus says) represent him every day, to carry his Spirit, his love and that’s a lesson learned from the past because in the early days of the Christian metal world we used to belittle an audience, but I’ve learned that we can’t do that. It’s not about that. It’s about loving them and it’s about showing them a different way. and when I hear people not loving their audience, it just really bothers me, and so that that’s why Sons of the Kingdom was written and most of the songs in there were mainly written from a pastoral perspective to the church in the Christian metal movement. Am I still evangelistic? Sure. John (his P.R. guy) told me that I need to go over to some discussion board because they were talking about Sardonyx and right now there just isn’t time to do that but if I was to go over there, my tactic for social media has totally changed, but I prefer to see people face to face and just love them. I’m a metal musician, but I am only here to show you another point of view. You know from back in the 80’s, that people have always preached some kind of message with metal, whether it’s spewing profanity and blasphemy, or anger towards religion or a twisted perception of religion, selling out with songs and not even realizing that Jesus said if you’re not gathering with me, you’re scattering. So many people just deceived and that’s another reason of motivation for me.
“Greater Things” is the song that stands out to me as the focus of the album and the Holy Spirit talking to you- “Don’t say you love Me and then not do what I say.” If the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to you when playing that song, you’re deaf already.
(A long discussion ensues where we talk about miraculous healings happening all over the world today, and things both of us have seen or been a part of. Tom also repeatedly brings up evangelist Todd White and his hands-on method of evangelizing by showing people the power of God firsthand.)
So when you listen to “Greater Things,” that’s really what I’m trying to introduce is that these are my signs will follow you today. I’ll tell you something and this is a big key here. What I realize theologically is that because a lot of the church sees Jesus doing all his miracles in his second person power- God the son. He was Jesus. He’s God, so when he healed, he did it when he was God, and what a lot of these people are pointing out is that he emptied himself- the word kinosis. And he was an example for us to fully rely on the Holy Spirit in us to do these works and so the “Greater Things” song is in John 14 where he said I’m leaving you, but I’m giving you basically my nuclear weapon and you’re going to do greater things than this. A friend told me- whoa dude, some people are not going to like this, and he’s like I’m totally behind you, but see the thing is what did it for me is that it helped me to even lean over some of the sexual temptations, just the stuff that comes at you instead of approaching Christianity from an apologetics point of view -an intellectual point of view. Yes, you can prove things in the Christian faith, but Paul said that it’s not about wisdom and find sounding arguments, but a demonstration of God, using a different approach and there are other organization like these guys are doing treasure hunts.
(We start talking about the book The Ultimate Treasure Hunt by Kevin Dedmon, which I’m also using for my upcoming missions trip to Guatemala.)
Back when I was a teenager and you would look at adults and then Keith Green shows up and says- hey, you know we need to show the church how to be no compromise Christians, and all of a sudden, Christian metal starts and we’re like- we’re going to be no compromise Christians. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to share the gospel and this and that. Well, now a lot of people in the Christian metal world have become like some of the adults back in the beginning. They’re more interested in when the next CD is coming out. Where’s the power? I wrote “Power and Love” as a worship song, but Todd White has conferences called Power and Light conferences, and if you listen to that song from that point of view you’ll hear a lot of hints of what I’m trying to say and our song “All That We Are” where I do that thing in there where I’m actually praying for God to reveal himself it’s like- if that was our prayer and we’re just like- holy, holy is your name, we yearn to see your face. Move in us in power- and oh my gosh, Chris, I see I can’t do this alone. I just want to get other guys parked in this and if we get more and more people started in this. It’s not about going overboard and weird. The challenges throughout the last 50 years, even in the whole gifts of the Spirit thing, is as soon as people start experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s just- it’s weird- they don’t know how to steward the power and it’s kind of like what I said earlier- I didn’t even know how to steward the power as the lead singer of Sardonyx, and God’s like- you’re going to sit on the bench for a while. That’s what I’m talking about.
There’s definitely a lack of maturity, you know. So many people become Christians and then they sit there in the pews their entire life and they never grow at all from where they started.
Exactly, or they create some other kind of religion. It’s like another gospel to where it’s weird, it’s not even scriptural, and then the rest of the body looks at that and are like- what are you guys doing? And in a sense that’s kind of like a lot of guys are doing. What’s up with all the profanity, and what’s all this stuff, and they’re like- are you judging us? And they’re kind of like- yeah! ( laughter) Because you know honestly- is the answer to “say screw these young people”? No, the answer is these guys that have life experience, they need to go back and start leading.
That’s what came to me right there. (more laughter) so I really feel that like God is going to do something here. The most challenging thing that I see for Christian metal is this: Jesus said that if you follow me men will hate you. So if you say you’re trying to sell albums and you follow Jesus, you’re not going to sell albums the same was as if you were outspoken about Jesus, and so that’s what happened. ( laughter) If you’re doing what you’re supposed to do men are going to hate you.
And if they don’t hate you, you’re not doing something right.
And I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people say- well, you know, I get treated better by the world than I do by the church, and I’m like- that’s not a good thing to say because that’s indicative of who you are. If you think about what you just said- if men don’t hate you and they love you- you know John wrote in 1st John that if you love the world and the love of the father is not in you, if you love the world there’s enmity between you and God. That’s not the exact scripture but the point of it is- it’s not a badge of honor to be loved by the world, especially the pagan world- doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to be a jerk. I have a lot of unsaved friends who I’m friends with and I think they respect me, but they still disagree with me.
Well, you know, we find a lot of that in the Christian metal world. We try to fit alongside our peers and I think we do now, but I know exactly what you’re saying.
We have to be careful what kind of products were making, because the whole separation principal is very important to remember, because I’ve been there myself. I can create an environment at a concert that can make everybody in the whole place want to give their life to Jesus, but the question is- are they really giving their life to Jesus? And I would say- no, they’re not. I call it the rock star moment where they’re like- these guys rock- and eat up everything I say. You have so much influence over these kids. I never want to forget that. I saw it. You have an all access pass and long hair and the kids are like- wow! You know it’s weird…
You know what? You could be a good evangelist and have the same effect. I don’t think that’s only rock stars. I know what you’re talking about.
Yeah, I’m just saying that you can craft a powerful concert and drive a point home and people buy it, but the Bible says that only the Father can draw people to himself and the Bible also teaches separation where if you’re going to give yourself to Jesus Christ it requires you to give everything to him. It is a heart change. It is repentance and what happens is we make it so easy that it’s just- say a prayer and you’re in, but Jesus gave this whole parable of sowing the seeds on the rocks, and the plant comes up and it withers and die, because there’s no roots, there’s no depth, there’s no nurturing. The point being that I have to be very careful as a lead singer and as a person who creates albums and concerts that I am not misrepresenting the gospel by making it a hype moment. It has to be real. I’ve heard some evangelists say that they almost try to talk people out of becoming Christian while they’re talking about it.
So many Christian musicians have fallen into the trap of wanting to be the next Metallica or whoever, and so they set out for that, and there’s a reason why Proverbs says not to envy evil men. Scripture says they’re up for a while and then they’ll wither in the sun. Don’t long for that. We’ve created this weird thing in the Christian audience where they want to try to take Jesus and bring him down to the level of the metal culture, and say- would you please give yourself to Jesus?- he’s cool. And I’m like- he is the most high God! He’s not an option. It’s not like- you pick the Dallas Cowboys and I’ll pick the Steelers. He’s not an option. There’s no other name given among men whereby we must be saved, and it’s like we’re dumbing him down for an audience, and so I believe personally that Christian metal bands should be literally setting a high bar and saying if you give your life to Jesus, it’s going to cost you everything. Guess what, it has to start with their musicians. Yeah, we want to make it a casual choice, and it’s not. I can’t be the setup for the spike when God reveals himself in power. When people see God for who he really is, you don’t have to talk people into becoming a Christian when that happens because they’ll know. Our song “Awake” is written in total faith that I am praying that God moves in power with that song, because people are just proclaiming the Word and they’re just praying it over their own lives. They’re just praying over a person who needs healing. I mean honestly that is a song to pray healing over yourself, and if anybody wants to talk to me about that, you’re welcome to talk to me about that, because our family has experienced miraculous things and you say you have, too, and I’m praying that the Holy Spirit moves in many many many many many leaders in the Christian world. We need to forget about it- this is something you can write-
We can forget about what happened in the 80’s, we need to forget about all the glories of the past, and look at the Word and say- did Jesus say that we would do greater things than him, and what does that mean? And did Paul not say that eloquence of speech and fine sounding arguments was not the way to share the gospel? It was through a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. If the Christian metal world were to come from a little level of maturity where we were able to walk in power, there’d be no question that the rest of the body would be- okay, what are these people doing? You don’t have to worry about people persecuting you anymore, because you’re going to be setting a standard, and in my opinion that’s what I want to help do. (laughter) So that’s some of my passion right there.
(After a side discussion about missions and callings for both of us)
The cessationists don’t want to believe in miracles today and they see healings and try to argue that it’s satan’s power at work. I’m like- no, no, no, no, no, no! Satan doesn’t draw people to Jesus. You will be known by your fruits, which is really challenging to some people.
We don’t need hype or weird hair or polyester suits, like the old charismatics. We just need the simplicity of being healed- it’s the heart of God.
Anything else you want to say or that we haven’t hit on?
I appreciate the ability to speak my mind… I like bands with passionate vocals, but I can only listen to something until it crosses my line of truth and then I become a blacklist person. I will not call myself a fan of something that disagrees with what my Lord teaches. I’m trying to be selective about what I say publicly about other people, so please protect me in this, but when I see band members wearing (fill-in-the-blank) band shirt on, I’m not going to say it lightly- it’s irresponsible- it’s just flat out irresponsible because that artist hates the very God that you that you said you love. The fact is that it makes me very angry that he will ridicule you if he knew you were a Christian, but you wear his shirt and somehow in the Christian metal world we think that we have to be friends with these guys when the Bible calls them enemies of the cross and if there’s enemies of the cross in Philippians chapter 3- who is that? Well, it’s the people that God says their god is their stomach and all they want is what pleases them now and you can look at any major rock star and see that, and yet Christians will say- do you think it’s wrong for me to listen to that? And all I got to say is for me personally, I’m saying this with all humility, dude…
“My Bride Beloved” was supposed to be a bass solo. Charles did that and it was supposed to be like a bass solo, and I said you should put one of those in the album and he tried it and then he started out in the garage like- how about this idea? It turned into a song and I remember lying there on my sofa and thinking- God, what in the world do you want me to write about? And I always wanted to write a song about the fall of Lucifer- you know, I saw Satan fall like lightning and that whole thing- and I labored over that song, but it came from like just soaking in the Word and material started coming literally and I was like- oh my gosh, like it was being dumped out on me and that stuff doesn’t come unless you spend time fasting and praying and I’m just thinking to myself the audience is numb to this. When you feed that flesh it isn’t just about sex, it’s about the anger, and the sarcasm, and I mean sarcasm is a little insidious thing, because it’s not like blatantly sinful. Until you realize what it’s doing to you, you know, where your humor is like late night television humor, and you don’t trust anything- like everyone’s a loser, and you’re a loser, and I’m a loser, and we all losers, so everybody party, and I’m like- these are all lies! You understand your identity in Christ, and all of a sudden you realize I’m supposed to go carry the Holy Spirit and be Jesus. ( laughter) People said- oh your lyrics are so biblical. They’re not mine. I mean they are, but they’re not. It looks like that because I have all the scripture passages and I guess that’s what the question was. It’s like I’ve experienced something as a songwriter that I wish I could communicate, that somehow I wish everybody could experience, and it’s because we don’t put the garbage in. Does listening to worldly music really make you more relevant? I think I can be pretty darn relevant as a metal singer and still write some amazing music. I’m not being boastful… I just really believe that in our quest to be relevant sometimes we become very worldly, and then your Christian life doesn’t work, and then you get angry and you’re like- why?