Nathan Kiehn is a blogger at Keenlinks, a contributor at Geeks Under Grace, and the author of "The Gray Guard" ebook trilogy on Amazon.
Heavy and Holy: Christian Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Bands
There's a stereotype about Christians that we only listen to a certain brand of music—a soft, lilting kind of worship genre that adds in a lot of "holy, holy, holy"s and "Hallelujah"s whenever it can. For some of us, that's true. Some Christians choose to listen solely to worship and gospel music, and I applaud them for it.
The fantastic thing about Christian music is that it's pulled in so many genres over the years—worship, gospel, rap, rock, punk, metal, pop, electronic—and that many artists have entertained listeners, given us excellent material, and even transcended the confines of Christian listeners and spilled out onto other stations and into the heads of even non-Christian or non-religious music aficionados.
Well, my preference has always been geared towards the heavier side of music—the hard rock, heavy metal, headbanging bands. These guys manage to stay true to their faith-centered roots and deliver Christian-influenced music with meaningful messages and lyrics while also giving fans a nice dose of in-your-face guitars, drums, and vocals.
These are the ladies and gentlemen who can praise while also wailing on a guitar, who call for inward change while also going hoarse, and can pump fans and get mosh pits going while also challenging the darker powers of the world.
So I'm going to cover some of those bands, ten bands that I think do this excellently and provide some stellar music and great messages. I will note that, as I said, there are a lot of genres out there, and not everyone appreciates this brand of music, which is totally fine. This is just the stuff I like, and, heck, maybe I'll even win some of the non-fans to my side by the time they're done reading this.
Let's get rocking.
The Top 10 Christian Rock Bands
- Ashes Remain
- Fit for a King
- For All Eternity
- I the Breather
- Righteous Vendetta
- Sent by Ravens
- Thousand Foot Krutch
1. Ashes Remain
I stumbled upon Ashes Remain while surfing radio stations on iTunes a while back and was immediately drawn towards their sound. Whereas other bands may have been offering an electronic-infused style of rock at the time, Ashes Remain came out of the gate with straight-up hard rock and it resonated with me as a fan of the genre. Receiving their album What I've Become for Christmas, I listened to it through several times and still continue listening to it to this day.
Lead singer Josh Smith offers a deeper voice to the songs, and his vocal range can run from smoother crooning to a little bit of screamo when the need calls for it. Ashes Remain excels in guitar solos and dramatic openers, as songs off What I've Become such as "Unbroken," "Keep My Breathing," and "End of Me" testify to. Yet, as tracks "Right Here," "Everything Good," and "I Won't Run Away" show—the band is equally capable of delivering solid ballads that soothe savage souls. In all, Ashes Remain provide a deep look at the human condition and our moral, spiritual brokenness throughout the album. While Let the Light In saw the band take a turn to softer melodies, their pinnacle of radio-friendly rock hits home nicely in their previous album.
2. Fit for a King
After releasing their album Descendants while unsigned, Fit for a King unleashed metallic fury their first Solid State Records album Creation/Destruction in 2013, which went on to be one of the bestselling Solid State albums of all time. It's the album that made me fall in love with the band and their other albums—2014's Slave to Nothing and a re-released Descendants, and 2016's Deathgrip—all showcasing the band's impressive lyrics and heavy, heavy sound.
Frontman Ryan Kirby brings fire and fury with his wide range of screams, from deep guttural shouts to high-pitched screeches, and songs like "Warpath," "Hollow King (Sound of the End)," "Young and Undeserving," and "Stacking Bodies" display his ability as well as the band's capability at offering excellent choruses and breakdowns with their guitar and drum work.
Deep messages filter into all their material, dealing with topics such as death, inward struggles, broken relationships, and genocide. The material can get rather dark, but the pleasant clean vocals from lyricists Jared Easterling (who left the band in 2014), Ryan O'Leary, and even Kirby himself provide a nice balance with fantastic choruses any metalhead can jam to or sing along with.
3. For All Eternity
Keeping the metal theme going, we now have For All Eternity. Debuting with Beyond the Gates, the band quickly established their sound as a more gospel-centered metal band. While other bands, such as Fit for a King, tend to be subtler in their messages, For All Eternity offers a no-holds-barred stance that praises God and yearns for renewed faith, inward change, and a new world and future.
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The band's dual weapons are frontman Shane Carroll and drummer/vocalist Michael Buckley, whose voices soar from song to song on their albums. While songs like "Unharness," "Victory," and "Derailed" offer a nice showcase of Carroll's screams—which range from incredibly deep snarls to incredibly high squeals, like Kirby—tunes like "Break of Dawn," "White Flame," and "Awake to the Sound" allow Buckley to deliver some of the best clean lyrics in the business.
Together, the rough snarls and beautiful vocals of both men find a resonating balance that plays well. In all, For All Eternity is a metal band that is wonderfully uplifting and fun to listen to at the same time. How often do you get that combo?
4. I the Breather
The now-defunct I the Breather was a band that few talents can live up to. A member of the Christian metal "djent" (more distorted sounds) scene, I the Breather used their unique sound and vocals to separate themselves from the crowd. While bands like Fit for a King, August Burns Red, For Today, Demon Hunter, etc. tend to use throatier vocals, lead singer Shawn Spann offered a nice respite with his grainier voice and his adept ability to sound like someone vomiting . . . okay, that's a joke, but I assume he'd appreciate the compliment.
Never leaning much towards cleaner vocals, I the Breather gave audiences three pulse-pounding albums—These Are My Sins, Truth and Purpose, and Life Reaper—that pulled no punches instrumentally and vocally. Waging war against hell, pain, death, and disease, I the Breather hit ears hard.
Songs like "High Rise" and "Doomsday" gave good glimpses into their musical heaviness, and tracks such as "The Common Good," "Bruised & Broken," and "The Beginning" put their distorted djent rifts at work. The track "False Profit" is, personally, my favorite song, metal or otherwise, to date. A perfect intro, well-written lyrics, and a catchy, heavy tune make for a fantastic song that is powerful on all fronts.
Moving away from the heavy metal genre, we find ourselves introduced to another hard rock band. Around since the late '90s, Pillar is a veteran of the genre that even a brief hiatus couldn't keep down. I first discovered them on Christian radio (Shine.FM, I believe) and got caught on their song "Secrets and Regrets."
Receiving their album Confessions—a solid hard rock release through and through--I went on to collect a few more of their albums, though there are plenty to choose from. Most recently, the band reunited and produced another album, One Love Revolution, to add to their repertoire. The band's discography is impressive, and while "Confessions" is my favorite, older songs such as "Frontline" are classic hard rock anthems.
Beginning with a more "rap-rock" sound, Pillar slid easily into nu-metal and alternative metals of genre. While not a full-on screamo band like Fit for a King, lead singer Rob Beckley can shred some notes when he wants to, as songs like "Now Without a Fight," "Throwdown," and "Whatever It Takes" will attest to. Pillar also gets into more poppy-sounding rock songs—such as "Hypnotize," "Dirty Little Secret," and "For the Love of the Game—songs that have a trendier, catchier beat to them, allowing fans to sing right along with guitars.
Definitely radio-friendly at times, Pillar doesn't let down fans of the heavier material either. With songs focused on inner and outer turmoil, and with some impressive lyrical metaphors and themes woven into their albums, Pillar has plenty of pump-your-fist rock anthems perfect for those rock fans and great for fitness workout playlists.
Red is a band that has seen a lot and done a lot in the decade or so they've been around. Exploding on the scene with a couple of well-produced albums, they've risen in the ranks as one of the greatest Christian hard rock bands of all time. For the most part, I agree. I discovered their third studio album Until We Have Faces and was sucked into gripping singles such as "Feed the Machine" and "Faceless." I soon gobbled up their previous releases, "Innocence and Instinct" and "End of Silence," becoming enamored with their style.
Lead singer Michael Barnes brings a decidedly unsettling performance with his vocals, violin strings, and pianos only adding to his lilting vocals, whispers, and sneers. He ensnares the listeners with his hisses and choruses and is arguably one of the best screamers in the hard rock world, sometimes sounding like he's playing devil's advocate as the voice of darkness before delving into light.
Red's first three albums used violins and pianos well to add a new tangled level of instrumentation into their brand of hard rock—songs like "Death of Me," "Feed the Machine," "Faceless," and "Breathe Into Me" represent their multi-instrumental facets well.
Unfortunately, later studio albums—Release the Panic, Of Beauty and Rage, and Gone—have represented a shift in style, moving away from the hard rock and into more electronic-fused punk-pop. I am, personally, not a fan of the change and wish for the days when Red released killer hard rock anthems and albums.
7. Righteous Vendetta
I say Righteous Vendetta is "hard rock" because the band used to gear themselves towards being a heavy metal outfit ("John the Revelator" being an awesome single) before rebranding themselves in more of the hard rock vein, though there's plenty of heavy to be found in their sophomore release Cursed. Normally, I dislike it when bands change themselves up, but this was a welcome shift in tone for the group.
While Ryan Hayes' screams are nothing to sniff at, his voice is better suited for the typical singing he does with the band. Single "This Pain" had previously established the band as hard rock powerhouses, and Cursed continued that trend in early 2017. The album fuses heavy metal riffs with Hayes' vocals, which have some of the most impressive ranges in the business.
Songs like "Daemons" will have him snarling like an actual demon, while a track like "Strangers" will combine his snarls with more melodic tones. Together, the blend of heavy and soft make for a well-balanced album that isn't afraid to hit listeners hard with themes of conflict and war (such as "War is Killing Us All," obviously) but also tackles the much more tentative subjects of conflict within relationships and the pain of seeing someone you love drift away from you, either emotionally or philosophically (such as "Become"). Heck, there's even a shout-out to classic shooter Doom with the aptly titled "Doomed," so props to the band for being geeks.
8. Sent by Ravens
Another disbanded group on this list, Sent by Ravens was (in my opinion) a severely underrated band deserving of more attention. While they had their singles and got their radio slots, they never received as much attention as bigger-name bands such as Red or Skillet.
Nevertheless, Sent by Ravens was a talented group of guys with mature songwriting skills and a beautifully-voiced lead singer in the guise of Zach Riner. Again, we're talking about one of the best in his genre in terms of vocalization. Though he never did much screaming, Riner could still croon well and handled both hard songs and softer ballads well, as songs like "New Fire" or "Never Be Enough" prove without a doubt.
This is really the first band on this list that should have ballads mentioned. While others—such as Red and Ashes Remain—have their own share of ballads (with Ashes Remains going the slightly softer route), Sent by Ravens always managed to maintain a good balance between heavy and soft. Again, Riner could smoothly work his way through ballads well, singing thought-out songs about spiritual growth and being seen in the eyes of God.
While a hard rock song like "New Fire" could pump up audiences, a ballad like "Best In Me" calmed listeners down. "Best In Me," for me, represents the pinnacle of Sent by Raven's work. An absolutely gorgeous song, it showcases an easily sung melody that, with the addition of Riner's wife near the end, beautifully captivates the listeners and draws them into a truly moving chorus. It's their best song to date and one of my favorite songs of all time. It proves that not every hard rock band needs to rock hard with every track.
Yet another veteran of the Christian hard rock music industry, Skillet has been in the business for many years and really shows no signs of slowing down soon. Having crafted a massive fan base, Skillet continues to plow through the scene at a breakneck pace.
They're really the first hard rock band I got introduced to—through their album Awake—and other albums Comatose and Collide have kept me listening for years. Through each, their progression is noticeable—from more poppy, electronic punk tunes to a harder-rocking style—which is good for fans who like to see change and experimentation.
John Cooper can't scream worth a darn (seriously, I think he's terrible), but he makes up for it with raw energy. Like Red, Skillet serves up some really powerful hard rock singles—"Hero," "Monster," "Rebirthing," and "Whispers in the Dark" are some of their best—and pull in various musical influences, including violins and pianos, to help set a really diverse and sophisticated tone.
John's wife Korey brings in excellent backup vocals from time to time to add to this multi-layered, multi-faceted texture of instruments and lyrics. Unfortunately, like Red, some of Skillet's later albums, Rise and Unleashed, steered into more of the electronic influences, of which I am not a fan. Others are, and that's great, but I'm not. Despite this, Skillet's previous records are a joy to listen to, as they craft powerful songs about salvation, relationships, loss, and love.
10. Thousand Foot Krutch
This is the only band I've ever selected because of the soft songs. Hearing singles "Already Home" and "Look Away" on the radio, I tentatively purchased their album "Welcome to the Masquerade" and was pleasantly surprised by the harder sound I was greeted with.
Lovingly branded "TFK" by fans, Thousand Foot Krutch, much like Skillet and Red, is one of those bands that have been in the genre a long time and really don't seem like they're going to be quitting. Starting as more of a rap-rock band, TFK has hung onto its rap-centric roots while also maintaining a steady hard rock sound for the past several years. Always willing to go a little old school with guitars and vocals, Thousand Foot Krutch always brings a bit of party ruckus on all of their albums, swinging cool rhymes as lead singer Trevor McNevan slices through lyrics easily.
His range is probably the best of all the vocalists here, going from deeper grunts to higher-pitched crooning with crazy, seamless shifts that almost makes you think two different guys are singing. With six albums in my docket, I can constantly find a new favorite TFK song to enjoy.
"Welcome to the Masquerade" gives off a great hard rock vibe, while "Down" showcases a blend of hard rock and speedy rap lyrics, and "Already Home" slows the tempo down to a ballad second only to "Best In Me." Perhaps the most versatile band on this list, TFK moves in multiple ways and succeeds in all those areas. Not bad for a band I decided to try out on a whim.
This isn't to say there aren't a lot of other Christian hard rock or heavy metal bands out there, such as:
- Decyfer Down
- Fades Away
- 12 Stones
- For Today
- Demon Hunter
- The Devil Wears Prada
- Wolves at the Gate
- Haste the Day
I've only offered a taste of the bands that exist, primarily because these are ten that I enjoy listening to the most. But the Christian genre is elaborate and growing, even influencing bands that don't market themselves as Christian, such as Memphis May Fire, and perhaps even giving messages to bands like We Came as Romans, Wage War, and Starset, who all have songs filled with strong morals.
Whether you are a Christian or not doesn't matter. If you are, you may like the headbanging and faith-infused lyrics these bands bring; if you aren't, you may still like the headbanging and maybe even come to like and better understand some of the lyrics. The messages are for everyone, the music can be shared by all.
Questions & Answers
Question: I like Demon Hunter and Stryper. What are your takes on those bands?
Answer: Thank you for asking. I've never been much of a fan of a Stryper. I will, however, indulge in some Demon Hunter from time to time. "Collapsing" is a personal favorite.
Question: Would you add Disciple to a list of awesome Christian metal bands?
Answer: I've got a couple of their albums--"Horseshoes & Handgrenades" and "O God Save Us All," which I've definitely enjoyed over the years. Honestly, that's one band that would've made this list if some others hadn't been present. I've just listened to some other artists since then, and they captured the coveted spots here.
Question: What about the band Starset for this list of heavy Christian bands?
Answer: I don't know enough about Starset to say if they're Christian or not, nor have I given them a decent enough listen to really understand their lyrics or the messages in their music. I will say that I do enjoy "Carnivore," but that's really the only song of theirs I've listened to extensively. I have given their newer material a couple tries, but the sound, unfortunately, doesn't gel with me as much. I'd have to do a bit more digging to come to a better conclusion.
Question: Are there any bands closer to Demon Hunter in terms of vocals and heaviness?
Answer: I believe a few of the bands listed here are slotted more into the metal genre that Demon Hunter embraces--Fit for a King, I the Breather, and For All Eternity, certainly. I can't think of any bands which sound vocally similar to Demon Hunter (Ryan Clark's vocals are just incredibly unique), but there are several metal bands that I'd list (Wolves at the Gate, As I Lay Dying, Haste the Day, Darkness Divided, For Today, and Memphis May Fire are some good examples) that are as heavy as Demon Hunter.
© 2018 Nathan Kiehn
Brady on July 19, 2020:
NO Norma Jean??? Is this list even real?
Christopher Nowak on December 17, 2019:
If you ever visit Kitchener, Ontario, check out LEAP OF FAITH!
Just one thing: They will NOT play HALLELUJAH.
Josiah :-) on March 20, 2019:
King and country are better then all god bands
Nathan on January 17, 2019:
So much Cookie Monster vocals
Nathan Kiehn (author) on September 23, 2018:
L, thank you for your comment. The reason I put them here is that their earlier work, albums such as "The Dawning" and "Lawless," do seem to have a more Christian bent to them ("John the Revelator" seems to be, in particular, a look at the book of Revelation). I will agree that some of their more recent work, like "Cursed," doesn't seem to reflect on God or Christianity, but I personally haven't found anything to make me think they aren't still a "Christian" band even if their work doesn't reflect those beliefs as directly as other bands do. But good food for thought, though. I'll have to stay current with them to see if they have changed their beliefs, or if their music just reflects it less than it used to.
L on September 19, 2018:
I'm pretty sure Righteous Vendetta is not a christian band considering they are signed on with a record label that mostly has satanic bands.
Why would a Christian band be associating themselves with satanists?
Also they don't really have any songs that praise God or even mention God.
Jake Clawson from Kazakhstan on March 24, 2018:
An interesting list, I'll be sure to check out the few bands I haven't heard. Ever listen to Stria? They fuse metal with electronica to make uplifting Christian songs. 2 albums only but are amazing.