Nathan Kiehn is the author of over 100 blog posts on his family website Keenlinks and "The Gray Guard" ebook fantasy trilogy on Amazon.
Heavy Is the Head
As I mentioned in a previous post several months ago, there are many, many artists within the heavier genres of Christian music. These bands and musicians—belonging to both hard rock and heavy metal genres—have been flourishing for decades, combining their unique sound, harsh vocals, and affirming messages in a blend that, surprisingly, works. While it can be an acquired taste for some, and while other listeners prefer other genres of music, Christian hard rock and heavy metal have their fan bases.
Over the past decade or so, several of these heavier metal bands have produced some incredibly popular albums and songs. We're talking guys in bands like Underoath, Haste the Day, As I Lay Dying, Demon Hunter, and Impending Doom. These acts have helped the genre skyrocket in popularity and allowed other bands to spread their content to eager listeners. The songs on this list happen to be some of my favorite, ten songs I really enjoy. Some of the bands above helped get me sucked into metal; these favorite songs are the result.
Songs will listed in alphabetical order, followed by what I enjoy about these particular tracks. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a new favorite song here.
"Chaos Theory" (War of Ages)
War of Ages really, really likes to rock hard. Sure, that can said about any band on this list from here on out, but War of Ages isn't your typical Christian metal band. With sounds that seem more 90s metal than modern at times, War of Ages separate themselves from other bands by bringing older sounding musical influences into the current day and age. No slouches when it comes to instrumental intros, the band actually forgoes an intro this time around--like the one on a song like, say, "All-Consuming Fire"--and jumps right into Leroy Hamp's vocals. It's a move that works well, with Hamp spitting lines at rapid fire speed (or, at least, rapid fire for a metal band). The blows just keep coming as Hamp fights against human hedonism and excess, favoring instead hope through salvation and Christ ("We won't believe you are helpless...you were loved at your first breath"). Skewering the image of a helpless individual perhaps lost in drunkenness, partying, or some other form of fulfillment, War of Ages doesn't condemn the lifestyle as much as they point to a better way of living. And it's Hamp's clean chorus which pushes that idea in a melodic, spellbinding fashion that keeps fists pumping as instrumentals rage in the background.
"Collapsing" (Demon Hunter)
I think these guys, having been around eighteen years, can be considered veterans of the genre. To date, the Ryan Clark-led band has unleashed eight studio albums; "Collapsing" is a track off their fifth, The World is a Thorn. The song seems to focus on the perspective of someone watching another person wallow in futility. Lines like "I see the weight of hollow death residing in you" and "Dead fragments of youth" perhaps point to a person holding onto elements of their past they could be releasing and not suffering under. Surprisingly, the song is sang almost entirely in Clark's clean vocals, which are nearly as epic as his throatier growls. A shout of "In misery is where I belong!" is about the only screamed line in the song. Despite its lack of harsh vocals, Clark and the instrumentals still carry the track along. Infused with a few electronic notes at the beginning, the song offers a great breakdown near the end, followed by Clark's fantastically sung chorus.
"False Profit" (I the Breather)
The first track off the now-defunct band's second album, Truth and Purpose, "False Profit" would easily the top the list if this were a list of favorite songs. Every part of the song absolutely works. With a rather haunting opener leading to Shawn Spann's cry of "I'm not a king, you're not a profit!" the song smashes in with guitars and drums aplenty, offering not just one but two breakdowns prior to the choruses. Taking a look at Christians who often act rather heavy handed with the message of the Gospel, I the Breather lays it on the line: "I believe there's a king/There's a king, a throne up there/And we will see His face one of these days." It's a song that believes Christians are beholden to a God who is very real and that our displays of love shouldn't result in "taking hopes and dreams" from who we minister to. Grace isn't grace if it's forced, and the band understands that well enough. This track, in all its head-banging glory, is proof of that.
"Fearless" (For Today)
Yet another group that has since disbanded, For Today was incredibly talented; frontman Mattie Montgomery appeared as guest vocals on albums for bands like Fit for a King, For All Eternity, and These Hearts, to name a few. On their own, the band produced stellar albums, and I believe the pinnacle of their work appears in this song. Appearing on 2012's Immortal, "Fearless" is another fist-pumper of a track. It's a call to be exactly what the title declares, fearless. As Montgomery cries, "We bear the scars of the holy risen Son/So tell me what should we fear?" It's an anthem of assurance for Christians, not just in a faith that promises eternity hereafter but in a faith that empowers us on a daily basis. While Montgomery screams out against the forces of hell--as metal bands often do, turning Satan into a physical image of evil one can justifiably rage against--he's backed by a fantastic guitar intro and some really great breakdowns at the end. It's a powerful song that fulfills the premise it promises.
"Heralds" (Wolves at the Gate)
Thankfully, these guys are still in business. "Heralds" was one of the songs I stumbled across while listening to Christian rock/metal stations on iTunes (those were the days). I don't remember if I immediately fell in love with it, but it's always been a song that I keep coming back to. Beginning with fantastic cleans by Steve Cobucci, the song heads right into a fantastic breakdown before slamming into a blend of Cobucci's vocals and Nick Detty's "unclean" vocals, the screams. The entire song is this intermingling of the two vocalists, Cobucci's lyrics soaring high before the deep-throated screams kick in. It's a tag-team effort, pulling in lyrics based directly in Scripture ("Follow my son/And let the dead bury their own") about being a disciple for Christ. A bit of a strange message to pursue in metal? Perhaps the sound would be more familiar to a slightly softer mode of music, but Wolves at the Gate does the message justice, even as they tear up the track.
As an added note: an acoustic version of this song with completely clean vocals also exists. It's just as powerful as the original song, if not a tad more haunting.
"Hollow King (Sound of the End)" (Fit for a King)
Perhaps more than any other band, Fit for a King (often stylized as FFAK) is at the top of their game. Releasing four albums and a rerelease of their first album in just five years, the band has been busy. While every album has been, more or less, a fairly solid entry, it was 2013's Creation/Destruction that really hooked me. The album's second track, "Hollow King" is a blaze of fire. Ryan Kirby's growls jump in right from the beginning, leading into the band's heaviest, most head-banging breakdown to date. The song is mostly Kirby, with a dash of a few clean choruses by then clean vocalist Aaron Kadura; the entire song, lyrically and musically, is pure, raw, unadulterated metal. The lyrics are hard ("You're the king of your own destruction...Your 'god' can't hear your cries") and can across as brutal and punishing; however, knowing the song is about a man helping his "lost" friend (in a spiritual sense) only to discover the "friend" is himself, the lyrics make more sense, perhaps as a critique of Christians who try to work hard at their faith without trust and believing in their own efforts. Other than "False Profit," it's the best metal song I've ever heard. You want screams that'll keep you moshing? This is the song that will do it.
"My Own Grave" (As I Lay Dying)
Perhaps the most controversial choice for this list, as well as the most recent song, As I Lay Dying's 2018 single sees a return to form for the band. I've never been a huge fan of their version of metal, but even I paid some attention to the story surrounding frontman Tim Lambesis and his stint in prison. Reuniting with him was a risky move for the band, and it has certainly received its share of backlash. Nevertheless, being a Christian band, it seems the value they put on forgiveness and second chances has led them to this decision. "My Own Grave" is the perfect song in this context, with Lambesis outlining his fall from grace and the realization that he really had, metaphorically, dug his own grace. Leading into an absolutely gorgeous and catchy clean-vocal chorus by Josh Gilbert, the song hits hard, fast, and deep. It's incredibly personal to Lambesis and the band as a whole, and if Lambesis is as true to his word as he promises to be, makes As I Lay Dying's return worth the wait.
"Outnumbered" (The Devil Wears Prada)
Time to be honest: there's not really anything "Christian" about this song. In fact, some might call it the opposite because the song (and the entire EP) is about, of all things, a zombie apocalypse. But, of course, this is the Devil Wears Prada that we're talking about. With song titles like "Assistant to the Regional Manager" (which, yes, is apparently a reference to The Office), you can't expect these guys to really be serious. I'm not a huge fan of the band--my first exposure to them was through their song "Dez Moines" on Guitar Hero--but this song is ridiculously fun. With a fantastic guitar intro and lyrics focusing on, as I said, trying to survive an infestation of zombies, "Outnumbered" proves not all Christian music has to be religious. Sometimes it can just be...goofy.
"Travesty" (Haste the Day)
Another veteran of the genre, Haste the Day has put out a lot of music. They seemed to have gone through every staple of bands in the genre: release several albums, go through member changes...and disband only to reform for another album a few years later. "Travesty" can be found off their 2010 album Attack of the Wolf King. Blazing through an electric opening and a cry of "You cover me!" from David Keech, the song, like so many others on this list, pulls no punches. Perhaps the most religiously poignant song, save "Heralds," "Travesty" focuses on salvation. Lines like "You cover the darkest part of me" and "With death you paid my ransom" points to the band's hope in salvation, having their sins forgiven through the death of Christ. In that regard, it's a powerfully Christian song that also manages to just rock really well. The entire second body stanzas, following the first chorus, are brilliantly sung, with smashing guitar riffs to match. All in all, for someone who isn't a huge fan of the band overall, I think this song is phenomenal.
"Withering Kingdom" (Darkness Divided)
Yet another band that has regrettably broken up recently, Darkness Divided unfortunately left a small legacy, with two albums and two EPs. But their first release, Written in Blood, is an incredibly verbal outpouring on the Christian faith. "Withering Kingdom" happens to be my favorite on the album. Right off the bat, Gerard Mora unleashes a torrent of high-pitched shrieks ("All life will lay its head/Where the dust will turn dead") that flow into his deeper vocals. Nothing we haven't heard before, but the sheer energy in these opening lines is enough to catch anyone nicely off-guard. The song builds into a chorus that, much like "My Own Grave," showcases cleans brilliantly well. Clean vocalist Sebastian Elizondo lends a soaring voice to this melodic bit, offering a croon I wish most other clean vocalists possess. It's not very intermingled, unlike "Heralds," but being its own portion in the song makes it wonderfully unique and helps the entire track stand out from the rest of the album.
Heavier is the Heart
There's a lot of great metal music out there, and there are several other bands and songs that I could have considered for this list. If I had to pick an "honorable mention," it would probably be Righteous Vendetta's "John the Revelator." It's a fantastic song, but as my perspective of the band's faith as been called into question recently, I decided it best to keep it aside for the moment.
Which leads to an interesting question: what makes a metal band "Christian"? I know bands like Blessthefall, Wage War, We Came as Romans, and Memphis May Fire have Christian members and have songs with Christian or moral messages in them. Does that make them a Christian band, however? I'm not exactly sure, and it's what made me keep a song like "John the Revelator" or even Blessthefall's "You Wear a Crown but You're No King" off this list, spectacular as they are. It's a bit of a fine line, but while we ponder the question of what defines Christian metal and artists, enjoy the above songs.
© 2018 Nathan Kiehn