Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Special: My All-Time Top 10 Christian Metal albums, by Jack Frost.

Mortification at the time of the Scrolls of the Megilloth album (1992). Left to right: Jayson Sherlock (Drums); Michael Carlisle (Guitar); Steve Rowe (Bass / vocals).
(not in order)
1 Mortification - Scrolls of the Megilloth (1992), superb old-school Australian death-metal with brutal drumming by the energetic Jayson Sherlock and strong philosophical and poetic lyrics by Michael Carlisle and Jayson Sherlock. This is one of the greatest death-metal albums in the Christian scene and should be listened to by all death-metal fans. Unlike the band's first two albums which were death / thrash with death vocals, like Kreator or Sodom, this was the band's first and only pure death-metal album. It starts with the night forest sound-effects of "Nocturnal", goes on to two fast exciting tracks "Terminate Damnation" and "Eternal Lamentation" and then later we get classics such as "Death Requiem" (with the wonderful pompous graveside vicar's speech) and the demonic sounds in the brutal "Necromanicide". We get the slow pounding "Lymphosarcoma" (about a form of cancer), then the speedy "Inflamed" and the extended epic "Ancient Prophecy". Although the lyrics are much better than on later albums, they still have that "run to the light" warning as found in the doom band Trouble. Best lyric: "The ostentatiousness of Satan has been cast into the burial ground". Everybody should head to their dictionaries now to find out what that word means!
2 Sacred Warrior - Rebellion (1988), the debut album of American power-metal band Sacred Warrior and the first of four excellent studio albums issued over the period 1988-92. The band was based around the powerful operatic vocals of Rey Parra and the guitar genius of Bruce Swift. The band recently reformed without Rey Parra (unfortunately) and released the comeback album Waiting in Darkness. Rebellion includes the classic fast opener "Black Metal", which was almost prophetic for a song written that early in time. "Mad Mad World" is a mid-paced philosophical statement condemning the state of the modern world and can be compared musically to songs like "Two Minutes to Midnight" (Iron Maiden), "Children of the Sea" (Black Sabbath); and "Sacred Heart" (Dio). "He Died" is an excellent ballad about the crucifixion of Jesus but its placing as the fourth song is somewhat strange. The highlight of the album is the fifth track which is the speed-metal classic "Children of the Light".  All the other Sacred Warrior albums are of a high standard but the first one wins for me due to its innocence and charm (like Kill Em All or Killing is my Business). This band is similar in style to Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and early Fates Warning (with John Arch). I often say to people Sacred Warrior is "the best metal band most people have never heard" as the early Christian scene was plagued by poor marketing and poor distribution. This was long before bands like POD and Norm Jean sold millions of records. Yes there was Stryper but they were always an exception being on a major label.
Extol (Norway)
3 Extol - Burial (1998), this was the debut album for Norwegian band Extol and it was released in the late-1990s. It was in the style of sophisticated progressive Scandinavian metal such as Opeth with amazing technical skills, great atmosphere, and honest uplifting spiritual lyrics about the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. One song begins by quoting Psalm 32 word-for-word: "Blessed is the man whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered..." However, the band does not across as being arrogant. This album is a mix of black/death/thrash and I did not keep up to date with later albums by the band but general reports are that the band always releases works of a very high standard. Extol remains active. Not to be confused with the band Extol from South Wales.
4 Vengeance Rising - Human Sacrifice (1988), the legendary debut album of melodic thrash band Vengeance Rising from the USA. This was the heaviest Christian album ever at the time of its release in the late-1980s. It featured direct Bible quotes as lyrics and the Max Cavalera-type rough death vocals of Roger Martinez who famously later became an atheist. After the first two albums Human Sacrifice and Once Dead Roger continued the band with new musicians while the rest of the original band formed Die Happy which released two further albums and then split up. The cover art of the Human Sacrifice album featured the provocative image of a nail-pierced hand which belonged to Pastor Bob Beeman, an early and influential supporter of the Christian metal scene. All tracks are great but highlights are openers "Human Sacrifice" and "Burn" with the chorus of "Burn Satan Burn". This song was later covered by American thrash-metal band Ultimatum. The original members of VR, without Roger, reformed in the 2000s as Once Dead, with Scott Waters of Ultimatum and the nolifetilmetal.com website being the first replacement for Roger Martinez. The Once Dead DVD featuring Scott Waters on vocals is highly recommended as it features all the original VR classic tracks. 
5 Living Sacrifice - Living Sacrifice (1991), From Little Rock, Arkansas, Living Sacrifice was an interesting band as they tended to change style with nearly every album. The debut album Living Sacrifice was Slayer-stye thrash-metal and this is my favourite. The next two, Nonexistent and Inhabit, were brutal death-metal, and then from Reborn (1997) onwards a more modern style of thrash-metal / metalcore was adopted featuring harsh screamo vocals. The band could be accused of just following trends. They will be remembered for very direct and challenging Christian lyrics and for being an incredibly brutal band no matter which style they adopted. I wish they had continued on in the thrash-metal style of the debut album but by the early-1990s this style was becoming very unfashionable and most bands were shifting over to death-metal or to black-metal or to industrial metal. This debut album was out-of-print for a long time but now available again. I think it is a very strong album which stands up well against any other thrash-metal album Christian or secular (except perhaps early Metallica who were just a class above everyone else at the time). The best comparison is Slayer for the debut album - the band is very fast and aggressive but very self-controlled and measured (compared to say Exodus' Bonded by Blood or Overkill's Feel the Fire). The band split up for a time and then reformed but may split up again for the last time soon.
Living Sacrifice (USA)
6 Living Sacrifice - Reborn (1997), a lot of mainstream metal fans were surprised when the guitarist Marcos left POD to be replaced by Jason Truby. Marcos was well known for his Spanish-funk style of guitar playing and it really worked in POD. By contrast, Truby was an extreme-metal guitarist and wile technically very strong you can argue his style did not fit POD as well as Marcos' style. Many mainstream fans did not know about Truby's other band Living Sacrifice, one of the heaviest and most brutal bands in all of metal. With the Reborn album the band really returned, after a two-year absence, with an album that is crushing in its brutality. The thrash-metal is mixed with metalcore and the vocals are screamo. It is hard for me to like the screamo vocals but you have to take the album as a complete package. The black and grey album cover, the nails pictured on the back cover with the blurry band picture, and the harsh music represented some sort of inner rebirth for the band with renewed determination and energy and focus. The album is trail-blazing in heaviness with just a few short acoustic sections to calm things down. Lyrics are boldly Christian once again although mostly you can't work out what is being shouted. The opening two songs "Reborn Empowered" and "Truth Solution" are two of the most brutal left-right punches to the head you will ever experience with each being aggressive but very different from each other. This album did divide the scene with the death-metal people being disappointed that the band did not continue in the style of the strong Inhabit album but the new style won a lot of younger fans for the band. Then there was a third group of fans, the old-school thrashers, who were happy to see death-metal gone but would have preferred a return to the Slayer-style of the debut album. This album had a new vocalist with Bruce Fitzhugh taking over from  DJ.
7 Holy Soldier - Last Train
8 Whiteheart - Powerhouse
9 Guardian - Fire and Love
10 Ordained Fate - Ordained Fate 

Best wishes to all Christian readers over Easter, "we live by faith not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). 

Yahnes of Tenggorokan in Kediri, East Java. Not many people know this but Yahnes was part of a Christian metal band once called Pentecost (now inactive).

Yudi (Sereignos); Yahnes (Tenggorokan); Dimas (Valerian); and Jack Frost of Busuk Webzine in Kediri, 26/1/2014.

1 comment:

  1. I guess missing some legendary name like Antestor, and Crimson Moonlight..