More Than Words: Three Ways of Making Christian Hair Metal in 1990Featured, Great Christian Music, Music — By Josh Langhoff on March 21, 2011 at 8:00 am
Admit it: you’ve made fun of hair metal. Maybe you went over to a friend’s house and hurled gay slurs at their Poison album covers, or dressed up “ironically” as Dee Snider for Halloween. You youngsters have probably been fed the line that Nirvana saved us from hair metal’s excess and dumbness, through such erudite lyrics as “aqua seafoam shame”.
Heck, just using the term “hair metal” is an insult, sort of like calling health care reform “Obamacare”. (Everybody knows the correct nickname is “Husseincare”.) “Glam metal”, while accurate, conjures visions of David Bowie, and he’s altogether too respectable to associate with this obviously degenerate genre of music. Better to leave the Bowie associations to the experts, like Kurt Cobain, the man who sold the world but never used Aqua Net a day of his noble hair-metal-slaying life.
As I see it, hair metal deniers have two big problems. First, they dismiss an entire style of music from a distance, basing their criticisms solely on flippant stereotypes. Second, they’re all a bunch of sad, lonely cretins who live in their parents’ basements and call Danielson records “profound”. But 20 years after hair metal fizzled out, isn’t it time to let bygones be bygones and re-evaluate this vibrant music? Especially since its practitioners created some of the greatest Christian rock ever to meet with raised parental eyebrows?
Back in 1990 — right before Seattle would wipe L.A. off the musical map — three different hair metal bands found different ways to tie their faith to the music they loved. In doing so, they made three of the year’s best albums.
There have been two basic versions of Holy Soldier: High-Voiced Soldier and Low-Voiced Soldier. The High-Voiced Soldier of their self-titled debut album featured Steven Patrick on lead vocals. Patrick had a great voice! He sang with a quivering tenor that gave every song an undertone of exquisite pain, sort of like Brad Delp in Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”. Patrick always sounded like he just couldn’t get enough God. So when you hear a song like “Love Me,” which features the band’s greatest riff, you really feel that this guy’s at his wit’s end and NEEDS God in a way that can only be expressed through his voice.
Patrick’s approach fits Soldier’s grim subject matter. The narrator of “See No Evil” is an unborn baby who sings Verse 1 from Mom’s womb, Verse 2 from “a pail”. Over the guitar solo, a digitally-manipulated voice says, “Mom, can you hear me? Mommy, Mommy, I’m afraid.” It’s an exploitative pro-life statement, the worst possible thing you could play for a woman considering abortion. As a song, though, it wields a disturbing power. Plus, it totally rocks, which counts for plenty.
Also disturbing is the end-times fantasia “When the Reign Comes Down”, where Patrick sings with trademark desperation about Babylon burning, the world stopping its turning, the sky raining fire, the flames rising higher, and — whoa baby, check out what’s in store for rapists and killers:
“The scavenger of lost souls
It feeds as they expire
Licks the lips of the mouth of Hell
And spews eternal fire.”
I hear Rob Bell’s Love Wins devotes a chapter to this song. Tell me again, why was I allowed to listen to these guys but not Slayer?
Soldier came up through the legendary L.A. club scene rather than the church circuit, and they were justifiably proud of paying those dues. They viewed their music primarily as a ministry to unchurched metal fans, so their songs were darker than most Christian rock. Their attitude was more Larry Norman than Love Song. After Low-Voiced Soldier covered Norman’s “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” in 1995, guitarist Michael Cutting told CCM magazine, “[Norman] didn’t sing to make happy Christians happier. He sang to his contemporaries who were in the lifestyle he was in prior to Christ. He was singing to those people in a way that they could relate to.”
If you read hilarious anti-Christian-rock dudes like Jeff Godwin, you’ll see that this is not a popular approach, at least among anti-Christian-rock dudes. Mentioning STDs in song, covering the Stones and Dio, studiously avoiding praise music — these are the things that infect people with Satan. Though Soldier have received their share of such criticism over the years, they had the good fortune to fly under Godwin’s radar for a while. That’s because there was another Christian metal band bearing the brunt of the sniping. They were huge, they threw Bibles, and they briefly had the same managers as Soldier. Maybe you’ve heard of ‘em?
Continued on page 2: “Against the Law”…