Monday, January 21, 1985. That was the day that I fully committed to Heavy Metal! Ronald Reagan was inaugurated to a second term and my school had declared during morning announcements that anyone found at the Pensacola Civic Center before, during or after that night’s concert would be immediately expelled from school.
Who was the offending musical artist that had my “Christian” school in an uproar? Debbie Gibson? Michael Jackson? The New Kids on The Block? No! The musical act that had every girl’s red culottes in a roar was the rock band…KISS! According to the school, heavy metal was the direct sonic line to Satan. Doing what any child who had been threatened by authority would do, I immediately embraced all forms of metal; from the darkest genres to even the glam crusade that exploded in the 80’s.
But the one genre of metal that seemed perplexing to me was Christian Metal. At the time, the biggest Christian metal group was Stryper, a glam rock band from California. I wasn’t a fan because I like my heavy metal to be….heavy. “Raining Blood” kills “To Hell with The Devil” every time. Through the years, metal has evolved and new factions were created, but I could never turn onto a band that was labeled “Christian.” I’ve had chances to see some of the genre’s biggest acts, but I stayed far away. Maybe it was the fear that I was going to be preached to or considered evil because I looked, talked, ate, walked, sang, etc. differently than everybody.
What would it be like to see a Christian metal band 25 years after I sold my soul to heavy metal? This question and many more struck my mind as I walked into Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, Florida to witness Haste The Day perform.
I made it in time to catch Sleeping With Sirens’ insanely energetic show. Bassist Justin Hills wins the award for artist most likely to moonlight as a Hollywood stuntman; acrobatic leaps with James Brown style splits while playing bass guitar were just a few of the highlights of the Sleeping With Sirens’ performance. Constant energy flowed through their songs so much that I was worried if the crowd would have enough gas to give it their all for the headliners.
Giving just enough time to for the audience to catch their breath, the band’s equipment was set up and sound check completed for the guys in Haste The Day to launch. As the band took the stage to a loud roar from the audience, there was a noticeable difference in their appearance. Gone were the long locks and casual wear that dressed their image on nearly every youtube clip and picture of them online. These men had cleaned up. Updated hairstyles and all dressed in identical black attire, the only variable being the overcoat sported by lead singer Stephen Keech, these guys looked like they were getting ready for church. Uh oh! Would I be in store for a sermon? A lecture sprinkled with bible verses?
Pleasantly, the answer to that question was…..”Hell, No!” I, along with the rest of the crowd, were pounded with metal crunching, ear-pounding heavy music. The only time during the night that I was concerned was when Keech stopped the band, got the audience’s attention and started to speak. What followed wasn’t a sermon on God vs. the Devil or My Religion is better than all others, but a brief observation on humanity. He talked about being different and ostracized for standing up for what you believe. Themes that everyone, especially a lot of the teenagers in attendance that night will encounter as they go through life. As quickly as the speech started, it quickly ended and the band launched into another 15 minutes of sonic pummeling.
On Monday, October 4, 2010, I was given more than what I expected from the Indiana band labeled as “Christian Heavy Metal.” Just as I was labeled and shunned growing up, I should think twice about doing the same with music. Sometimes, people and artists may rock harder than you ever expected, no matter what kind of stupid label people put on them.
Article and photos by Michael L. Smith