There comes a point as I am rocking out at a Christian metal concert, just banging my head, pumping my fists, and stamping my feet, when a feeling, a sensation, a realization washes over me that I love this art form more than any other on earth. I enjoy many styles of music, and I love poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture, but nothing, and I mean nothing, moves me like Christian metal. In this series we will explore why I am not alone in this.
This realization most recently hit me in the face like a power chord when I was at the Bloodgood/Whitecross concert at the BMI Speedway in Versailles, Ohio, and there are three reasons.
It's All About Jesus
The artists we interview on The Wildman & Steve Show seem to have one of two philosophies. There are those who want to fly under the radar and be a bit more subtle with their lyrics. These are the bands that would be following Paul's example in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (ESV) where he says, "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some." Then there are the bands that are more open, or better yet, in your face with the Christian content of their lyrics. They also take their cue from Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV) where he says, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Bloodgood and Whitecross have planted their flags unshakably in the latter camp. Consider just two of the countless examples from both bands.
So many different paths to follow.
Are you stumbling in the night
It's not worth the cost to be eternally lost
Satan is the father of lies
Follow him you'll surely die
You need to be told come out of the cold
There'll be no one to blame if you play his game.
Jesus is king he's why we sing
Who will you follow
Satan or The Author of Life
Jesus paid the price
God made the sacrifice for you
Those lyrics are from "Who Will You Follow," the opening track on the 1987 debut album by Whitecross. Talk about announcing yourself to the world! Can there be any doubt what the focus of this band is? When we sat down with Whitecross after their soundcheck, we wanted to hear, among other things, the story on their new lead singer, David Roberts. Now, this guy has serious chops (more on that later), but what Rex Carroll, founder and guitarist, was most eager to talk about was how well David fit with their unapologetic, no-holds-barred, Christ-centered purpose of the band. It should come as no surprise, then, that Whitecross would happily join the bill with a band like Bloodgood.
Battle worn His flesh is torn and bleeding
Eternal life comes through the souls God's feeding
Words of peace are met with screaming bullets
Now you're looking through a soldier's eyes
Mighty words He spoke to us in Spirit
For He's come to give us life
Share the bread and living water
Eat the flesh, drink the blood of Christ
These words from "Eat The Flesh" on Bloodgood's 1987 release Detonation are the opposite of subtle. Whether you like such a song or not, you can never argue that the lyrics are ambiguous. Nothing could be more important to these guys, and we saw this when, at the end of our interview with the band, we prayed together. One of the guys later messaged us to say, "We had a blast doing the interview last night. The prayer time was very special!"
Okay, okay. Life is not one, big, prayer meeting. Even Jesus engaged in the affairs of the world by making breakfast for his friends and by going to a wedding. What about the music? I had the chance to see Bloodgood's soundcheck the night before the concert, and Wildman and I together got to check out the rehearsal for Whitecross the morning of the show. Every single one of these musicians is a professional. They know every aspect of their craft, not just which notes to play and sing. They know what needs to happen with audio and lights. They can hear when there needs to be the tiniest bit more or less of a certain sound in their monitors or in the house speakers. They know where on stage they will be for particular moments, yet their performance is not mechanical or robotic, but rather filled with energy (again, more on this point later).
I watched as Michael Feighan, who drummed for Bloodgood IN ADDITION to drumming for his own band, Whitecross, talked with Les Carlsen, Bloodgood's lead singer, during sound check about ways to approach certain rhythms, getting down to the level of individual beats. I saw Joyce Carlsen navigate the light board like a maestro, coordinating light, video, and visual effects. I took note as Rex Carroll and Benny Ramos (guitar, bass/keyboard-Whitecross) and Paul Jackson, Craig Church, and Michael Bloodgood (guitar, guitar, bass-Bloodgood) worked through their equipment to produce precisely the sound they wanted and David Roberts (vocals-Whitecross) and Les Carlsen prepared for a night not just of screaming high notes, but of crafting powerful vocal moments.
Those who have been around the Christian metal scene for the past thirty years or so will know most of the names mentioned above, but one that might be new is that of David Roberts. In addition to singing with Whitecross and The Rex Carroll Band, David also fronts Saints & Sinners, The Red Rockers, and The Zeppelin Project, three tribute bands to Whitesnake, Sammy Hagar, and Led Zeppelin, respectively. For those wondering how well he can fill the shoes of founding Whitecross vocalist Scott Wenzel, the answer is very well indeed. As you would imagine from the tribute bands he fronts, David has a voice made for blues-rock, which makes him ideally suited for this latest incarnation of Whitecross. Look for much good music to come from this version of the band with David behind the microphone!
The Christ-centered lyrics get my fists pumping. The thunderous music causes my heart to pound. Put all that together with a stage show of pure electricity, and I'm ready to throw back my head and scream the roof off! While I was glad to see many younger people in the audience, I would say that the average age was, if not knockin' on heaven's door, at least ringing the doorbell of retirement, yet these guys TORE...IT...UP! No one sits at a concert like this. We stand and we jam and we dance because that's what the guys on stage are doing, and none does it better than Les Carlsen, a true frontman's frontman.
Les has a background in musical theatre, and it shows. Of course, there is the mini-opera we have come to expect in the middle of a Bloodgood set comprised of "Crucify" and "The Messiah," but in each and every song we see Les simply bring it. Alexander Pope's 1715 translation of Homer's Iliad, describes the Greek warrior Diomedes raging across the plains of Troy like this.
Now here, now there, he darts from place to place,
Pours on the rear, or lightens in their face.
So it is with Les Carlsen. He prowls the stage. He attacks. He pulls back. He uses moments of pause as punctuation, and his animated face works almost as a separate instrument, one that he uses with the consummate skill of an artist.
There it is. Those are the reasons why, on a recent Saturday night in Ohio, I was reminded why I love Christian metal so much, and if you have read this far, I'm guessing that you do, too.