At first glance, goth and industrial music, with their dark, aggressive, and gloomy sounds and fascination with dark lyrical subject matter, seem antithetical to Christianity. But just as Christians have seen fit to redeem black metal, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there’s a history of Christian artists doing the same with goth and industrial. (And I don’t need to point out that the Bible itself is filled with plenty of dark, troubling, and discomfiting material, e.g., Job, many of the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, do I?)
My introduction to all of this occurred back in the early ’90s with Christian industrial bands like Mortal, Circle of Dust, and globalWAVEsystem. Then in the late ’90s and early ’00s, I fell in with a group of Christian goths via the #velvetempire IRC channel and the Asylum tent at the Cornerstone festival, which led me to Engrave, Killing the Old Man, Sanctum, and similar artists. (Sidenote: This happened right around the time of the Columbine massacre. Suffice to say, there were a lot of interesting interactions at the Asylum tent at Cornerstone ’99.)
In recent years, I’ve felt a need to write about underground and niche Christian music as best I can, to make sure that those bands don’t permanently fade away into obscurity. When I began delving into “alternative” Christian music, there were very few resources to help with that. Most of the music I discovered was via word-of-mouth recommendations, magazines with uneven publishing schedules (7ball, anyone?), or simply perusing the shelves at the local Christian bookstore and buying whatever CDs looked cool or intriguing.
But countless other Christian bands fell through the cracks of history: they were never on a prominent Christian label like R.E.X. Music, Brainstorm, Alarma, or Tooth & Nail, they never got press in TrueTunes or Heaven’s Metal, and/or they didn’t release any music here in the States. Their legacies may be little more than a barebones Discogs page or random YouTube video. This seems particularly true for Christian goth and industrial acts like the ones below, which often seem as outré to Christian music as Christian music does to secular music.
Innocence by The Children Of Power
Originally released in 1991, Innocence taps into the same shadowy sounds as First and Last and Always-era The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure circa Seventeen Seconds, and even Lifesavers Underground’s Shaded Pain. Slashing guitars, echoing basslines, funereal keys, and gloom-ridden vocals that don’t sing so much as intone — the requisite elements all here, especially on songs like “Bridges Burn” and “Cold Fever.” And that extends to the lyrics, which lament social decline (“Revolution”) and request divine help (“Sanctuary”).
Apparently recorded in just four days, Innocence doesn’t have the highest audio quality, and the band’s music is pretty rough around the edges. But that, along with the British trio’s conviction and devotion to their sound, adds to the intrigue and charm. But listening to Innocence also raises some questions.
How was The Children of Power received by other Christians, not to mention the rest of the musical scene? Were they seen as legit or ridiculed for not being Christian enough (or, as the case may be, being too Christian)? And to the extent that they were part of it, what was the British indie/underground Christian music scene like in the early ’90s?
The Children of Power broke up shortly after Innocence’s release, with members forming other, even more obscure projects including The Garden Party, Seranance, and Zonei. Which raises perhaps the most important and unanswerable question of all: What might’ve been had The Children Power stayed together and continued to develop their sound?
Based on what I hear in Innocence, part of me thinks they could have achieved the same status that artists like Dead Artist Syndrome and Lifesavers Underground now enjoy in Christian circles. Or, put another way, had The Children of Power stayed around longer, I suspect they would’ve been in constant rotation back in the Asylum tent.
We Cast Out the Devil by Christian Image
First things first: the sound quality of We Cast Out the Devil is precisely what you’d expect from a demo recorded in 1990: it’s rough, unpolished, and at times, nigh-unlistenable. Some songs start or cut off unexpectedly, the mix is muddy, and if tape hiss bugs you, steer clear. And yet, there’s nevertheless something fascinating about the Belgian trio’s music, raw as it may be.
Much of that is due to the psychedelic sounds that fill the album’s twelve songs, thanks to Laszlo H’s fiery guitars, and even moreso, Dorothe V’s “metalized” violin — sounds that contain more ambition then you might expect from a group of goth punks. On tracks like “Jesus Christ,” “Stand Up,” “World Without the Holy Spirit,” and the title track, the band’s sonics swirl and tendril around the user with the icy menace that can make goth music so bracing. At times, Laszlo H’s razor-sharp riffs remind me of Lycia; at other times, they evoke a punkier Cocteau Twins.
Lyrically, the band is completely transparent about their Christian beliefs. There’s no poetic ambiguity in songs like “Stand Up,” which implores people to follow Jesus (“He can forgive your sins/He can break your night/He’s the only one who can give you everlasting life”) or “Rapture,” which rants against sexual immorality before ending with a plea for Jesus’ return. One of the album’s conceptual highlights is “Lonely Heart,” which imagines God’s sadness over man’s sinfulness (“Do you know the almighty God is a being with lonely heart?/Created men to be His friend but we choose to ignore Him”).
Aside from this barebones fan site — which includes some lyrics and scans of the band’s features in a zine called Christian Power — and the odd review, there’s precious little about Christian Image online. And so the band ultimately remains a curio. For all its roughness, We Cast Out the Devil is a fascinating snapshot from a realm of Christian music that most people probably never even knew existed. And as with The Children of Power, it’s hard to not wonder what might’ve been had Christian Image kept recording, preferably with a decent recording studio and budget.
Endless Frontier by New Society
Unlike Children of Power and Christian Image, New Society — which consists of Rick Roman Jr. and various collaborators — lasted beyond the ’90s, and if their Soundcloud page is any indication, is still active to some degree. They’ve also been far more prolific, releasing music on Roman’s own Roman Recordings label as well as R.E.X. Music and Blacklight Records.
Endless Frontier compiles tracks from several ’90s-era releases (e.g., 1990’s True Faith, 1992’s Children of the Beast). It also features songs from an earlier Roman project called Society Mode which began in the late ’80s before turning into New Society. Influenced by Chicago’s Wax Trax! Records — a seminal label in the electro-industrial scene that released music by Ministry, Revolting Cocks, and Front Line Assembly, to name a few — New Society’s early recordings feature stripped down industrial fare that bears easy comparison to another important Christian industrial act, Deitiphobia. But Endless Frontier isn’t just for old school rivetheads; it’s more diverse than that.
There are shades of New Order’s energetic sequencer-driven pop in “Temptation (Kick Mix),” “New Election,” and “Rumors” while “Separation” and “Beware the Nicolaitan (In Between)” (a reference to an early Christian heresy) evoke Front 242’s aggressive “electronic body music.” “The Crucified” dabbles in lo-fi electro-punk and “White Room” and “The End Vision” (which liberally borrows from The Cure’s “A Forest”) are experiments in wiry post-punk. Speaking of experiments, there’s even some sound collage work with “The Real Pledge,” which critiques the unholy marriage of patriotism and consumerism. (The sound quality of some of these early recordings is a bit dodgy, but Roman has released more polished versions of certain songs as recently as 2017.)
New Society’s songs possess the sort of candor and bluntness you find in much of Christian industrial music. Which is precisely why it appealed to me when I discovered it back in the early ’90s (and continues to fascinate me to this day). It felt so much more real, edgy, and confrontational, especially when compared to the music emerging from CCM circles at the time. The lyrics’ “in your face”-ness and willingness to address topics including sexual temptation, social decay, political corruption, and hypocrisy, appealed to the part of me that wanted to rebel and fight the power while still remaining a faithful Christian.
Why care so much about some obscure Christian acts from the late ’80s and early ’90s, acts that faded long ago and left little, if any, legacy? Well, as I wrote above, there’s precious little understanding of Christian music history — especially when it comes to various underground genres — and I’d like to do a little bit to counteract that.
It’s a shame that so many promising artists and releases have come and gone with ‘nary a word about their efforts, efforts that are all a part of the colorful, fascinating, and diverse world that was and is indie/underground Christian music.
But beyond that, I find albums like these inspirational, though not in the cheesy way that’s so often associated with Christian music. These days, Christian artists like Sufjan Stevens, Starflyer 59, and Woven Hand receive considerable acclaim regardless, and even because of, the expression of their faith through their music. But three decades ago?
Artists like The Children of Power, Christian Image, and New Society were making music that stood out from both the Christian and secular crowds — I suspect they were too dark and edgy for the former and, considering the upfront Christian nature of their lyrics, too church-y for the latter — and that sort of outsider ambition and conviction deserves some respect and recognition.
These releases, plus many more from the early days of Christian indie/alternative/punk music, can be purchased from Key Records.