The Glory Days of Christian Metalcore
Fourteen-year-old me zips up his black hoodie, covering his black t-shirt littered with skulls, flowers and a snake. He pulls his hood over his straightened hair (he’ll tell himself he styles it to look like his favourite bands but really it’s to hide as much acne as possible). He powers up his 60GB iPod (RIP), sticks in his headphones and puts on Underoath’s They’re Only Chasing Safety. “We all just wanna be somebody, right now we’re just looking for the exit,” the band yells in his ears as he trudges to high school, where he obviously doesn’t want to be. He’d rather be sitting in his basement bedroom (listening to the same music) and browsing through MySpace, looking for the next band that will perfectly capture his teenage angst and religious confusion.
The year was 2004, midway through the glory days of Christian metalcore.
You can call it luck or divine intervention that my awkward teenage years coincided with the explosion of MySpace and social media, as well as the flood of Christian metal bands that populated the “emo/screamo/hardcore/metalcore/whatevercore” scene of the time. The burgeoning social landscape of the internet let me discover so many bands that still mean so much to me, over ten years later. The musical heaviness and emotional intensity of the vocals and lyrics made a fitting mirror for my teenage “angst” and the religious messages both let my parents actually not mind me blasting the music and helped me explore my own faith (the first time I saw Underoath, I went with my dad and we talked about the lyrics the whole drive back).
Looking past the awkward haircuts and embarrassing MySpace selfies, I’m going to try to relive that era and share some of the bands that defined that period of life for me:
Still my all-time favourite band, Underoath was my gateway into the scene. I’d already been heavily into pop-punk by this time and the catchy choruses and clean vocals in 2004’s They’re Only Chasing Safety wasn’t a far cry from bands like Jimmy Eat World and New Found Glory. As soon as I heard “Reinventing Your Exit” on my local Christian radio station’s “heavy” Saturday night show, I was hooked.
I could spend the entire article talking about Underoath so instead I’ll share a song of their 2006 album Define the Great Line, which lyrically deals with intense struggles of faith that still stay relevant for me:
The Devil Wears Prada
This music video is probably the perfect encapsulation of the scene: skinny jeans, tattoos (both of which are still cool, obviously), straight black hair swooping over halves of faces, foreboding churches, dead trees, creepy half-nude children covered in blood, and phrases like “I’m going to pray for you” and “We all found ourselves so horribly weak” harmonized in high-pitched singing and low-pitched screaming. And gosh-dang-it, I still love it all (that’s probably the nostalgia talking).
Haste the Day
No list of Christian metalcore bands would be complete without Haste the Day – their name is literally taken from a hymn.
As I Lay Dying
Before their lead vocalist went to prison for hiring a hitman to kill his wife and admitting there was a phase where the band “faked” their faith to play certain festivals, As I Lay Dying was at the forefront of the scene.
August Burns Red
Still going strong, August Burns Red has to be one of the most consistent bands I know (even the font on their albums has stayed the same). The music is heavy, gritty and ferocious but their lyrics and messages are just so amazingly uplifting – sharing the support and joy they’ve found in faith through their music.
Funny story: I only discovered Emery by hearing Underoath’s “Reinventing Your Exit” on that Christian radio show I mentioned earlier, where the chorus goes “Up against the wall, up against the wall” so I googled “Christian screaming band walls”… and got “Walls” by Emery:
They’re still around and making music, but the band members might be better known for their Bad Christian podcast.
As Cities Burn
As Cities Burn’s 2005 album Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest has actually aged incredibly well, and I wish more current bands were playing with this sound. The lyrics at the time balanced that emo flair with an underlying faith-based message: “Stretch me out across the table / and turn my insides out / turn me into someone else / someone more like yourself”.
There are still so, so many more bands that defined this era for me that I can’t fit in just one post, so here’s a playlist: