ROCKIN’ on Heaven’s Door
As Corey Weaver prepares for another gig with his bandmates in Bloodline Severed, the curious nature of the venue doesn’t strike him as being the least bit ironic. The band is gearing up for what will be yet another night of blistering metal guitar riffage, bone-shattering skin bashing and some of the heaviest, coarsest vocals this side of Slayer provided by none other than Weaver himself. Meanwhile, baristas upstairs dispense lattes and dole out chocolaty baked goods to those in attendance.
You see, Bloodline Severed are putting on a Saturday night show at a coffee shop, certainly not the usual venue of choice for snarling metalheads. The peculiarity doesn’t end there, however. The coffee shop is Confluence Coffee, a nonprofit business operated by the River Church, and Bloodline Severed is a hardcore metal band whose love for Jesus is just as pervasive as the intense volume blaring from their Marshall stacks. The Power of Christ compels him to rock and Weaver wouldn’t have it any other way. Though he and others in the band enjoy plenty of secular metal on their own time, the music that they write and play is of a clear Christian nature. There’s no beating around the bush with merely positive themes that could be construed as ambiguously spiritual. It’s pointed and grounded deeply in the religious faith of each of the four band members. “If we did anything else in this band, I wouldn’t be in it,” Weaver declared. “Positive music is fine, but it just doesn’t work for me. It’s either all the way or not at all.” Weaver wants to be clear that the band’s intention is not to shove their religion down anyone’s throat. They make it a point never to use their stage as a pulpit in secular environs, though they may say a few words about their mission during the occasional guitar change in churches or other places they deem appropriate. They play just as many bars as they do churches all over the Southeast, but their message is consistent throughout. “We just tell the people in bars that we are a Christian band and that we love Jesus Christ with all our heart,” Weaver said. “If anyone would like to talk to us about that, they can do so back at the merch table.” Without that kind of preface, the evangelical nature of their music would be completely lost on most. Like many other metal bands, the guttural howling makes interpreting the lyrics word for word nearly impossible. But Weaver contends that their vehicle of choice facilitates the release of emotional frustrations and is simply an alternative worship experience, especially among teenagers. It strays far from traditional pew-and-pulpit worship service, of course, but similar styles are becoming more and more commonplace and accepted among progressive-minded ministries. One of those is EagleRock Ministries in Archdale, which operates Greensboro’s Caf’ Jam. While the somewhat vanilla exterior of the venue on High Point Road can be deceptive, the interior houses one of the more sophisticated lighting and sound rigs in the greater Triad area. When they aren’t playing host to local and national Christian rock, hip-hop and jazz acts, Pastor TL Lineberry and his all-volunteer staff hold Sunday nightworship services. Why Sunday night? Like any other live music venue,they work until the wee hours, and early-morning service isn’tpractical for many in the congregation. That’s not to say thatLineberry, affectionately known as “Pastor T,” is a gun-slinging rookieminister who does things his own way, tradition be damned. Hehas shepherded his own flock and been a youth pastor for more than 30years, but became disenchanted with the conventional church model thathe saw as stubborn, allowing young people to drift away. It seemsunnecessary to compare sustaining a church to a company growing itscustomer base, but sometimes the only choice is to adapt the businessplan to meet the needs of a critical demographic. “I saw thatthe pews, the choirs and the organs just came to represent boredom forthe kids,” Lineberry said. “Meanwhile, I’m standing there in athree-piece suit expecting them to relate to the message.” Lineberryopened Caf’ Jam in October 1998 as an unconventional approach to youthoutreach and hasn’t looked back. He’s provided a place for musiciansthat often felt turned away and outright shunned because of theirmethods of worshipping. He receives as many as 30 booking inquiriesevery week from bands looking to play his state-of-the-art venue andloyal crowds that keep the operation going. Susan Borwick, aprofessor of music at Wake Forest University, associated faculty at thedivinity school and an ordained minister, sympathizes with Lineberry’sstance. She agrees that music has proved itself to be an effective toolfor fellowship and community building. “The most commonquestion that young people ask today is, ‘How is the gospel relevant,’”Borwick stated. “Christian popular music helps because people oftenlearn their beliefs through the music they sing and hear.” Butchurch-sponsored stages aren’t the only entities in the area becomingmore receptive to the growing popularity of spiritual music.Full-service bars are opening their doors as well, such as the casewith the Soundvent in Thomasville. Susan Montgomery and Mike Loughlinhave owned the Soundvent since January with a primary focus on hardrock. But the growing demand for concerts of an evangelical naturecould not be ignored and they have instituted a model to accommodateit. “We wanted to diversify because we’ve always had the metal bands onthe weekends and we wanted to pick up the clientele,” Montgomery said.“We especially wanted to open up to Christian bands because they don’treally have a lot of places to play.” Montgomery’s goal is to reserveThursday night for Christian acts while maintaining regular booking onweekends, but that isn’t expected to happen consistently until thesummer. As it stands, the majority of their customers are of highschool age, thus limited by curfews. Even many of the bands themselvesare underage, preventing them from playing late shows on weeknights dueto labor laws. While Montgomery is moderately happy with the handful ofThursday events that the Soundvent has had, the new hours haven’tcompletely caught on yet. “People think the place is still closed onThursdays, so we’re hoping these few nights help people adjust beforethe summer,” she said. “But even the smaller crowds we’ve had have hada very positive attitude.” It is that same upbeat nature ofthe fans that belie the stereotypes to which detractors of hard,aggressive music often point. Weaver says musicians like him have beensubjected to what he laments as the reproachful nature oftraditionalists who use the premise of “in the world, but not of it” asthe primary argument against his methods. He understands why some mightdisapprove of the style, but asserts that looking a certain way orplaying a certain type of music is not synonymous with being faithful.
‘If we didanything else in this band, I wouldn’t be in it. Positive music isfine, but it just doesn’t work for me. It’s either all the way or notat all.’
“Psalm 150:5 says to ‘praise Him with loud, crashing symbols’ andthat’s what we do,” Weaver said. “All we are is a little fishing luretrying to reel people in with good, positive music that upliftsChrist.” Criticism doesn’t come primarily from religiousconservative religious institutions, however. A considerable element ofsecular media have long taken a derisive stance toward Christian rockmusic, often deriding it as a trite, hackneyed art form and evenfalling prey to crass commercialism in some of its most popularinstances. Like most worthwhile satirical commentary,criticism of popular Christian rock music in contemporary mediacertainly has its roots in some modicum of reality. One of themost notorious instances came in a 2003 episode of “South Park”entitled “Christian Rock Hard,” where characters formed areligious-themed rock group solely for financial gain. While thecharacters’ modus operandi was to use lyrics from popular songsand merely replace words such as “baby” with references to JesusChrist, such a notion isn’t as completely
farfetchedas it may sound. It was simply a reverberation of a commonly heldbelief among both secular and Christian musicians alike that the genre,even at its best, was not a knock-off of ideas well in place. The ideathat Christian rock, particularly during the ’80s and ’90s, is bereftof originality was even expressed by one of the first to take up itsreins. Drummer Kris Klingensmith of the now-defunct actBarnabas, possibly the first Christian metal act on record, had as muchto say in a 1999 interview with Christian Metal Resource. “TheBody of Christ has never been very good when it comes to originalthinking, but she is a master at taking what the world is doing andmaking it her own,” Klingensmith stated. “If you want to know whatChristian music will be doing tomorrow, all you need to do is see whatthe secular guys are doing today.” Klingensmith also addedthat since Christian musicians have always imitated the styles set offby the secular world, the advent of Christian metal was highlypredictable. Along with that came the inevitable prospect of doctrinalconflict, however, as Barnabas and similar bands came under fire fromvarious church organizations and the religious media. JerryFalwell, Jimmy Swaggart and others objected to heavy metal, primarilydue to its more insidious associations, being framed in a Christianperspective, with most followers of the King James-only doctrine andSeventh Day Adventists opposing all Christian music in a secularcontext. Though Barnabas eventually disbanded in 1986, anotheract became the first Christian metal band to record a platinum albumand also the first of the Contemporary Christian category. Stryper’s To Hell with the Devil wonthem a Grammy nomination and extensive airplay on MTV, but they wouldeventually abandon their religious themes for an entirely secular stylein 1990. Unable to withstand criticism from their fans for the switch,the band splintered and eventually faltered permanently in 1992. It mayhave been a high-water mark for Christian headbangers, but the genrewould by no means disappear. In fact, as time progressed, somechurches did become more accepting of the style as its relationshipwith the darker metal subculture dissipated. This change of heart wastacitly encouraged by a disturbing trend among many of its youngerfollowers that, though acknowledged for years, wasn’t made public until2002. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on Family Life reportedthat an estimated 88 percent of evangelically-raised children left thechurch shortly after graduating from high school, leaving the churchdesperate to find a way to connect with their waning youth population.
“Musichas always been really powerful in transforming people and it hasalways had sort of a generational identity with it,” Borwick stated.“We’re seeing it less and less as a popular style and more as aneffective way for people to hear the church’s message.” Thoughits popularity with a crucial audience would eventually force the handof some in the church in favor of Christian rock, it didn’t necessarilyhappen overnight. The seeds of progress were planted within the last 50years as rock grew and young people continued to associate with it. Theintroduction of popular styles in the church can be traced back to theyears immediately following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s,where the Catholic Church began permitting the use of folk music inmass. But even then, many Catholics became appalled at what they viewedas the iconoclasm of sacred music and democratization of the liturgy. Scottishcomposer James MacMillan argued that the acceptance of such styles madecongregational singing impractical, contradicting centuries-old tenetsof fellowship. Since the primary instrumental accompaniment comes fromthe guitar rather than the organ, there wasn’t a powerful enoughcatalyst to keep an entire congregation singing in unison and providethe instrumental support they had grown to expect from the organ. Butas worship services began to evolve to meet the needs of theirparishioners, it was inevitable for the old ways to blend with the new.With secular habits infiltrating worship practices over generations,the roots of contemporary music are firmly planted within. Accordingto Borwick, much of this was due to the natural by-product of bridgingof generational gaps. “Those who are leaders in the church today arethe same who experienced the birth of popular song in the church,”Borwick said. “It was effective in their lives and they associate theirreligious purposes with pop music because people tend to respond totheir own tastes and needs.” Given the discursive nature ofreligious practices in general, it remains difficult to presume thatthe vehicles of bands like Bloodline Severed will ever gain unilateralacceptance. With a lifespan that pales in comparison to that of thehundreds of years of tradition, it exists as nothing more than a trendthat’s inexplicably tied to its worldly counterpart at this point. Butfor Weaver, his bandmates and other righteous rockers, their missionisn’t about winning an argument over the validity of the music theyplay; it’s the spiritual quest to share their faith with as many aspossible. “It’s about being there to help others relate to themessage in places where it might not ever go otherwise,” Weaver said.“Sometimes it just takes a nudge.”