Metal Montag: Norma Jean, The Chariot
by James Glazebrook
Tenuous Berlin link here, but it’s my birthday and I’ll post metal if I want to! OK, so the big day’s not until Sunday, but that’s also when the gods(?) of Christian metalcore, Norma Jean and The Chariot, roll into town. If a lot of what I’ve just said intrigues yet confuses you, scroll down to read a blog post I wrote when I first discovered the oft-overlooked subgenre that no one really calls “white metal”. And if you want a taste of metal’s most self-righteous (and therefore, best) niche, listen to this Spotify playlist and check out the following: Norma Jean’s Sledgehammer nightmare of a video for “Deathbed Athiest” and The Chariot’s “Then Came to Kill” – a collaboration with, of all people, Paramore cutie pie Hayley Williams.
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Highway to Heaven
Life was tough as a teenage Christian metal fan. That is, a Christian who was also a fan of metal, not a fan of Christian metal – although they must’ve had it really hard, as the scene at the time pretty much consisted of Stryper, four gay ponies in spandex wasp outfits.
Not that I cared what anyone else thought of me (anyone who’s seen my photo album can attest to that), especially not small-minded middle-class baptists. They could tut-tut all they liked at my Sunday best – Faith No More and Pantera t-shirts (a favourite all-over print featured both the words “Cowboys from Hell” and, tucked away on the side, subversive messages like “Sex”). But, like every good metal fan, I just loved to be hated.
But I did worry about what God thought. Say, when I settled down to pray, having spent the last hour screaming along to Nine Inch Nails: “God is dead /and no-one cares /if there is a Hell /I’ll see you there”. I used to wonder, if this really is the devil’s music, and I have to give it up for Him, well… what if I can’t? And so I’ve spent half my life convinced that I’m going to Hell, and not reveling in it the way a Slayer fan should.
Today’s metal fans needn’t worry – they can have their crucifix-shaped cake and eat it (although they should worry about indulging in such sacrilegious foodstuffs). Some of the best bands are God-botherers – Underoath, As I Lay Dying, Norma Jean – and they’re as aggressive and uncompromising as the Satanists. In a scene still dominated by people who aren’t keen on organised religion, being badge-wearing born-agains is the ultimate rebellion. A niche within a niche that defies all expectations, and guarantees that even your fellow Kerrang! readers will hate you? A metaller’s dream.
Texan metalcore outfit Oh, Sleeper are leading the charge. Their debut “When I Am God” became my new favourite album long before I learned of its spritual undertones. (This might sound stoopid, given its title, but the use of religious imagery in metal is usually blasphemous.) The sing/scream style of Micah (good biblical name) Kinard gives voice to an inner turmoil, a spiritual struggle within, and makes the fairly hymn-book lyrics sound totally badass: “So when Hell is at the gates /who will stand and meet the waves /and take the fight to their graves /to end the dark campaign?” They’re clever too – just check out Kinard’s explanation of the broken pentagram symbol that adorns the cover of their new concept album “Son of the Morning” here. Smart.
Not so smart is Brian “Head” Welch. He dropped out of nu metal goons Korn to do a whole shitload of crystal meth, and then dropped the drugs for God. His music is a straight splicing of his former band with Marilyn Manson, his lyrics the worst kind of “walk in my shoes” testimonial, and his only real gift to the world is this unintentionally hilarious interview (taster: “So in my head I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to accept Christ in front of everybody right now and I’m gonna go home and snort drugs until I don’t wanna do ’em anymore’… “)
Both Welch and Oh, Sleeper headlined Tomfest 2009, the only festival I seriously considered this year. But I only found out about it the day before it started, and flights to Washington state, US, were on the pricey side. The line-up featured over 130 of the brightest and best underground metal acts (plus “Head”), and they were all Christians. No doubt it would’ve been hard to get a drink and I would’ve had to take my own laughing gas, but even so, I’m sure it would’ve kicked Ozzfest and the Warped tours asses (but without using the a-word).
So does that mean you can now worship both God and heavy metal? Hell yeah!
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