1. Michael Knott: Screaming Brittle Siren


This is it. The record that blew my mind in the early ’90s as a young adult trying to find my way in a harsh, cruel world. And Screaming Brittle Siren was the soundtrack to the inner angst I felt. Well, that’s probably reading into it a bit too much. Let’s just say I have a soft spot for Screaming Brittle Siren, which is arguably the greatest Michael Knott solo record and perhaps the best Christian rock record ever made.

For starters, the music was raw, the lyrics were poignant and personal, and the instrumentation (yay, cello!) was breathtaking. It’s an adventurous 13 tracks, with the unforgettable, uncomfortable and sensational Crash and Burn. And I love how the record starts with Miles From Shame, which is such a great track. Then, three songs in, you have Apocalypse Lips, which I’ve heard someone refer to as their favorite Michael Knott song ever. Four songs in and you get the haunting Brittle Body with a whole lot of that sweet, sweet cello. It’s magnificent, and segues nicely into Blood on My Hands. There’s just no slow down on this record. The back side of the album is highlighted by the superb Draw The Line, while Gold Silver Soup and Silk is one of the coolest instrumentals you’ll ever hear. But the record would not be complete with I Am No Christ, one of the greatest Knott songs ever put to tape. And I absolutely love how, despite all doom and gloom of Knott’s inner torment and agony over sin, doubt and faith, the record ends on a hopeful high with Shine a Light.

Yup, Screaming Brittle Siren is a great, great record deserving of a fair amount of gushing over. Of course, that’s just one man’s opinion. But if there was only one Christian rock record I could take with me to that proverbial deserted island, this would be it.


2. Vengeance: Human Sacrifice

(Intense, 1988)

There have been few moments in Christian rock music history when past precedents have been completely annihilated. And fittingly, when Vengeance (later to be known as Vengeance Rising due to legal matters) burst onto Christian bookstore shelves in 1988, it did so on the Intense Records label.

And intense they were. Human Sacrifice was perhaps the greatest Christian thrash album ever recorded, although the 180-degree denunciation of faith by lead singer Roger Martinez has somewhat tarnished the bands legacy. But Human Sacrifice was a rare album that caught hard music lovers off guard. It was intense from the album cover, a spike driven through the nail of a bloodied hand into a cross of wood, to the growling screams of Martinez, that gave the band its definitive sound and made Stryper sound like Sandi Patti. Just listening to the screams at the end of the final track Beheaded is proof enough.

Can’t miss tracks on Human Sacrifice include the title track, Burn, I Love Hating Evil, White Throne, From the Dead and the instrumental Ascension. But there really isn’t a bad track among the 13, although a couple hardly qualify given their length. Musically, the guitar work by Larry Farkas and Doug Theime is lethal. Glenn Mancaruso absolutely destroys the drums and Roger Martin shreds on bass. Add in Martinez’s raspy, near-indecipherable shouts and growls and you have a perfect mix of raw, gritty thrash. Once Dead, the band’s 1990 follow up, may have been a better record in my opinion, but Human Sacrifice was the ground-breaking, ear-splitting record that landed like a bomb on the CCM industry in 1988. It was indeed a moment of shock and awe, and Human Sacrifice is definitely a genre classic.


3. Resurrection Band: D.M.Z.

Rez band-dmz
(Light Records, 1982)

Well, the thing with Resurrection Band is there are just so many good records to listen to. The Christian hard rock pioneers have a bulging discography, and it’s really hard to settle on just one record as THE one to own. And I’m not sure if D.M.Z. would be THAT record, but I do have a fondness for this one.

For starters, it was my first Rez Band album — and has  Military Man, which begins with a great guitar riff and never relents. Military Man, a concert staple, set the tone for D.M.Z., which just might be the Resurrection Band record that rocks the hardest. Babylon and White Noise are likewise all-out rockers, the former of which begins with a wailing siren. And what about Area 312? It has just a great groove, Wendi’s vocals are good, the drums are awesome and there’s a catchy chorus to boot. The record closes with the wonderful So In Love With You, a keyboard-dominated track that soars along.

Resurrection Band’s greatest record? Maybe not, since Colours often gets the nod. Truth is, you can’t go wrong with anything the band released from 1978-82. D.M.Z. was the band’s fifth record and marked the end of Rez’s early prolific period. Two years later, Rez had moved to a different label (from Light to Sparrow records) and had embraced a slightly different sound on Hostage. In that regard, D.M.Z. was a fitting close to Rez Band’s early work and the shifting sounds of the ’80s.


4. One Bad Pig: Smash

(Pure Metal, 1989)

Well, as a guy who listened to a lot of heavy metal in the ’80s, this record blew my mind. And let’s face it: a steady diet of metal gets boring. But boring Smash was not, and One Bad Pig was not only fun but also rocked really hard. And the way the punk band pieced together highly entertaining songs was brilliant.

I mean, Isaiah 6 was unforgettable, thanks to a great thrashing groove and Cary “Kosher” Womack’s screaming. The record kicks off with Godarchy which set the table nicely for what followed. And the grooves are down right infectious. The guitar riff on People Cry Out is great. At times, the album rips along at a blistering pace. Take A Flying Leap has always been a personal favorite, and I’m Not Getting Any Older is right up there too. But Smash the Guitar and the whacky Looney Tune, which pokes fun at the band’s “stupid” name, are also must listens.

What amazes me all these years later is just how great this record is from start to finish. There really isn’t a bad track on Smash, which was high on screams and always entertained. It certainly set the blueprint for Swine Flew, which didn’t disappoint “Pig” fans either. Some of One Bad Pig’s novelty had worn off by the time I Scream Sunday came out, but the band had one heck of a run – and were absolutely brilliant in concert. Smash could very well be the best Christian punk record ever recorded. It’s certainly lost none of the entertainment value it had when I first bought it in 1989.


5. Lifesavers Underground: Shaded Pain

Frontline, 1987

Whoa. Where do you start with this record, the classic Lifesavers Underground album that yielded a handful of Mike Knott’s iconic songs. We’re talking Die Baby Die, Plague of Flies and Shaded Pain. The record bleeds with punk-rock honesty, with haunting lyrics and vocals. It’s also raw and full of angst, a moody, brooding rock record that doesn’t disappoint.

And while the three aforementioned songs are absolutely outstanding, Tether To Tassel has always been a favorite of mine, and Lonely Boy is oh so good. And the record would not be complete without More to Life, which features a great guitar riff and Knott’s voice alternating between high-pitched wailing and the near-whispered chorus line of “there’s something more to life.” In a word, brilliant. The song sets the stage beautifully for the showstopper Shaded Pain, which is stripped down to piano and accompanies Knott’s anguished singing.

Yup, Shaded Pain is definitely a don’t-miss record from Knott’s catalogue and the best of the Lifesavers/Lifesavors/L.S.Underground bunch. It has a garage-band feel to it, the kind of rough-around-the-edges punk flavour that adds to the record’s appeal. And it has Knott painting beautiful soundscapes with gritty lyrics and superb song structures. This is also definitely a record that only gets better with age.


6. Saint: Time’s End

saint-times end
Pure Metal, 1985

The band described as the Christian version of Judas Priest released arguably the best straight ahead metal record in the history of Christian rock. Even in 2013, Time’s End still rocks. Awesome crunchy guitar riffs. Awesome guitar solos. Awesome album cover. Awesome band.

And what’s amazing about this record is just how catchy the songs are. Saint may play it loud and heavy, but these guys sure know how to write a hook as evidenced on Primed and Ready and Island Prisoner. And man can they rock out. Phantom of the Galaxy is a blistering track that absolutely rips along. That song and the abrupt tempo change that goes into the closer Steel Killer, which plays out in two parts, are the highlight of the record. Of course, Space Cruiser, the opener In The Night and the sludgy, mid-tempo title track Time’s End also shouldn’t be missed.

My only knock on this record? At nine songs, it’s almost too short. But in the time the band does use, it’s all quality music. Too Late for Living proved to be a suitable follow-up to Time’s End, although it lacked some of the punch. As far as heavy metal goes, Saint’s brand of straight forward, no-frills metal on Time’s End is astonishingly good. And although the term may sound tired after a while, Time’s End is indeed a Christian rock classic.


7. The Altar Boys: Gut Level Music

altar boys-glm
Frontline, 1986

Christian music’s friendly punk rockers really pieced together one heck of an album in 1986. Gut Level Music was a welcome jolt of raw, yet melodic rock from the Mike Stand fronted trio that wasn’t shy about its faith. It was a superb follow up to When You’re A Rebel, a record that established the Altar Boys as a viable punk rock outfit.

Gut Level Music, though, was a far more memorable effort. It was a quality record from beginning to end, and somehow the band pulled off a cover of Donna Summer’s Unconditional Love. However, it’s the Altar Boys straight-shooting style on songs such as the title track, I’m Not Talking About Religion and I Question It that really is the band’s forte. And you can’t talk about Gut Level Music without lauding the way the record ends, with Final Hour setting up the closer Life Begins at the Cross. Both songs are amazing and, for sure, it’s gospel 101 for listeners who haven’t grown up in church. For sure, Gut Level Music is an important record from the mid-’80s Christian scene, and without doubt, it was also the band’s best.