8. The Prayer Chain: Shawl

the prayer chain -shawl
Reunion Records, 1993

Shawl was like nothing ever heard before when it came out. That’s as far as Christian music went, and The Prayer Chain had certainly been listening to the shifting soundscape of rock ‘n’ roll in the early ’90s and bands such as Nirvana, although Kurt Cobain and his band weren’t the first play punked-up grunge.

And Shawl was an alternative rock gem from a band that was really, really good and had made leaps and bounds from its debut, the Whirlpool EP. Everything came together for The Prayer Chain on Shawl. The first side is absolutely brilliant. Crawl is a great anthemic opener (“to shine is dead!”), while Dig Dug, Fifty-Eight and Like I Was are equally great. Then the band shows an amazing versatility on The Hollow, a haunting number with sparse instrumentation highlighted by superb percussion. The record doesn’t lag halfway through either. Never Enough ramps things up to a fever pitch, a spectacular soaring song about the blood of Jesus. The follow-up Wrounde is oh so good, kind of reminiscent of the direction the band took on Mercury. Pure is another can’t miss gem, and the closer Psycho Flange is superbly constructed, a moody rocker that doesn’t relent.

Repeated listens are necessary with Shawl, not because it takes the music a while to grow on you, but because it’s that good. This CD was one of the ones I played to death back in ’93 and for years after that. You really can’t go wrong with the Prayer Chain, and Shawl is ’90s Christian rock at its best.

 

9. Bride: Live To Die

bride-live to die
Pure Metal, 1988

Live to Die is Bride. It’s what made the band great, before Dale and Troy Thompson and co. hit a homerun with Snakes In the Playground. But don’t get me wrong. Snakes was a great record, an excellent hard rock album. However, Live to Die didn’t bow to any set formula, or to what “critics” and record “execs” deemed as bankable.

For one thing, on Live to Die, Dale’s voice is frighteningly high and downright shrill at times. However, it suits the music fine. Not that Thompson doesn’t have a great voice on Psychedelic Super Jesus, Everybody Knows My Name and Would You Die For Me, three of the band’s hard rock anthems that came after Live to Die and Silence is Madness, the latter of which was the band’s final record of the ’80s. It’s just that I’d take Out For Blood, Hell No and Heroes over those three any day of the week. Heck, and what about Here Comes the Bride? A brutal, thrasher that makes Bloodgood’s legendary Black Snake sound tame.

The title track Live to Die, though, is probably my favorite Bride song of all time. It’s punctuated by Thompson’s high-pitched vocals, great lyrics and heavy instrumentation. Like I said, this is the record that I associate with Bride. Don’t get me wrong, though. The band’s body of work in the early ’90s is quality stuff, and Thompson is without doubt the greatest singer ever in the Christian hard rock/metal genre. But the apocalyptic doom and gloom (check out that album cover!) and no-holds barred approach the band took on Live to Die make it one of the greatest Christian hard rock records ever made.

10. Stryper: Soldiers Under Command

Stryper-soldiers
Engima, 1985

This was the record that converted me into a full-blown Stryper fan and the first Stryper record I ever heard. It ultimately turned me on to hard music and it’s a great album, right from the title track Soldiers Under Command right on through to the beefed traditional refrains of Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Musically, it’s pure heavy metal, with fiery guitar work by Michael Sweet and Oz Fox that’s always good. With Tim Gaines laying down some thick bass lines, and Robert Sweet’s no-nonsense drummer, the long-haired, spandex-clad foursome certainly had honed its act by the time Soldiers Under Command came out. It climbed just a bit higher than the Yellow and Black Attack and set the table nicely for the band’s quintessential record, To Hell With the Devil. For sure, Michael Sweet has a great set of pipes and the harmonies are stellar, never better than on Makes Me Wanna Sing. And when Sweet hits that high note at the end of the song, it’s almost surreal. While the opener is good, Surrender, Rock That Makes Me Roll, and Together For Ever are all above average metal songs. The only knock on Stryper, well on heavy metal band’s in general, are the bland ballads. The record would be just fine without First Love and Together as One.

Stryper was my favorite band for a time in the mid-’80s. But that was before In God We Trust, a record in which the band’s act had worn thin and thankfully the last with the yellow-and-black wardrobe. In its time, though, Stryper was just as good or better than Ratt, Poison, Cinderella, Warrant and other glam metal bands that married long hair with tight pants. The genre certainly sounds tired nowadays, but there are still times when spinning Soldiers Under Command is not just a taste of nostalgia, but a great way to rock out.

11. The Chariot: Wars and Rumors of Wars

chariot-warsandrumours
(Solid State, 2009)

Abrasive, chaotic and furious, The Chariot’s Wars and Rumors of Wars is a hardcore record that takes the band to new heights. Screamer Josh Scroggin’s act never wears thin, despite the numerous line-up changes that have befallen The Chariot. Wars and Rumors of Wars was the band’s third record, and an absolute burner at that.

Take the opener Teach which is superbly constructed. It bashes about and smashes into the chorus with shouts of “White Flag,” then breaks away into crunching guitar and Scroggin yelling the unforgettable line “victory is such a lonely word.” The second track, Evolve, is equally as compelling. It’s a brutal mess of electric guitars and drums, and when Scroggin shouts “stay calm, stay calm!” amidst the background of noise, you know the band is cooking. The rest of the songs? Well it’s more of the same sonic assault. Daggers is clearly among the best tracks, and the closer Mrs. Montgomery Alabama ii is excellent. The thing that makes the record good, though, is the way the band intersperses  pummelling hardcore with lengthy breaks of feedback (Need), ominous guitar-only outros (Impress) or the subdued guitar/drums/howls that opens Abandon.

As with all The Chariot records, Wars and Rumors is not for the faint of heart. It is Converge-like in its delivery, thick walls of noise with plenty of abrupt stops, sudden starts and frequent breakdowns. The music is firmly planted in the metalcore/mathcore genre, but The Chariot, though, is a hard band to pin down, ’cause you just never know what lies around the corner. That’s what makes listening to The Chariot so interesting, and Wars and Rumors could very well be the best hardcore record I own.

TRACKS:

1. Teach:
2. Evolve:
3. Need:
4. Impress.
5. Never I
6. Giveth
7. Abandon:
8. Daggers
9. Oversea
10. Mrs. Montgomery Alabama ii

LISTEN HERE:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Wars+And+Rumors+Of+Wars/3462420

12. Undercover: Branded

(Blue Collar, 1986)
(Blue Collar, 1986)

Branded is the definitive Undercover record, the one in which happy-clappy Jesus songs ran headlong into the ins and outs of life. It’s the result of faith tested by fire, of life lived outside the vacuum of church culture where one is forced to make sense of how to live in the world while not being of it.

And it was a breath of fresh air in terms of honesty. Christian, yes, but I’m Just a Man seems to sum up the response that hey, we’re all sinners. Branded is not always an easy listen. There’s a stark fury and ragged honesty on Darkest Hour, an emotional, confessional plea, and the song that is the highlight of the record. Musically, the record flirts with new wave such as on the keyboard-driven The Fight for Love, but also plays it hard and heavy, no more so than on the pounding thrash beat of Tears in Your Eyes.

For sure, Branded is a verified Christian rock classic. It takes on emotional toll on the listener, who is taken to various heights and depths as the music rises and falls, all in the capable, talented hands of Undercover.

TRACKS:

1. I’m Just A Man 2. The Fight For Love 3. Where Can I Go? 4. Tears In Your Eyes 5. Pilate 6. Build A Castle 7. Cry Myself To Sleep 8. Prelude (instrumental) 9. Darkest Hour 10. Interlude (instrumental) 11. Come Away With Me 12. If I Had A Dream

LISTEN HERE:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Branded+25th+Anniversary+Edition+Disc+1/6404007

13. Daniel Amos: Doppelganger

(Alarma!, 1983)
(Alarma!, 1983)

Heck, Daniel Amos is just too good not to give a three-peat on this list of 100 influential  Christian rock records. Sadly, though, many didn’t make the cut for various reasons. But Doppelganger? Well, you can’t like Daniel Amos and not like Doppelganger. And although Vox Humana opened up my world to theirs, Doppelganger was the record that turned me into a full blown Daniel Amos fan.

This was the record with Mall (All Over The World). Youth With a Machine. Real Girls. Autographs for the Sick. New Car! There are so many great tracks on this 15-song epic. The record was the fitting sequel to Alarma!, but packed an even more lethal punch.

You can’t go wrong with any number of Daniel Amos records. With DA, the more is the merrier and three is definitely not a crowd. If stuck alone on deserted island with only a single, solitary Daniel Amos record, this would be it. That’s a cruel blow to Fearful Symmetry, Kalhoun, Darn Floor Big Bite, Horrendous Disc and other DA greats. Yup, Daniel Amos is perhaps the greatest Christian rock band ever. Innovative, contemplative, imaginative and always up to the task.

TRACKS:

  1. Hollow Man
  2. Mall (All Over The World)
  3. Real Girls
  4. New Car!
  5. Do Big Boys Cry
  6. Youth With A Machine
  7. The Double
  8. Distance and Direction
  9. Memory Lane
  10. Angels Tuck You In
  11. Little Crosses
  12. Autographs for the Sick
  13. I Didn’t Build It For Me
  14. Here I Am
  15. Hollow Man (Reprise)

LISTEN HERE:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Doppelganger/5130278

14. Steve Taylor: On the Fritz

(Sparrow, 1985)
(Sparrow, 1985)

Well, the CCM’s 500 Best Albums of All Time blog got something right: Steve Taylor’s Meltdown was indeed a masterpiece and deserving of a lofty position in the upper echelon of the greatest Christian rock records ever recorded. It made the top 10, slotted in nicely at #9 just ahead of Charlie Peacock’s Lie Down in the Grass. Of course, every “best of” list is subjective, and possibly suspect. (Amy Grant’s Lead Me On at #20? Are you kidding me? Ahead of Unguarded, and Age to Age?) Anyway, if Grant is lauded as the so-called “queen” of Christian Rock, would Steve Taylor be king?

Probably not. Back in the day, Michael W. Smith was arguably CCM’s most bankable male vocalist, with a hard-pressing David Meece in the mix — and the likes of Steve Taylor and Mark Heard offstage centre. Maybe it was Taylor’s sarcastic wit. His inability to write songs that music executives wanted to hear. Instead, Taylor turned the industry on it’s head and wrote songs that certainly didn’t play it safe or were in the best interest of job security. Case in point: We Don’t Need No Colour Code, Taylor’s jab at Bob Jones University’s policies on Meltdown, which was a great record. But was it as good as On The Fritz?

Well, as we said. Best of lists are subjective and really a matter of personal opinion. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Meltdown, but On the Fritz had some extraordinary moments that give it the edge in my books. I mean, think about Lifeboat. It kind of defines what the record is all about, colouring outside the lines and taking artistic license in the rock ‘n’ roll genre. And the song that follows it, Drive, He Said, is sheer songwriting brilliance.

Truth be told (yes, a subtle nod to Taylor’s Now The Truth Can Be Told, the 18-track box set released in 1994), the lead track on On The Fritz (This Disco) is my least favourite. The rest are gold . I love the haunting honesty of I Just Wanna Know. And those lyrics! How about these: “Build a kingdom with a cattle prod. Tell the masses it’s a message from God” (I Manipulate). Or “You’re entitled to believe, but the latest Gallup Poll. Says you mustn’t interfere, that’s the government’s role” (It’s A Personal Thing).

Taylor’s I Predict 1990 didn’t really lose any of On The Fritz’s wittiness and sarcastic steam. Perhaps his schtick had growing old three years later on Squint, but it was still miles ahead of a lot of Christian music as far as lyrical content/quality entertainment. But everybody has a shelf life, and On The Fritz was as fresh as it gets.

TRACKS:

  1. This Disco (Used to Be a Cute Cathedral)
  2. On The Fritz
  3. It’s a Personal Thing
  4. To Forgive
  5. You’ve Been Bought
  6. You Don’t Owe Me Nothing
  7. I Manipulate
  8. Lifeboat
  9. Drive, He Said
  10. I Just Wanna Know

LISTEN HERE:

http://www.last.fm/music/Steve+Taylor/On+the+Fritz