A Christian 'Heavy-Metal' Band Makes Its Mark on the Secular Music Industry
The term "heavy metal" was coined to describe the loud, driving, guitar-based music popularized in the late 1960s. Over the years, bands have added new connotations to the term. A group called Black Sabbath combined heavy-metal music with occult symbols and odes to the Devil. A few years later, a band named KISS set new standards for outlandish makeup and lewd lyrics.
More recently, groups like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, and Twisted Sister have taken themes of generalized rage, sexual abandon, drug abuse, violence, and despair into the homes of millions of young record buyers. Billboard magazine reported that of the 59 albums certified platinum (signifying 1 million copies sold) last year, 10 were in the heavy-metal category. That figure is up from 5 in 1983. With the growing appeal of heavy-metal music, the National Coalition on Television Violence has called attention to the destructive potential of music videos, many of which graphically depict violence and rebellion.
In contrast to those sinister influences, a new heavy-metal band is shattering the stereotypes. A four-member group called Stryper is adding a Christian dimension to heavy-metal music. The band's members—wearing costumes adorned with chains and metal studs—look like members of other popular heavy-metal groups. Stryper's latest album was released by the same record company that launched Mötley Crüe and Ratt. But that is where the similarities end.
The lyrics to Stryper's songs, and the band's on-stage performance, distance it from its secular counterparts. During concerts, the four-man band throws Bibles into the audience. In a song called "From Wrong to Right," Stryper sings: "So many bands give the devil all the glory—it's hard to understand. We want to change the story."
Stryper has received coverage in Rolling Stone and other rock music magazines, and was featured on television's Entertainment Tonight. In interviews with the media, band members explain such things as why a reference to Isaiah 53:5 (" … with his stripes we are healed") is part of their logo.
"When you're in court, both sides have an attorney," said Michael Sweet, the band's 24-year-old lead singer and guitarist. "But in rock-and-roll or the entire secular music business today, no one tells God's side of the story. Nobody stands for what's right. The number one thing for us is to tell people about Jesus—especially the young kids—in a way they can understand."
Combining Christian lyrics with rock music is nothing new. Gospel music companies have promoted sanitized hard-rock bands for 15 years. Stryper is different because it records on a secular record label, its albums are sold widely in secular retail outlets, and it appears on stage with secular heavy-metal bands.
Christian rock bands such as Petra, Rez Band (formerly Resurrection Band), Barnabas, and Jerusalem have been largely unsuccessful in selling albums and concert tickets to the unchurched. "The machinery is not geared for us to go into the secular stores and sell our records," said Ray Nenow, president of Refuge Records, a Christian record company.
Stryper's Sweet said part of the problem with religious rockers is that their theology is stronger than their music. "If you're out there in the secular world and you don't have Christ, you're not going to see a group because they talk about Christ," he said. "You're going to go hear a band because they're good, and because they have a good stage show. Stryper is trying to stay away from being known as a Christian band. We want to be known as a metal band for Christ."