Faith-based bands talk about being a light in the darkness, but into exactly how dark a place should a band go? For Tampa-based rockers Underoath, the darker the better. In fact, for the past two years, the band has played a New Jersey hardcore festival with a name that will certainly raise a few eyebrows: “Hellfest.”

Sure, a New Yorker might say that’s the perfect name for a festival held in New Jersey, but religious folk free of state rivalry might wonder if a Christian band should be playing such a show at all. Knowing how boldly they embrace their values, these Sunshine State boys would, without a doubt, beg to differ.

“Hellfest is a three-day, hardcore fest with 6,000 kids; and it’s insane,” explains guitarist Tim McTague. “It’s funny because it was at the same time as ‘Cornerstone’ last year; so Norma Jean, Beloved and [our band] went straight there after ‘Cornerstone’ and played on the last day. The big joke was that all the Christian bands were playing ‘Hellfest’ on Sunday. It seems like a lame joke, but it’s kind of funny if you look at it.”

Does playing such a music festival pay off? Underoath finds the answer when the guys read and respond to all their e-mail. The most common questions come from kids who see the band members at shows like “Hellfest” and ask about their faith.

“A lot of non-Christian kids hear the lyrics and see that we are on Tooth & Nail, and they want to find out what our deal is,” explains McTague. “We always answer the same way: ‘It’s what we believe in and why this band started. No matter what music or members change, that focus will never be lost. Without it, Underoath isn’t Underoath anymore.’ I know a lot of bands like to say how they are Christians in a band but not a ‘Christian band.’ I respect everyone’s opinion, but that’s not what we are about. We are not ashamed of what we believe because it’s what we are all about as a band.”

Underoath — whose members include six-stringers McTague and James Smith, vocalist Spencer Chamberlain, bassist Grant Brandell, drummer Aaron Gillespie and keyboardist Christopher Dudley — finds itself making an impact in the mainstream market with its new hit album, "They’re Only Chasing Safety." The video for “Reinventing Your Exit” is already playing on music channels MTV2 and Fuse, and the band backed up the buzz as a mainstay act on the entire “2004 Vans Warped Tour.” And beyond the TV exposure, the new album has sold more than 50,000 albums in only two months — impressive numbers for any type of artist, much less a hardcore act. Underoath also “crossed over” with its previous releases, but "They’re Only Chasing Safety" is such a strikingly innovative hardcore album that the entire scene is taking notice. In fact, the band boasts so much creative growth that it was actually bumped from Solid State to its big brother label, Tooth & Nail.

And with the opportunity to play the general-market shows and tours, the band feels it’s found an untapped ministry niche. Underoath has the opportunity to reach many non-Christian kids because so many are fans, a result of the band’s music being so authentic and creative. Comments McTague, “You have to know ‘what’s up;’ and if someone doesn’t feel he is connecting with you on a certain level, you aren’t going to break through to him. Half the kids we talk to at shows won’t go near a church. They feel like they need to meet a certain criteria to be accepted, and that’s our ministry — to bridge that gap and show people the love and acceptance of Christ.”