Turn on the radio, pick up a music magazine or check concert listings, and it won’t be long before one fact slams you like a size-12 boot in a mosh pit: Rock & roll feels fresh again.

Rock never went away, of course; and, to borrow from classic-rock icon Neil Young, it may never die. But, at times, it seemed like it needed a trip to the emergency room. In the last 15 years, pop, country and R&B have eaten away at rock’s once-dominant share of music sales. Flavor-of-the-month trends (remember ska and electronica?) diverted fans, and the prominent rise of hip-hop seemed like the final nail in the coffin. At one point a few years ago, Rolling Stone’s front cover featured U2 and the telling headline: “U2001 – Making the World Safe for Rock & Roll.”

But, welcome to 2004. Rock seems to have found its footing again – not only in the overall market but in Christian music, too. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, rock accounted for 25 percent of all music bought in America in 2002 – about the same level as in 1998. That’s still higher than country (11 percent) and about the same as hip-hop and R&B combined. Pop actually declined between 2001 and 2002 – down to 9 percent.

Need further proof? Witness rock’s big showing in CCM’s latest Readers’ Choice issue (January), which had a more decidedly rock tilt than last year, as it gave awards to Pillar, Sanctus Real and Relient K. And the top three vote-getters for “Favorite Artist” were all bands. Even one of 2003’s most popular movies, "The School of Rock," featured a down-on-his-luck rocker looking for redemption.

So why is rock reigniting in the Christian community? Maybe it’s a desire for authenticity, a delayed reaction to the late-’90s sugary excess of boy bands and pre-fab pop singers. Perhaps it’s because the modern-worship movement was sparked by rock bands such as Delirious, Sonicflood, Third Day and the David Crowder Band. Or maybe there’s just something irresistible about six strings, three chords and a Marshall amp cranked to 11. Either way, rock, once again, seems to have found a way to revitalize itself and recapture listeners.

“I think people get tired of the fads, and they want something that’s real that they can relate to,” says Jerry Morrison, bass player for rockers Bleach. The band released its fifth album, "Astronomy," last year on Tooth & Nail and just announced its impending breaking up. “Pop music tends to get sort of plastic and somewhat fake after a while. Even some of the bands you know get into a rut where it all kind of starts to sound the same. People are copying each other, and it turns into something sterile. But there will always be a rock & roll band that will come out and have this fresh, new sound.”

To get a handle on the state of Christian rock in 2004, CCM talked to more than a dozen artists and industry pros. We surveyed the landscape of last year’s hottest releases and concert draws and looked ahead to new artists who may help shape rock in the coming year. Again and again, a theme emerged: Rock remains vital to Christian music, thanks largely to the passion of its artists and fans.

“It’s such a unique thing,” says Matt Thiessen of pop-punk band Relient K, talking about the energy at his band’s shows. “I mean, where else in the world do you ever encounter rock stars or anything like that? You know – individuals from stage causing complete chaos within a crowd of people, who are singing along to every word? You never see painters having a show at a gallery and people coming from all over the place and just going crazy. I think rock & roll is a one-of-a-kind thing. There’s nothing else in the world like it, so there will always be a place for it.”