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Intersection of Life and Faith

Not a Safe Band

  • Jackie A. Chapman Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 28 Jan
Not a Safe Band
Lead singer Ryan Clark (center) and the rest of Demon Hunter are passionate about meeting youth where they are—including the darkest places. For many, the term "Christian heavy metal band" is something of a paradox, even after years of Petra, Stryper, and other bands as evidence to the contrary. Still, some feel that Demon Hunter appears scarier than most, from their symbolic skull on the album covers to their hardcore metal sound with guttural screams. And yet ironically, few metal bands have made as much an effort to vary their sound and make hardcore metal more musical, or taken as much to explain what the band is about—meeting young listeners where they are to share the love of Christ. Lead singer and songwriter Ryan Clark explains the thinking that went into the making of Demon Hunter's latest record, Storm the Gates of Hell.What are some topics you covered in Storm the Gates of Hell?Ryan Clark The overarching subjects are depression, feeling like an outcast, and feeling alone in your principles and morals. There is a song called "Thorns" that addresses cutting. Songs like "Fading Away" and "Lead Us Home" talk about slipping away spiritually, whether through the monotony of daily life or by living life without giving much attention to the spiritual side of things. And then there are a number of songs like "Storm the Gates of Hell" that are anthemic in terms of standing for your beliefs and being proud of being a Christian.How do you decide what topics to include?Clark An email from a fan will strike a nerve. We tackle issues that we hear about through the news and people around us. Sometimes it involves personal issues where I can offer some perspective. They also come from the media surrounding us as a nation and generation today. Some themes come from research that I do on non-Christian bands. I like to know what other bands are saying so that I might know what message young people might be clinging to through their music.As a generic example, a secular artist might say something disparaging or incorrect about Christians in their song, [so] I give my rebuttal in our own stuff. Sometimes a particular line in another band's song catches and resonates with me when I'm writing and I find a place to insert my take on it in our music. It's not about calling out any particular band as wrong, but more about sharing the other side of those beliefs through different parts of a Demon Hunter record.In gathering from multiple sources like that, how do you feel equipped to address issues like cutting, depression, suicide?Clark Depression is not something that I deal with on a daily basis, and some of these issues come from experiences of people around me, but I write more from an understanding of where those issues are rooted, of what kinds of things lead to that—the thoughts that you're alone, you're an outcast, and you're not worth people's time. I write from an understanding where those thoughts snowball into feelings of suicide. Those roots are very detrimental, and when putting a song together, I feel like we are attacking a whole issue, all the way down to its roots.How much overt spirituality do you put in your songs?Clark Teens and young people are bombarded with all kinds of worldly gratification and worldly solutions to everyday issues and problems. I think that even though it can be a taboo or shunned subject, the subject of spirituality will enter everyone's life—the question of what they believe to be true and how they deal with that question. Whether churched or not, offering youth the Christian perspective via church might not be enough to reach out and grab their attention. So we aim to reach them on their level in music without dumbing down the message, but instead aiming to understand them, their culture, and the situations they experience.There's method to your madness.Clark Yeah, music becomes a lifestyle for teens. It's more than a hobby to them, which is something that could probably be better understood by teachers, parents, and preachers. Music is a very important tool in youths' lives. It can determine the standard by which they establish their lifestyle, dress, belief system, respect. What we do in our music is very much about understanding culture and youth. This is not watering down the message of Christ. We bring young people truth through a biblical Christ-centered outlook and worldview in a way that they can be excited about.Do you feel that other Christian metal bands take such responsibility in their messages to young listeners?Clark I think there is a lack of responsibility in bands to back up what they talk about. It could even be said that there is a lack in how they word what they are talking about. Some bands have a clever way to mask Christianity using a poetic take on spirituality. I think that is a selfish way of writing and dealing with spirituality. I see no point in being a Christian band if you're not reaching out to people with a certain amount of blatancy.I am all for bands giving people a message that they can hear for what it is, rather than being poetic or entirely vague, making listeners dive in and figure it out on their own if they want. I think people who have that poetic view in a Christian band take responsibility for granted and act in opposition to the whole idea of sharing a clear Christian message. Being rebellious or subversive as rock musicians and [coming in under the radar with a Christian message], I can understand that to a degree, but in some instances, it still strikes me as playing it safe. Demon Hunter is not a safe band.Do you still run into misperceptions among Christians about what Christian metal represents?Clark We are faced with it on a daily basis and we answer every person that e-mails. We have a lot of stock answers for many questions but when it comes to something more specific, we send personal e-mails (especially to parents) to put them at ease. We're used to it and not jaded by it, and we're not going to stop answering.Don't you get tired of defending the genre or the band?Clark We have all been in different bands for years, and have been a part of the Christian scene for over a decade. So yes, we've been through periods where we don't want to explain ourselves anymore. But after a while, we take a breath and realize that all it usually takes is giving someone insight into our world. Christian heavy metal is a paradox that doesn't seem to work for a lot of people. Many times, it simply takes explaining to those people that this music is used as a powerful tool for young people that gravitate towards heavy, passionate, aggressive music. There's a very small handful of people that continue to be skeptical after we talk with them; most of them seem to get it after we explain ourselves.Do you ever consider that the music or artwork might be too dark sounding or too dark looking?Clark As sounds go, I don't think music can be inherently evil. The content and lyrics and what you propose to do with them make music evil. Certain chords on a guitar and the way something sounds do not make it evil. All different styles of music can be worshipful and rooted in Christ, [just as any style can be twisted for evil].There are some lovely melodies to be found on the Storm record. What musical influences do you have and how do you use them in your music?Clark: There's a pretty broad spectrum of taste within this band; each of us has some music that he is known for liking more than the others. We do listen to metal and draw from bands like Machinehead, old Metallica, Deftones, and Living Sacrifice. But my brother Don and I [the primary songwriters] are more influenced by rock and pop, especially British pop like Radiohead, Travis, Oasis, The Doves, and Elbow. Many of our songs show some of those melodic pop sensibilities. We take the choruses and melodies seriously and put a lot of work into them; I think that comes through. We don't just listen to metal because that would make us write songs in a way that's safe for the metal world, and again Demon Hunter is not a safe band.For more about Demon Hunter, visit our site's artist page for the band. Read our review of their latest album, Storm the Gates of Hell, by clicking here. Be sure to visit Christianbook.com to listen to song clips and purchase the musicCopyright © Jackie A. Chapman subject to licensing agreement with Christian Music Today. Click for reprint information.