There isn’t anything like trying to tackle a touchy subject like religious intent within music — especially in the realm of aggressive music, where many of the big name mainstays have cut their teeth on anti-establishment and control themes. Indeed, overtly positive themes of Christianity within hardcore and metal music tend to be a rarity.
The two words seem like something of an oxymoron, but the roots of Christian hardcore subgenre can be traced back as far as the 1980s, where punk groups like Black Flag and Minor Threat went out of their way to spread a positive message through their lyrical content. The latter, of course, pioneered the straight edge movement that was central to swearing off illicit substances out of your life, sometimes in favour of a higher power.
Slowly but surely, ideas started to form and eventually produced the first wave of overtly Christian hardcore and metal bands in the form of groups like Extol, Zao and Living Sacrifice. Fast forward 15-20 years down the line and the number of extreme groups had multiplied, including heavy hitting big names like Underoath and Norma Jean, among others.
“Metal music has a very serious stigma around. When you say metal or hardcore, everyone thinks of Satanic music and black metal, guys with painted faces and long hair and doing pig squeals into the mic,” says Chad Baird, an active member within the spiritual music community.
“What I’ve found now is that there are some unbelievable hardcore bands that are Christians and what I find is cool is that metal is transitioning.”
Baird notes that religious bands have been finding a degree of success within the touring circuit for some time now, especially among the punk and hardcore scene, where the hesitance to give these bands a chance may not be as thick as it would be within the metal crowd.
“There’s very much a landscape surrounded with spirituality, in my opinion. Bands like The Chariot, The Devil Wears Prada, August Burns Red — these guys are headlining Warped Tour. These guys are huge, huge bands.”
There have even been bands within Calgary that have been trying to do something similar with their own message. Bands like Blueprints and The Riviera Heist were some of the first spirituality heavy outfits to try and make names for themselves out of the city.
Enter Mike Sharp and Curtis Lefthand, a duo with a similar message that recently started up their own promotions company called Hopesound. Hopesound’s mission statement is to bring back the bands and shows with a positive message while giving that niche aspect of aggressive music somewhere to go within the city.
“I know that there’s a lot of people around our age – say 15 to 24 – that are in a huge transition period in their life and at a point of uncertainty,” says Baird.
“What Hopesound has effectively done to this point, they have created an environment, a community and a family for people to know these shows are going on.”
Lefthand emphatically agrees, noting that the company wants to focus on the community building aspect of it just as much as it does on the actual show aspect.
“Our whole idea with Hopesound is to completely break down that mindset and to make an environment for kids that are new to the scene and that have been around but have always felt like outcasts towards the scene,” says Lefthand.
It’ll be interesting to see exactly how the Calgary heavy music fans take to a company like Hopesound, which is really still in its infancy stages at this point in time. Calgary has made a reputation for itself on producing some of the most passionate, die-hard fans when it comes to metal, punk and hardcore. A quick look around the current hardcore scene, for instance, reveals a wealth of groups with a scathing irreverence towards anything in the realm of good taste, choosing vitriol as their primary aesthetic. Will you see any of the regulars out and about at the Hopesound shows doing anything but starting fights and making fun of people? Only time will tell.
“No matter what your religious or political or whatever ideologies you support…when you start getting preachy about it you’re gonna start to get some friction because there will inevitably be some people that don’t believe what you believe,” says Baird of the possible tension.
Baird also explains that it’s of the utmost importance that bands and companies with a religious moment should keep that high level of preach to minimum lest you find yourselves antagonizing the rest of the non-religious music fans in the crowd, much like Underoath did a few years back when they decided to turn one of their Warped Tour sets into a full blown sermon and were received by a chorus of boos and pelted offstage with beer bottles.
“There’s not really a whole lot friction with bands that don’t really speak to it a whole lot and just say like, ‘Hey, we’re onstage. We’re a bunch of Christian guys from here and here’s our awesome set,’” says Baird.
It also remains to be seen if Hopesound will be able to establish not only themselves but their own scene to the point where newer and motivated spiritual bands will start emerging to play these shows that they will be putting on. There hasn’t been much of an audience in Calgary for that in quite some time.
“I can say for a fact that we haven’t seen it for a while,” says Lefthand.
“Maybe back in ’06 to ’09, it was pretty solid with a few Christian hardcore bands but in the past four years, five years since then, it’s kind of toned down. I guess, in this sense, we want to bring that back as well.”
By Brandon McNeil