01. Stryper-Stryper has to be at the top of this list. Not because I think they’re the best, but because their contribution to Christian metal is the equivalent of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest in the non-christian metal world. I never really got the goofy outfits that looked like bumblebees. They are however quality musicians who brought Christian metal to the mainstream in the 1980s.
Established in southern California in 1983, multi-platinum crossover Christian metal band, Stryper, continues to share their positive message and energetic stage presence with a passionate following throughout the world. Since the band’s inception over 30 years ago, the founding members have stayed true to their deepest convictions, turning from “the ways of the world” and following their hearts instead.
“In the past 34 years, we’ve evolved into what we are now,” says vocalist and guitarist Michael Sweet. “This is what we always really wanted to be. I love the progression. The story of Stryper is that of an underdog. We seem to go against the grain with everything we do, and our fans tend to be the same – They’re good hardworking people who believe in love, respect, and not conforming to the ways of the world.”
The members of Stryper have proven themselves as metal stalwarts, leaving an indelible mark on the genre with each new release. With such hits as “Calling On You,” “Free,” “Honestly,” and “Always There For You,” Stryper’s album sales now exceed over 10 million worldwide. Add to that one of the most successful Christian rock albums ever, 1986’s multi-platinum To Hell With The Devil, and the unique distinction of being the first band in history to notch two songs in MTV’s Top 10 with “Free” and “Honestly.” The band still delivers great albums and has actually developed a heavier sound in the later years. Like them or not, they’re the godfathers of Christian Metal.
02. Barren Cross- A metal band that was formed in Los Angeles in 1983 by Two high school friends; Lead Guitarist Ray Parris and Drummer Steve Whitaker had an ad in a local paper looking for a singer. At the same time; Lead Singer Michael Drive (Lee) had an ad in a local paper looking for a guitarist! Steve then drove to Michael’s house, where he called Ray and had Michael sing into the phone! As soon as they met and played together, the chemistry instantly formed; and two weeks later after many rehearsals with bass players, Michael met Bassist Jim LaVerde; and the rest is history! After recording 6 songs for two demos during 1983 and 1984, “the fires had begun” to burn – to record their first album. The band came close to sounding like Iron Maiden at times and originally was a bit heavier than their contemporaries “Stryper”. . They had their biggest success with Atomic Arena which also saw the band get airplay on MTV. They followed it up with another great album called State Of Control”. For my money, these guys were the best of the Christian metal era. The band still reunites occasionally as has recorded several albums after their initial success was over.
03. Holy Soldier-When glam metal hit it big in the ’80s, many Christian metal bands went the same route. Holy Soldier had two really good albums before changing personnel and going in a more acoustic-based alternative. Holy Soldier is a band that has secured its position as one of the most important and identifiable bands in Christian rock & roll history. The group, which formed in Los Angeles in 1985, distilled so much of the music that had come before them and has exerted a decisive influence on so much that has come after. Very few artists and musicians in their genre have achieved that stature, and stand proudly among them. They looked the part and had a decent sound, but ultimately they just faded away like so many bands from the era.
04. Guardian-Starting out as a more traditional metal band, Guardian soon changed vocalists and went for a more every man’s hard rock sound, in the lines of Tesla with a slightly more glam image and sound. Guardian was formed in 1982 under the name Fusion, by singer, Paul Cawley and bassist David Bach. The original band lineup also featured drummer Steve Martinez and guitarist Gene Thurston. Originally signed to Enigma Records, they wanted a more Christian-focused record label and asked to be released from their contract. Cawley left and the band brought in Jamie Rowe with a new sound and vocal style.
05. Bloodgood-These guys helped get the Christian metal movement going and still work together today. They have a decent discography that’s definitely rooted in Bible scripture and always seemed more interested in witnessing to their audience than many other bands of the genre. The band was never about trying to get a record deal and hit the “big time.” The main focus of Bloodgood was always to reach the lost with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Veterans of both the heavy metal and Christian rock scenes, Bloodgood’s unique blend of music and message has amassed both a fan base that appreciates their music, as well as a body that loves God
06. Bride-Starting out with a little heavier sound than most of the overs, they switched their sound to appeal more to the hair metal crowd. Kinetic Faith was the beginning of a new era for Bride. It was an era of popularity and mild success. After working with producer Steve Griffith on the two new songs from End Of The Age, it was decided that he would produce Kinetic Faith too. Bride was ready to record another album with a new sound and a more technically proficient lineup. Kinetic Faith was to be recorded in a studio in Nashville called the Salt Mine. This is a studio where Amy Grant recorded her first few albums with Brown Bannister. Kinetic Faith was a complete departure from the music heard on Bride’s first three albums. It was more Rock ‘n’ Roll sounding – with a twist. The project did not turn out like the band wanted it to because of disagreements with producer Steve Griffith. In the end, the finished product was good enough to put Bride in the mainstream of Christian Music and to win them a DOVE Award for the song, Everybody Knows My Name. While they had some great metal albums, they changed their sound a little too often and ultimately never seemed to have a consistent sound.
07. Whitecross-Formed in 1985 by singer Scott Wenzel and guitarist Rex Carroll and sounding like the Christian version of Ratt helped these guys find an audience of fans who desperately wanted a Christian band that sounded like the secular bands that were dominating the airwaves. Whitecross could have been up there with Stryper in popularity, but never seemed to break out of just being a Christian band that you only knew about if you went to Christian bookstores.
08. Deliverance- Formed in 1985 for those liking something a bit heavier, Deliverance provided it. Fans of Anthrax, Testament and Slayer would probably like their sound. MTV had one of their videos in rotation on The Headbanger’s Ball, but fame outside of the Christian market seemed to elude them. They produced several good-quality albums.
09. Tourniquet-Being a truly original-sounding metal band wasn’t very easy in the ’80s. It was even harder for the Christian bands who often imitated the popular bands of the time. Tourniquet was not one of those bands and seemed to have a truly unique sound. Drummer Ted Kirkpatrick is an incredible musician and the band gets credit for forging their own path. Tourniquet was formed in Los Angeles in 1990 (yeah I know the headline says 80’s bands, but this one was just over the line into 1990). Nineteen albums later, the members of Tourniquet remain committed to creating intense music. Drummer and main songwriter Ted Kirkpatrick’s passion for classical music and technical metal finds its way into many Tourniquet songs, resulting in their music being described as “Beethoven Meets Frankenstein”. As Tourniquet’s music blends elements of many different styles, two things stand out… melody and originality. Tourniquet is known as a “musician’s band” and has appeared in Modern Drummer, Guitar World, and many other musicians magazines.
10. Sacred Warrior-Sacred Warrior is a Christian band that plays melodic, progressive hard rock/metal, reminiscent of Queensryche and Iron Maiden. The band was formed out of a general market metal band known as Nomad, which was formed in 1985. Subsequent to the conversion of guitarist Bruce Swift to Christianity, he led fellow band members, Tony Velasquez and Rey Parra. He also led Rick Macias, who had been a bouncer at a nightclub. Steve Watkins joined the band as bassist in 1988 and Sacred Warrior was formed. For those Christians who liked Queensryche, there was Scared Warrior. They were decent musicians and came out with several good albums but always seemed to be too much of a clone of Queensryche.
11. X-Sinner- Another clone of a popular band was X-Sinner. They had the AC/DC sound pretty well and many fans were glad to have a Christian alternative. However, I’ve got to say that AC/DC’s sound was always about chasing women and such and it just doesn’t translate as well to Bible studies. Their debut album “Get It” was released on A&M records and on Pakaderm/Word records. Nominated for a Dove award and had three number one singles and five top ten singles.
12. Saint-1984 saw the birth of Saint with the EP “Warriors Of The Son.” In 1986 the band signed a contract with Pure Metal Records and releases its first full-length, “Time’s End.” With drummer Mike Lowery out of the band just one week before recording, drummer Brian Willis is then hired (on loan from the band Quarter Flash) to perform on the album along with Josh Kramer (vocals), John Mahan (guitar), and Richard Lynch (bass). One of the early bands to hit the scene along with Leviticus and Bloodgood, they seemed to be closer to Judas Priest in sound, but often the production of those first albums was pretty weak and made it sound like a watered-down version.
13, Leviticus-Swedish band Leviticus came out with all guns blazing but never seemed to pull together a cohesive fanbase. Partially, because of the geographical location of the band and the cost of touring the U.S., they simply became a Christian bookstore metal band. Early albums had a symphonic metal sound to them, but the band gradually changed their sound over time. The band made their last live appearance in 2003.
14. Angelica-Attempting to hit on the sound of guitar slingers like Van Halen and George Lynch, Angelica went for a more glam-sounding singer, similar to Mark Slaughter. The original vocalist was replaced by Rob Rock and Dennis Cameron had this to say about the band: “Angelica started as a vision that I had for an ideal band full of believer musicians”. The band hit the power ballad fans and those who like a skillful guitarist but never went much farther than that outside of the Christian Metal market.
15. Shout-Ken Tamplin founded the band Shout in 1987 and the band went for the hair band look and sound. Their first album, “It Won’t Be Long”, was recorded by session musicians including future Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, House Of Lords guitarist, Lanny Cordola and Michael Angelo, guitarist for Nitro. While they racked some success in the Christian market, they never were able to go outside of it. Tamplin later worked with several members of the band House Of Lords on a few projects.