Christian Rock - Standalone Genre or Not?

Should Christian rock be labeled as a genre?

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Christian rock stands out as one of those debatable genres, with a solid portion of fans constantly arguing about whether it deserves the title of a standalone style.

Defined on Wikipedia as "a form of rock music played by individuals and bands whose members are Christians and who often focus the lyrics on matters concerned with the Christian faith," Christian rock does little to musically stand out apart from implementing the Christian theme.

So is Christian rock a genre of its own? Many bands out there use the mentioned Christian theme, but a different number declares themselves as Christian rockers. Eventually, it would seem that the Christian rock label, just like Christianity itself, is a matter of personal choice, or at least the band's collective decision.

Anyhow, we'll make a brief rundown of some of the prominent Christian rock acts declaring themselves as the style's representatives, as well as a few major bands using Christian imagery without dubbing themselves Christian rockers. Check it out below.

Bands Declaring Themselves as Christian Rockers

Stryper

Commonly dubbed the greatest Christian rock act of all time, Stryper even got their name as a Bible reference. Inspired by classic hard rock acts, band members weren't too much into the overall message, so they decided to spread the message they knew and loved through the means of rock sound.

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Skillet

Formed in 1996, Skillet scored major success in the US with their mixture of alt rock, hard rock, nu metal and symphonic metal wrapped up under the Christian rock/metal banner.

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P.O.D.

Commonly considered simply nu metal titans, P.O.D. have a strong connection with the Christian world. The band's name is an abbreviation of "Payable on Death," making a direct connection with the Christian theology explaining that since Jesus died on the cross, Christians' debts to God have peen paid for.

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Christian Rockers Not Declaring Themselves Christian Rock

U2

Often using Christianity as the center theme of their songs, U2 have evaded the Christian rock label over the years. Some of the obvious Christian rock picks would definitely include "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" or "40," a song featuring direct lyrics from Psalm 40.

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Black Sabbath

Despite being related to Satanism, Black Sabbath had quite a few Christian elements in their music. "Black Sabbath," "War Pigs," "After Forever" stand out as just several of the obvious picks.

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Lenny Kravitz

Perhaps you didn't know this, but Lenny Kravitz is a devout Christian, and has spread the theme of Christianity through many of his songs, including the hit single "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" The song is reportedly sung from a perspective of none-other than Jesus Christ.

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So back to the big question - should Christian rock be labeled as a standalone genre?

88 comments sorted by best / new / date

    guitar/bass95
    I have to disagree with the Sabbath pick. Yes, they use religious themes in the lyrics, but christian rock? Christianity is certainly not the central theme in their music. Looking at their interviews, they didn't even know what the cross stands for, thinking that it was a source of good luck if I recall correctly. And if we take every band out there that has religious lyrical themes, whoops - 80% of all bands are christian rock bands. But otherwise no complaints. Pretty good article. ^and N-D, unblack metal is certainly the most interesting christian genre also called "white metal" I think.
    MaggaraMarine
    IMO what makes you Christian rock is worshipping God in your lyrics. Christian themes in lyrics are so common - you don't even have to be a Christian to write a song with Christian themes. So yeah, I agree. Black Sabbath is not a christian rock band. Also, Christian rock contains many genres. I wouldn't call it a musical genre, I would call it a lifestyle or something.
    thebigredjj10
    Even many Black Metal Satanic/ Atheist bands use Christian themed lyrics, albeit from the reverse point of view. But there would be no Black Metal without Christianity. A response to a religion still is religious themed. Like you said, one does not have to be Christian to use Christian themes. Just like Amon Amarth doesn't actually believe in Odin (please forgive me Gods of the Nords) even though they write about Norse Mythology constantly.
    Scourge441
    The first two verses of Under the Sun: "Well, I don't want no Jesus freak to tell me what it's all about, No black magician telling me to cut my soul out, Don't believe in violence; I don't even believe in peace I’ve opened the door now my mind has been released Well, I don't want no preacher telling me about the god in the sky, No, I don't want no one to tell me where I'm gonna go when I die I wanna live my life I don't want people telling me what to do I just believe in myself, 'cos no one else is true" Those are certainly not Christian lyrics.
    base851
    Geezer, who wrote all of the Ozzy-era lyrics, is a devout Catholic. Give "After Forever" a listen and get back to me.
    megaslaythrax
    For me, I've never particularly liked the idea of separating music based on lyrical content. Yeah, metal tends to have darker themes, but that isn't always the case. In my mind, making a genre distinct due to lyrical content isn't a thing. For me, Stryper isn't a Christian rock band; they're a glam metal band that just happens to have a lot of Christian lyrical themes. I'm sure that's not ALL they sing about.
    N-D
    Yeah, I agree with you. It's like separating grindcore to subgenres by lyrical themes - gore grind, social grind, porno grind etc - while the music remains the same
    crazysam23_Atax
    I can understand it in some cases. For instance, Anarcho punk...that the central lyrical ideas support various branches of the political philosophy of Anarchy...is so central to that genre. It basically sounds like aggressive Punk Rock (which is half the Punk Rock bands out there). But it makes sense to single Anarcho punk out.
    megaslaythrax
    Isn't most punk rock a little bit anarchist in nature though? It's sort of redundant in my opinion. To me that'd be like naming a subgenre of glam metal "love metal".
    weorge
    I like it when bands label themselves as christian rock, simply because it makes it easier to avoid them.
    Jimjambanx
    Well if I recall correctly As I Lay Dying label themselves as a Christian band, and they're pretty ****ing good. But then again christian rock and christian metal are two different things.
    MichaelScarn
    hey look at you! you found a way to bash religion! you are SO clever!
    Yabba Who
    You don't need to be clever to find a way to bash religion. They make it pretty easy for us.
    winnetouch
    I'm christian and most of these bands I wouldn't even consider christian rock. I don't like dividing it in to it's own genre since it's still rock but for me when someone says christian rock I think about music that is meant to praise god not just mention or borrow from christian literature. Bands like Hillsong (or rather the movement because technically they are not a band) are what I think about. Or Downhere with Marc Martel. Those are christian rock bands if you ask me.
    Jonny92
    I agree. Lots of bands may have christian themes but it's bands like David Crowder Band, Kutless, etc. that actually sing to God in worship instead of just in rock band that happens to sing about Him sometimes.
    N-D
    For me, the most interesting thing always will be "Unblack Metal" (or Christian Black Metal) - black metal with Christian lyrics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unblack_met...
    N-D
    By the way, there are a lot of more or less extreme Christian metal and rock bands: 12 Stones As I Lay Dying August Burns Red Blessthefall Demon Hunter Extol Flyleaf For Today Impending Doom Living Sacrifice Mortification Red Texas In July The Chariot The Devil Wears Prada Thrice Underoath Virgin Black Zao ...and many many more. But my personal favorites with Christian-related lyrics are Finnish post-metal/sludge band Callisto and also US chaotic hardcore Norma Jean - because their lyrics are just inspired by some Biblical themes, without any "propaganda". Anyway, of course, everyone chooses their own way for themselves.
    TheMattGusta
    As I Lay Dying is kind of a funny choice because even though they're a Christian band, that lead singer guy is just a horrible dude.
    MetalheadCOB
    Most of these bands (exceptions being Extol, Mortification) are exactly why Christianity should stay the hell away from the metal genre.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Most of them aren't Metal. Half of them are Metalcore (aka "Metallica Hardcore"). And several are rock. A few are just plain Hardcore. Do some basic research next time, before you make wrongful generalizations.
    Human371
    I can agree with your description of Norma Jean. They don't make you feel like you're listening to christian music.
    Cavalcade
    A Plea For Purging (now split-up). I think Christian lyrics can actually make deathcore better, done right.
    Genrecore
    I have yet to hear of a Muslim band, Buddhist and Hindu band. If there is such a thing please share.
    Cavalcade
    Jewish metal could be pretty sweet if they do more stuff with mysticism (ie Kabbalah). Like Daath with less "PLAAAAANE CRAAAAASH!!! INTO THE FUKKING OCEAN!"
    AngrodOronar
    I'm a devout Catholic but rock is rock even if it sings about Jesus Christ, war or pussy. For example, Golden Resurrection's lyrics sings about christianity, but they are Symphonic Power Metal..
    Cavalcade
    If there's a "Christian rock" sound , musically speaking, that goes along with the lyrics, then sure (see also: viking metal like Bathory/Windir/Thyrfing). Otherwise, it's just a label and/or marketing gimmick.
    crazysam23_Atax
    But, as the article clearly shows (just by posting song examples), there isn't a "Christian rock" sound. It's just artists who happen to put Christianity as the central theme of their lyrics.
    Genrecore
    There is a "viking metal sound" and it is the folk influences associated with it. The "Christian Rock" sound consists of heavy reverb, powerchords, faggy lyrics and singing. Think of it as poppy, watered down Post-Rock with vocals. Just go to your local protestant church, I'm sure you'll recognize it.
    iommi600
    I don't see it as a genre. The formula is: a pre-established genre of rock + "PRAISE DA LORD!!". Nothing special about it. And man, the correlation between christian lyrics and boring bands is truly staggering, in my opinion.
    MichaelScarn
    P.O.D. are Christian but most of their fans aren't haha- I've been to several shows of theirs and the pits were a bunch of Mexican bikers (it was in San Diego) they're great live btw Also I don't know why UG didn't put one of their hits as a sample song lol- I guess that's just UG
    iammclovin
    You'll find a lot of those bands don't like the label of Christian Rock. Yes they are Christian and they tend to have strong Christian influences in the lyrics, but for me genre is based on the style of the music and not the theme of the lyrics. I know some of those bands mention believe the same thing.
    Baia
    i don't consider christian rock a different genre, it's just rock music with religious lyrics and i don't think the lyric content should be enough to classify a band to a genre
    The New Cult Ki
    it is a sub-genre at best, and not even that. the only thing that makes christian rock/metal what it is is the subject matter. It does not define any kind of style of music all it is, is merely the lyrics they put in it. You put pig squeal vocals in a regular death/grindcore/heavy metal band next to pig squeal vocals in a christian death/grindcore/heavy metal band guess what? Sounds exactly the same.
    jogar15
    Rock music is about rebellion (at its core). It's supposed to have an edge. It's supposed to be counter-culture. Christianity is all about obedience and at least in the U.S. is the majority religion. So, I don't think "christian rock" or "christian metal" is actually a thing. We just don't know what else to call it.
    usmcrod
    Not in modern America, not today anyway. Claiming to be Christian today is nearly as rebellious as being an atheist in the 1950's. As for what defines the genre, IMO it's more about the message and less about power chords and "faggy lyrics" as Genrecore referred to them. I had never known that most of the bands mentioned in the list above were considred Christian bands, of any genre. I discovered Five Finger Death Punch and Skillet on the same XM station and like both of them equally. The difference: Ivan L. Moody can't sing without dropping copious amounts of F-bombs somewhere in the song, but that's a bit of his message. He has a lot of anger and music is where he channels it. The folks in Skillet, and I have no idea if they have derelict dads in prison or what there stories are, but they choose to play good music with less abrasive lyrics. A song that I have only recently "discovered" from a band set list I'm learning is I Don't Wanna Stop by Ozzy. One of the lyrics that jumped out at me is the verse that says "so many religions but only one God, I don't need another Saviour"... Ozzy is no theologian but those lyrics nailed organized religion for me. The song isn't a Christian themed song nor would I call it a Christian song, but those lyrics resonated with me. A great point was made. Again, my opinion only and I'm sure there will be plenty of disagreement and negative comments.
    RealUnrealRob
    "Not in modern America, not today anyway. Claiming to be Christian today is nearly as rebellious as being an atheist in the 1950's." Are you high, or just incredibly stupid?
    usmcrod
    So you're good at laying down a junior high level of insult (what a surprise on this board) but can you explain your reason for disagreeing? My example of "rebellion" is Tim Tebow. I'm sure you're a huge fan of his, right? Anyone who knows his name knows he's a Christian. Because of that the media ate him like a wounded baby seal in shark infested waters. How many well known atheists do you know of that get that same treatment these days?
    Hikarikuen
    "People don't get attacked for being Christians, you stupid Christian!"
    winnetouch
    Seriously? Both of you... I'm Christian and went to a christian middle school. All of my classmates, even though it was a christian school thought I was an idiot for being christian and was teased and abused because of it to no end. So yeah... Being a christian isn't anything special but not hiding it in today's society is. At least where I come from. I think a lot of musicians that we love to listen to are religious people. A lot of them aren't. I've read somewhere that Ozzy prays before every show, so yeah... Go dear tell the prince of darkness that being christian isn't cool
    Hikarikuen
    Just to make sure, you caught that my message was sarcastic (and admittedly slightly uncharitable), right? I agree.
    BlueJayWater
    Well religious terminology has always (And I do mean always)been involved with music. People never saw it until about the 1900s when genres weee really starting to be developed. Gospel, Choir, etc, those have a direct and defined connection with religion. So, I belive Christiam Rock is a justifiable genre, simply cos that ain`t gospel.
    winnetouch
    But by that definition somebody to love by Queen is a religious song because it borrows gospel elements. Freddie mentions god in the lyrics but it's for sure not a christian song
    BlueJayWater
    Actually, no. An influence for a song or songs does not make it a genre. It's a broader term for a musicians career. If Queen had ever said they were a gospel band, however idiotic that might be, then by all rights, they are. Their label wouldn't simply because of marketing, the whole reason for genres.
    Priest_of_Judas
    Demon Hunter is the first band that springs to mind, surprised they didn't make it. And Sabbath should perhaps not be on this list after all, albeit Butler and Iommi having personal beliefs. Feels like about 95% of all bands, at some point in their careers, include lyrics such as "please God help me", or, "The hand of God"...
    Jasonbts
    To me genre's are just a quick way to identify a sound anyways. The label of "Christian" is just a way for people to know what themes the music will contain. As a Christian it's helpful to know, and it helps me find music that helps grow my faith, but that said I listen to plenty of artists that are atheist or agnostic or are of some other belief system and I have no need for anything to be labeled "Atheist Rock". Then you have to dive into "how Christian is Christian..?" Is a band that is made up of Christians "christian rock"? What about a band that only occasionally references their faith? Can only bands with 100% Christian lyrics have that label? Interesting discussion for sure.
    maleficus333
    Skillet have some of the worst lyrics I've ever heard, not even in terms of christian rock but in terms of music in general; I like the alternative/hard rock stuff music wise but there are several bands out there that do the genre more justice than Skillet. Just don't understand how they got to be so popular
    Sir_Taffey
    All right! My turn for an opinion... I study theology, I play in a Christian metal band inspired by other acts such as August burns Red, Underoath, For today, Oh Sleeper, Impending doom and that list of bands. Now I can tell you right now about 90% of all arguments against Christianity that would be on any thread here is unfounded, one sided and uninformed with a big dose of ignorance and bigotry on top of it (I'm looking at you atheists, "holding up the mirror" as it's called, too bad the mirror can't come down and focus on one argument at a time). Now I don't think it should count as a stand alone genre. Metal is metal. Be you theist or no of any kind. Necrophagist and Obscura are both tech death, but they have different themes. I prefer one to the other. See what I'm getting at? And just saying, the music these bands put out is phenomenal. You don't have to follow the lyrics or is that short sighted of me as a Christian too? Because if you have to be a Christian to enjoy the theme then I have to be into necrophilia and a whole host of nasty things if I listen to cannibal corpse. It really is a double standard
    fanA7X6661
    Christian music can be good or bad just like any other type of music. Personally, I love Skillet and We As Human and their Christian lyrics and meanings are compatible with my beliefs so it's cool for me. Not everyone will like them. Sucks to be them. Haha.
    Arby911
    If lyrics are the touchstone, Iron Maiden is a christian band...Yeah, no.
    dustinacox
    The reason for the label of "Christian rock" is the same reason behind that label in anything else. Christian movies, Christian books, Christian businesses. The books are made the same way, and may even have similar stories to some non-Christian books. The title of "Christian" on something is not necessarily to make it a different genre, but an adjective that better describes the content. With books, there is fantasy fiction, sci-fi fiction, erotic fiction, and so on. I think that the title of being Christian needs to remain, because it is a clear declaration of the group's purpose and beliefs. I would even say that any "Christian" groups who do not use the name Christian to refer to themselves are not Christians, because it is denying the name of Christ. It's not attempting to make a separate genre, it's making a declaration of faith. The reason why you don't see other religions doing the same thing is because many of them don't hold to the standards of content that Christians do. Many other religions are not opposed to swearing, drinking, and other "negative" themes often found in certain genres of music. Therefore, they don't feel the need to make the distinction. But Christians, who hold themselves to a higher standard, do believe a difference must be made, and that means it has to have a way to distinguish it from the rest.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Or, because religious stuff can be big money to certain businesses, it's a marketing thing. There's whole record labels who care more about whether a "Christian" group is selling records than about whether they're being "good Christians". Also, your last paragraph is just false, in 2 respects. 1) Buddhism holds its dedicated adherents to many strict standards. Some other religions do the same, but that's an obvious example. 2) Swearing and drinking are not actually opposed in the Bible. Over-excess of drinking is. Taking the name of the Lord in vain is (which has nothing to do with the phrase "Oh, my God!", btw). Promiscuity is.
    Jacksabbath_44
    If you take those bands (even the metalcore ones that belong to certain christian labels and circles) i think it's not really a genre, but in latin america it kinda is (they all belong to the evangelical church), there are a lot of artists and bands with certain sound and influences, i can't name much because i'm catholic and i don't listen to that music, but there are a lot like Rojo, Marcos Witt, GeneraSion, etc and they surely can be identificated as part of a scene, btw i think Creed is the most successful christian rock band in the history of music!
    Vermilion314159
    I think sometimes it can be considered a separate genre, such as when a church youth group might blend elements of softer rock with elements of gospel or worship music, but if the only distinction to be made is in lyrical content, it does seem a little odd to bother making the distinction at all.
    Battery Chicken
    I think there merit in keeping it labelled separately as it allows those kept in a religious prison by their parents some window into the world outside of hymns and gospel. Plus god-rock is usually horrifically bad, so the rest of us can actively avoid it.
    jonathon.campbe
    people also sub classify metal into death metal as well black, glam, power and thrash. it doesn't change the sound but it changes who it appeals to and who is likely to listen to it. if it reflects your values and what you believe in you will seek it out over other lyrical content.
    Jonny92
    "it doesn't change the sound" what? Ok, go listen to Necrophagist, Burzum, Motley Crue, Blind Gaurdian and Slayer. Do they sound the same? Didn't think so. I admit some people and some sub-genres of metal get a bit OTT but if you think Black Metal doesn't sound different to glam metal, then you gotta use your ears more!
    Megadethfan245
    Umm... what? Lyrical matter in all of these types of music are never set in stone. A lot of black metal bands have what you would consider power metal lyrics, does that make them black/power metal, or just power metal?
    Manovvar
    whether it should be or not, it is...if a band's main focus is to...i dunno, spread the word of god or be "inspirational" by spreading the message/teachings of christianity. i figure "christian-rock" would be easier to google than, "who are bands that only play christian related music"...
    Epi g-310
    As an atheist, Anberlin will probably be in my top three favorite bands of all time. There are occasional Christian themes in the music, but that's more an expression of what's personally meaningful to the band members. They aren't evangelists. If you're going to label a group as Christian, I think it kind of requires some evangelical motive.
    rebreh
    Also, the Velvet Underground have a song called Jesus which may be one of the best Christian rock songs ever despite it being penned by an atheist heroin junky "Jesus, help me find my special place "Help me in my weakness cuz I'm falling out of grace "Jesus, Jesus That really sums up one of the core Christian doctrines imo
    rebreh
    I personally would not declare it a genre. A music genre has to have defining features. Christian Rock just refers to a "rock" group with a Christian message. But then couldn't we just lump a bunch of topics together and call it a genre. For example, "love rock", "drug rock", "suicide rock", "political rock", etc etc.
    Adrian89
    Should war inspired music? or deep thinking? Not really, lyrics add, of course but you can't make a genre everytime someone want's to differenciate from the others.