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As a Christian Metalhead, I have been increasingly surprised over the last few years  by how many ‘big profile’ Metal musicians have either converted to Christianity or come back to Christianity after a ‘extended hiatus’. Alice Cooper (honorary Metal artist), Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson of Megadeth, Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden, Head of Korn, Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. to name but a few. I’ve heard many people discuss much publicised ‘celebrity conversions’ and the usual conclusion arrived at is “oh, of course he/she is – so is the Queen…”. The artists I mentioned above are prominent in the world of Metal, and each is highly regarded in each of their respective fields/sub-genres. I have heard each of their testimonies either on podcast discussions, video interviews on YouTube or occasionally (and I say this with much embarrassment) on The God Channel – these conversions and testimonies are all the real deal.

Heavy Metal music has been largely ignored and derided by the majority of the Christian community in recent years, yet still we see many musicians in Metal come to Christ despite many Christians (particularly in America) essentially going on very public ‘witchhunts’ against the above mentioned artists. Admittedly, much of this occurred in the eighties during many of the above artists commercial and creative peaks, however, incidents like these would be enough for me to be put off by Christianity if I was a non-Christian…

Now, despite many Christians upon hearing of these new converts, being a) somewhat surprised and b) happy that Jesus has ‘saved’ these artists – I have heard many people question the validity of these new convert’s spiritual integrity in relation to their current artistic status. For example, one argument I heard was “How can Alice Cooper call himself a Christian, yet still perform under the name Alice Cooper?’; Alice Cooper was apparently the name of a 17th Century witch who manifested itself during a session with a Ouija Board. I also heard rumblings that Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson are hypocrites because they are in a band called Megadeth and how can Nicko McBrain play drums in a band who have a song called ‘The Number of the Beast’. These questions are quite valid ones, which I will attempt to answer here (or at least discuss)…

There appear to be two extremes of celebrity converts (particularly in the world of music) – those who completely abandon their current path as an artist and choose to ‘do the Christian circuit’ instead; and those who adapt their craft to incorporate their new-found faith.

Korn’s Head is an example of a musician who turned his back on his lifestyle and band as a result of his conversion. W.A.S.P.’s Blackie Lawless, on the other hand, is an example of an artist who has chosen to adapt his craft to incorporate his faith. To put this particular example in context, one of W.A.S.P.’s first singles was called ‘Animal…” which essentially broke them into the mainstream and due to the explicit nature of the song’s lyrics, gained notoriety amongst the media, fans and more infamously, the PMRC headed by Tipper Gore.

As a result of Blackie’s recent conversion, he has chosen not to play the song live, despite it being a fan favourite and causing much disappoint for those wishing to hear it at gigs. As a massive fan of W.A.S.P. and a Christian, I find it encouraging that Blackie has chosen to “amend” his art to incorporate his faith, however, the fact that he still performs the song “L.O.V.E. Machine” does slightly confuse me. The new W.A.S.P. album entitled “Babylon” was Blackie’s first post-conversion record and this is prominent in the lyrics. For instance, in the song “Live to Die Another Day” he sings, “I was hellbound and now I’m running free…” and this is one of the many examples of him sharing his testimony through his lyrics throughout the album. The ironic thing about this is, when I recently saw them perform at Nottingham’s Rock City, they played three new songs from what essentially is a Christian record, throughout the performance I was amazed at how often female fans were lifting up their tops for the band! Anyway, I digress…

 

It must be incredibly difficult for someone, such as those mentioned above, to balance a new faith with a legacy of music that has sold millions of records and impacted millions of lives. However, I believe that these artists are in a prime position to be able to share their testimonies and spread the gospel to those listening. This doesn’t necessarily mean ‘Bible-Bashing’ but merely sharing in a way where others do not feel like an artist is preaching from a soapbox. When asked about ‘Bible-Bashing’, I have heard interviews with both Alice Cooper and Dave Mustaine where they both disagree with the notion and agree that the best way to share their faith is when people ask about it. Apparently both are active Church-goers, but have chosen not to use their stature and platform as artists to force their beliefs on other people. Whilst many Christians may think that this approach may be compromising the Christian mandate of spreading the gospel at every opportunity, I can appreciate that it may actually be beneficial in the long-run in terms of maintaining their own personal journey with God, not getting burnt out (as many celeb converts do) and also leaving some of the artistic integrity intact. I believe that being a good example of a Christian and sharing a testimony can actually stimulate more interest in Christianity and promote discussions of faith.

There have many instances, where recently I have questioned the integrity of faith of some of the artists mentioned above, for instance, Dave Mustaine’s recent autobiography contains many profanities and stories of questionable Christian content which has left me wondering whether the conversion thing was in fact the real deal. However, I have come to the conclusion that everyone is on a journey in terms of their faith and more importantly despite these people being in the limelight, it isn’t up to the public to judge “how Christian” someone is. I do feel that these artists do have a certain duty to be good examples of a Christian in public (as we all do), however, we should be encouraged that even some of the most notorious Metalheads (Blackie Lawless, Dave Mustaine, Alice Cooper) can find a relationship with God, despite their reputations from thing they did in the past.

 

As a Christian Metalhead, I get really excited when an artist I love becomes a Christian, not only because they have found relationship with God, but also the impact that it may have on their fans and their art. Being a Christian and a Metalhead is a difficult position to be in sometimes – when I was at Bible college many people found issue with my music taste, stating that Metal music was satanic and contradictory to Christian beliefs, so for me, when Metal artists find Jesus, hopefully, it can encourage other Christians that God is still at work even in the otherwise ignored Metal community.

 

2010 for me, was the year of King Crimson….

For much of 2010 I searched for a number of bands who I could add to my favourite bands category. As a somewhat obsessive music collector (in the sense that when I ‘like’ a band, I buy everything they release/have released), 98% of the bands I own cds of, I have their entire back catalogue – and naturally, I have run out of cds to buy. I was desperate to find a band with a) longevity and b) would naturally fit into my musical state of mind. I tried a few obvious bands such a Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Saxon, Diamond Head, Yes – but none of these bands seem to have any staying power, in terms of both a) talent and b) good songs to keep me interested as a listener and as a musician. AC/DC are a cool band but there’s only so many times songs like Back in Black and Highway to Hell can keep you interested from a musician’s perspective (unless of course, you’re rubbish). Enter King Crimson.

I’d been introduced to KC a couple of years ago, and despite really enjoying listening to them, never really ‘got’ them in the same way that I ‘got’ Genesis and Dream Theater at the time. I didn’t listen to them for about 6 years after that initial listen.

Fast forward to 2010. For some reason or other I was drawn towards the ‘K’ section on my iPod and stumbled upon a KC compilation disc given to me those many years previous. I decided to have another listen….

The era of KC on the compilation was the 80’s incarnation, featuring Fripp, Bruford, Levin and Belew who mainly seemed to specialise and experiment with polyrhythms, guitar synths and gamelan-style guitar patterns.

When I first listened to King Crimson’s 1981 comeback album (after a hiatus from 1975-1980), ‘Discipline’ – I was literally blown away, not only by the musicianship but by the complexity of the songs despite many of them being under 6 minutes in length. I literally could not believe music of this complexity could have been produced, let alone been played nearly 30 years ago.

As a guitarist, I’ve always strived to be constantly learning either new techniques or simply to further my skills by listening to music that challenges me. When it comes to playing guitar there are bands that challenge me and bands that don’t. Dream Theater challenge me in most areas of playing, whether it’s the odd time signatures or the sheer amount of notes that John Petrucci fits into a single bar. Winger’s Reb Beach challenges me, with his highly unorthodox tapping technique. AC/DC on the other hand, don’t challenge me – as I mentioned before, three chord rock n roll just doesn’t float my boat as a guitarist. AC/DC’s drummer, Phil Rudd is famous for his minimal technique (think boom-chink, boom-chink), but strikes me as someone who, although being in the most successful band of all time, simply hasn’t furthered himself as a musician,. Metallica are also a band that doesn’t challenge me anymore since they stopped being a thrash band (circa 1991). Their lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett has constantly relied on using Wah pedals to cover his poor blues-based technique, but has spawned a generation of clone’s intent on playing his beginner’s style solo of ‘Enter Sandman’.

I’ve found that learning music which is far beyond my present capabilities has really improved my playing as I’m either constantly being stretched or trying to better the last thing I learned. I’ve tried to apply this to the majority of my solo compositions on my band’s forthcoming LP, ‘The Nicene Creed’ and although many of the solos seemed difficult to record at the time due to me attempting to utilise passages that were in a sense, beyond my capabilities at the time, I certainly feel that the constant challenges bettered me as a musician.

Listening to King Crimson’s ‘Discipline’ has not only challenged me mentally (try breaking down the two guitar polyrhythms in the song ‘Frame by Frame’ at 4.21) but also challenged me to further my techniques as guitarist. Robert Fripp rarely appears in any ‘Greatest Guitarists’ lists, yet I’ve never listened to or seen a guitarist with a) better technique or b) more intelligence. Forget Hendrix (over-rated), Gilmour (boring), Page (sloppy), Van Halen (sloppier). Fripp is a master technician and alongside his use of alternate picking, dissonant chords, use of Classical, Jazz , Avant-Garde and Metal, actually invented and pioneered his own patented technique in Frippertronics and later, Soundscapes, despite a) looking more like a University lecturer (Fripp actually does do public speaking engagements on occasion with his sister Patricia Fripp) and b) playing sat down.

I buy many guitar tab books which either transcribes an artist’s album or breaks down an artist’s technique and through studying these, I can generally ‘see’ how a particular part is either played or how it has been conceived to be played, even if I can’t necessarily play it at the time. I’ve studied George Lynch, Reb Beach, Dave Mustaine, Iron Maiden, John Petrucci, Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson to name a few, and can generally understand the how’s and why’s of each of them. Fripp (particularly on ‘Discipline’) surpasses ALL of these by quite a stretch. There are some parts he plays on this record that even when I study the guitar tab, I cannot even begin to conceive HOW he plays it. Throughout the song ‘Frame by Frame’ there is a guitar part (Fripp’s) which is a repeating pattern of 16ths in sextuplet sub-divisions played at 155 bpm which is insanely difficult to even play 1 bar of. This coupled with an alternate picking technique makes it even more difficult to master. Many people have attributed this part to either being some kind of synthesised loop or a Chapman Stick (which allows a two-handed fretting technique) but check out a clip on YouTube and you’ll see Fripp playing this part, not only in a live setting, but also with relative ease.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdlbkVWYmW4

Finding King Crimson has not only enabled me to invest in another band with an extensive back catalogue but also has caused me to examine and dissect my guitar playing and try to a) iron-out bad techniques and b) pursue new ones.  I guess ‘Discipline’ is not only the perfect name for this album but also the art of what comes after listening to it and applying it to your playing.

I encourage anybody wishing to further themselves mentally and as a musician to listen to King Crimson’s ‘Discipline’. Be a Robert Fripp. Don’t be a Phil Rudd.