For those of us who like songs on the raw and heavy end of the musical range, it can be difficult to connect to the traditional liturgy in churches. Although worship will always be about a posture of the heart that transcends genre preference, we might still ache to find songs that express the core concepts of our personal faith in the musical language that comes naturally to us.
This list is born from a craving for that connection I have experienced for years, and from the way each of these songs has made the events of Good Friday in particular so much more real to my rocker-inclined spirit. Hardcore in its various permutations has some of the richest (and often most overlooked and underrated) theological grounding of any Christian music subgenre, and the costly, brutal, redemptive nature of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ evokes themes that are matched incredibly well by the aggressive and weighty themes hard rock naturally embraces. Here are some of my favorite heavy songs, both new and old, for remembering Good Friday.
"Unclaimed, Unloved" by Fit For A King
Fit For A King has been one of the quickest rising bands in recent hardcore history, and with good reason. They brought their signature intensity to the themes of suffering and ultimate redemption with "Unclaimed, Unloved," a track from their most recent album Deathgrip. The song begins in our human feelings of abandonment, the pain of being unwanted, and arrives at the lyric "Bearing the scars to show that abandonment won't be his ending, He met his father."
"A Simple Thought that Changed Everything" by To Speak of Wolves
This song from To Speak of Wolves' searing 2012 album Find Your Worth, Come Home identifies itself with the same question Jesus cried from His suffering on the cross. "Healer, did you get my call? Sewn between the cracks of wood, we all hang on what could be," the song mourns, giving voice to those who wrestle with doubt and deep spiritual grief. Gang vocals eventually drive home the consolation, as if spoken to the thief on the cross: "I'll be there with you."
"Salvatore Wryhta" and "Alone" by Emery
These two songs from veteran group Emery were written originally as one song, and they are best listened to together (which you can do in the playlist at the end of this article). "Salvatore Wryhta" takes you into the Garden of Gethsemane, recasting the prayer in words that are piercingly relatable: "please bear with me, this is more than I can take, I'm shaking with sweat and asking for a friend." "Alone" follows Jesus to the cross, where He experienced true isolation from God in a way no one else ever has before or since. Almost breathlessly, lead singer Toby Morrell chokes out the lyrics "The earth is dark and cold, and I think I now know: you give yourself away; this ends alone."
"I Play Dead" by Demon Hunter Demon Hunter's "I Play Dead" was a deep cut from their 2004 album Summer of Darkness, an album which firmly set the hardcore giants on the map. Tucked between crushing guitars and anguished screams, there is a haunting account of the sacrifice of Jesus: "Remembering through fading sparks of memory: two broken hands lift seven wounds and fight to stand to keep the lungs from caving." The words juxtapose redemptive suffering with the darkness of the human heart in a way that is instantly compelling. It's a method seen again on recently released "Jesus Wept" from Demon Hunter's latest album, Outlive.
"Man of Sorrows" by Wolves at the Gate Wolves at the Gate has emerged in recent years as a torch-bearer for a new era of post-hardcore, and they have done so with strikingly Christocentric songwriting. "Man of Sorrows" lays out the Passion of Jesus from beginning to end, moody guitar riffs taking a backseat to the imagery in the lyrics. The song concludes "This is not a simple story / our lives are for Your glory. / Beyond my words and written pages, / Your song across the ages." Both "Majesty in Misery" and "The Father's Bargain" from VxV also portray the sacrifice of Christ in unique and moving ways.
"Crown of Thorns" by For Today For Today (disbanded in 2016) built a career on bringing some of the most direct gospel messages possible to places where it would usually be completely unacceptable. Their forthright handling of the story of Jesus is captured well in "Crown of Thorns," an eerie and brutal masterpiece in which Mattie Montgomery shouts "and as he carried his cross on his back, beaten and bloody, I saw myself there too, because I've been broken by a world that hates me-- but I'm not alone anymore." The sobering lyrics are colored throughout with worshipful recognition of the accomplishment of Christ.
"30 Pieces of Silver" by Theocracy Theocracy, one of the few remaining true progressive metal acts currently in Christian music, addresses both Judas's betrayal and our own betrayals of Christ with "30 Pieces of Silver." The song serves as both a reminder and a warning, asking "all the treasure in the world so blinding, 30 pieces of silver shining. Tell me, what's the price you seek to place the kiss of death upon His cheek?" This song has the feeling of a musical epic, pulling the listener deep into self-reflection.
"Tetelestai" by Phinehas Phinehas is another band prominent in the new guard of Christian metal. The title "Tetelestai" references the Greek word recorded in the Gospel of John as Jesus's final word from the cross, meaning "it is finished." The Greek tense used implies a completed event with ongoing future impact, a concept captured well by this song. The title is fitting, as the lyrics could be understood from the perspective of the thief hanging beside Jesus, witnessing His final hours. This song looks at the suffering of Christ in a way that is poignantly personal, offering piercing lyrics like "Eternity nailed to a tree-- how tired You must have been."
"Dying in Circles" by Silent Planet Silent Planet has been making waves recently with the unconventional philosophy and theology explored in their lyrics, laid out in an unusual and refreshing intellectual form. "Dying in Circles" seeks out the truth nature of Jesus and His sacrifice while mourning the ways contemporary religious systems might have lost the full sense of His identity. "You said, 'Take and remember,' but we always forget," the song grieves, referencing the communion image of Jesus's body broken for us. The closing challenge of the song is also a suitable one as the mystery of death and resurrection is remembered: "trade your certainty for awe."
"Prodigal" by Death Therapy
This song from genre newcomers in Death Therapy begins with a focus on the inward-turned anguish of a self-destructing soul. Over the hybridized heavy and electronic musical format Death Therapy has been pioneering, the song turns to a call from Jesus: "With my dying breath 'it is finished' / I'm swallowed up in death / but that's not the end. / I am the victory / the grave is conquered so you can be free." That declaration of the paradoxical defeat of death inherent in Good Friday serves as a perfect reminder of the victory and life that is ours through Jesus Christ.
"But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed."
- Isaiah 53:5
Associate Editor Mary Nikkel’s love for writing, photography, videography and rock and roll have all been bound together by her love for Jesus, leading to her role with NRT. Her favorite things include theology and Greek language studies, her math grad student husband, obscure Nashville coffee shops, all things related to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and pushing the boundaries enacted by societal norms. She blogs at Threads of Stars.
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