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My Top CDs: Underground Christian Rock of the 1990s

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Back in the 1990s, while I was discovering Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the whole barrage of grunge and alternative bands, I was also being introduced to some great underground Christian bands that could definitely sit along side the rest as quality musicians with plenty of substance and integrity in their music. I can list numerous records throughout the years, but here are a just a few of the pivotal releases that indeed made their mark — especially on a kid from Texas whose musical landscape was about to get severely shaken.  

Scaterd Few – Sin Disease 

Having already been a part of the L.A. punk scene since the early '80s, Scaterd Few released this record in 1990 and brought the punk/reggae aesthetic mostly found with seminal punk legends Bad Brains. What always stood out were Romald Domkus’ (aka Allen Aguirre) vocals that seem to conjure up visions of H.R clashing with Adam Ant. Also noted was the solid rhythm section of drummer Sam West and bassist Omar Domkus. Causing quite a stir in religious circles for the lyrical content even 17 years later, it is still a controversial but very influential CD to many today. 

Interesting Note: After Bad Brains was done, H.R. (Paul Hudson) went onto do his solo project named Human Rights in which he asked members of Scaterd Few to be part of his touring band.  

Mortal – Fathom 

Falling somewhere along the lines of Ministry or Skinny Puppy collaborating with The Beatles, the duo of Jyro Xhan and Jerome Fontamillas managed to create some of the fiercest industrial rock songs, Christian or otherwise. The definite British pop influence can be heard in songs such as “Jill Sent Me”. They were also one of the first bands that I knew of that tackled the issue of child abuse with their song “Rift” with heartfelt sincerity. There were many notable members went onto other influential bands but the main nucleus of Jyro and Jerome would work so well that after Mortal was done, they went to a more heavy/alternative rock sound in Fold Zandura.  

Interesting note: Jerome Fontamillas is now bassist for the platinum-selling rock group Switchfoot

The Prayer Chain – Shawl

Taking pages from bands such as Smashing Pumpkins, U2, and Pearl Jam, The Prayer Chain came out with an anthemic yet bittersweet collection of songs that reflected the pain and anguish of everyday life. It was almost as if this was a proclamation that while life is hard and isn’t fair, there is indeed hope and peace somewhere out there. Notable songs include “Never Enough” which can be a sonic reflection of the last moments before Jesus Christ is crucified and “Fifty Eight”, which could used as a hidden track off Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, as it captures the stunning guitar work by Andy Prickett.  

The Crucified – The Crucified

If you ask folks who were into the metal/hard-core scene of Christian music during this time, the one band that would come up quite often is The Crucified. While their self-titled record was released in 1989, it wasn’t until 1990 that the Frenso/Madera, California-based quartet would be catapulted to being the poster children of relentless hard-core/thrash/punk in the vein of bands such as Minor Threat, Anthrax, and D.R.I.

Interesting note: Frontman Mark Saloman and guitarist Jeff Bellew went on to form the post-hardcore/rock band Stavesacre that released albums on well-known independent labels Tooth & Nail, Nitro, and Abacus.  

P.O.D. – Brown 

The early part of the decade saw bands like Public Enemy and Anthrax collaborate on “Bring Tha Noise” and Rage Against The Machine come out of L.A and the take the world by storm. The formula of rock and rap wasn’t new but it definitely would cause quite a stir in heavy music in the coming years. In 1996, San Diego-based Payable On Death released Brown on their own Rescue Records. Taking influences from Bad Brains, Black Sabbath, and Suicidal Tendencies, they created 49 minutes of raw power, fusing hip-hop, metal, and reggae and generated a classic heavy record. With cuts such as “Know Me” and “Selah”, vocalist Sonny Sandoval kept a nice balance between being an MC and delivering blistering and emotional fits that complemented guitarist Marcos Curiel’s sonic assault.  

Interesting note: In 1998, they signed with Atlantic Records, releasing four albums and selling more than five million records worldwide. In the studio currently working on their new release, they will have Suicidal Tendencies’ very own Mike Muir (aka Cyco Myko) do guest vocals on one of the tracks.  

Starflyer 59 – Silver

I didn’t know much of what England had to offer as far as noise/alt rock. I knew that My Bloody Valentine was definitely an essential band but what else could come from music tagged as “shoegazer”? 1994 brought us Starflyer 59’s first release on Tooth and Nail Records. Called “The Silver Album” due to the cover, it brought plenty of fuzzy guitars, melancholy lyrics, and lush vocals courtesy of frontman/guitarist Jason Martin. This record was a nice introduction to bands such as Swervedriver and the Smashing Pumpkins. Even now, when I listen to this, it still keeps the same fervor and could complement anything the Deftones are doing nowadays 

Interesting note: Having released over 16 releases in 13 years, they are currently the longest standing band on Tooth and Nail Records.   

ZAO – Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest 

When I first heard this, my exposure to this form of heavy music was limited. What I thought was heavy was immediately thrown out the window when I bought this CD. I was genuinely scared when I first listened to the dark and haunting riffs, especially magnified to great lengths when you hear vocalist Daniel Wayandt deliver his own personal catharsis with fury and passion. Songs of loss and torment such as “A Fall Farewell” and “Ravage Ritual” are definitely standouts but the opening track, “Lies of Serpents, a River Of Tears” starts you on a journey in the dark corners on the soul. May seem a bit far-fetched but take a listen and you can hear for yourself.  

Interesting note: Since they formed in 1993, they have had 16 different members in the band throughout the years. While no original members remain, vocalist Daniel Wayandt and guitarist Scott Melinger are currently the longest standing members at ten and eight years respectively.  

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About Jerry Rojas

  • Chris Beaumont

    I’ll have to check some of these out. I was surprised not to see any King’s X.

    Any thoughts on Tourniquet? I really liked the Stop the Bleeding album, I need to find that on CD….

  • jerry

    I know that Kings X and Tourniquet did alot of heavy music in the underground Christian scene but I wanted to make the list a bit more broad. I know I was bound to miss some good bands but I think this list was more of personal influences on me.

    FYI: Jerome Fontemillas is now guitarist/keyboardist for Switchfoot (not the bassist)

  • Abbey

    hey Jerome is guitarist/keyboardist…not bassist–tim has always been the bassist…

    great selection though :)

  • Ryan

    These are some GOOD picks man, we must be about the same age or something. Even though I loved the Silver album by SF59 I would have to say Gold is my favorite. I loved Brown by POD too. I tried to get a lot of friends into them and they’d all be like “what this…christian rap-rock, ha ha” now they’re all popular, go figure. The Prayer Chain is by far my favorite band of all time….even though I would say Mercury is my favorite abum. Zao is amazing…saw them at CStone ’97 for the first time. You know…I never got into The Crucified or Scatered Few, even though I’m aware of who they are. Mortal was good but I preferred Fold Zandura. I dig Frank Lenz.

  • GL

    Great picks; brings back memories. The Scaterd Few’s groundbreaking Sin Disease is monumental if had to explain to others. One note: You should mention Mortal’s Live studio session. That is one great EP!