There are people who don’t care about Christian music. And I completely understand why they don’t. And that’s cool. But I do.
The mid-90’s saw a change in Christian music. Christian music icons within the scene were largely CCM figures who had come into the scene in the 80’s and we’re continuing to make an impact in the 90’s. The adult pop scene that was the face of christian music was big. Stephen Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Carman, Michael W Smith, all popular. All not making very relevant music. At least not to teenagers. The biggest albums in the rock genre at the time were Jars of Clay’s self-titled debut and DC Talk’s Jesus Freak, both of which came out in 95.
The 80’s were a mixed mess. Bad adult pop music and bad metal. Stryper made a name being the christian hair metal band. ANd there is a secret love for Stryper in my heart, it’s so cheesy and bad. Bands like Petra and Guardian weren’t much better. Yet despite that, the underground christian metal scene that started to take shape in the late 80’s had a lot of promising bands.
The early and mid 90’s started to see and underground alternative and punk scene take form. REX and Blond Vinyl records were key points in Christian music for metal and indie rock. And I would say that Tooth and Nail records is the single best thing to ever happen to christian music.
But this was all underground. The face and representation of Christian music was nothing worth shouting about. But that was about to change.
I might go back and say the shift started to happen in 1996 but the carry over into 1997 and the way that year has shaped christian music and to a point mainstream music, to this day is incredible.
Forefront records was DC Talk’s label. In 97 they released Audio Adrenaline’s Some Kind of Zombie. Audio Adrenaline was a pretty well know alternative band to begin with anyway. But Some Kind of Zombie really pushed them into the same area that DC Talk was in. Some Kind of Zombie was a little more pop sensible. More toned down from Bloom and Don’t Censor Me. Some Kind of Zombie took an alternative band and made them Christian superstars.
Forefront records discography for 1997 alone is an impressive string of alternative rock records that were reaching kids across the country.
Audio Adrenaline – Some Kind of Zombie
Skillet – Hey You, I Love Your Soul
Grammatrain – Flying
Seven Day Jesus – Seven Day Jesus
Small Town Poets – Small Town Poets
In 96 they released the first Bleach record and Static would come out in 98 (another big record for they Christian alternative scene).
Hey You, I Love Your Soul was Skillet’s second record. In 2009 Skillet released their 8th full-length on Lava Atlantic. Their a main stay on modern rock radio.
Also out in 97 was Switchfoot’s debut (and I’d argue their best record) Legend of the Chin. Switchfoot is freaking huge now. Switchfoot has been on every late night talk show and been a part of VH1’s top 20 countdown. All Star United had just released their first album and although their popularity at the time and over time was much less then many of their peers, it was still a part of a large growing alternative rock scene in Christian music. Small labels were popping up and putting out some quality rock. Sublime had Silage, Kosmos Express, Honey. Jackson Rubio was started in 97 and was a hub for indie music for a couple of years.
But the real change in 1997 revolves around 2 moments.
The first was the worship revolution. Delirious changed the face of worship music. In 97 they released their second album, King of Fools. The lead single from that album Deeper skyrocketed Delirious into christian superstardom and also changed our perception of what worship music was. A worship band from England with one album lead a movement that took worship music from traditional hymns and songs, something that many people would define as boring and began what would be years of new songs by new artists that continues to change and transform the songs we sing in worship. Delirious was the new face of Christian music. But they weren’t the only ones.
As I said earlier, Brandon Ebel starting Tooth and Nail records is probably the actual moment that changed Christian music but 1997 took Tooth and Nail from small indie label to Christian music juggernauts. From 1993-1996 Tooth and Nail has a ton of great releases and some might argue those days were when Tooth and Nail was putting out their best music. But in 1997 Tooth and Nail, via their sister label BEC, released The OC Supertones Strike Back.
The Supertones were originally called Saved and according Brandon Ebel weren’t very good. They tried hard to sign to Tooth and Nail, albeit unsuccessfully. They added a couple of members, changed their sound to ska, and were a better band. According to Ebel, Mike Herrera from MxPx even gave the band props and so Ebel consented and sign The Supertones to Tooth and Nail.
Now ska was a flash in the pan genre to begin with anyway. 1996-1997 was it’s rise and fall in mainstream music. Both Reel Big Fish and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones had hits and ska was a staple at the Warp Tour for years to come. No Doubt infused ska on their breakout record Tragic Kingdom. And ska hgit christian music just right. Five Iron Frenzy, The Insyderz, and The Supertones were the big 3 in the christian ska scene but ska was suddenly everywhere in christian music. But no band was bigger then the OC Supertones.
The Supertones Strike Back really seemed to come out of nowhere. Adventures of the OC Supertones was a raw album and a very good ska album but it was relatively unknown to the masses. Supertones Strike Back came out and the Supertones exploded. Talk about right place, right time. The Supertones were headlining the mainstages at Creation and Cornerstone festivals. They had music videos and every church youth group you went to peoplle were rocking Supertones t-shirts (myself included).
Another moment in T&N’s history is MxPx. In 1996 the band released Life in General. The lead single Chick Magnet thrust MxPx into the national spotlight and they caught the attention of A&M records. In 97 A&M rereleased Life in General, MxPx hit warp tour and Christian music hit the mainstream again. But this time it was different. MxPx would become a mainstream pop punk staple. MxPx entered the mainstream music and never left. MxPx was accepted as a good band. They weren’t the christians coming and ruining the scene. They were just another good band, making good music. They were the first band to break through and really make way for bands like P.O.D., Underoath, Switchfoot, and all the other bands that would follow in their footsteps.
97 also saw the formation of Solid State Records, which is a big deal. In 97 Solid State released Living Sacrifice’s Reborn, Strongarm’s Advent of a Miracle, Overcome’s When Beauty Dies, Zao’s Splinter Shards the Birth of Separation, and Blindside’s selftitled debut. That’s a big year for hardcore and metal in Christian music. Blindside ended up touring on a national level and releasing music on Elektra Records. Reborn was the new era of Living Sacrifice. Zao completely changed after Splinter Shards but it was Zao’s debut on the world. And Strongarm’s Advent of a Miracle is on of the best hardcore records ever!
Yes there were still problems and issues with Christian music after 97. For years Christian music was just about having alternative bands to whatever was popular in the mainstream music scene and only in the past 5 or so years has Christian music started to break through and come into it’s own. And to be honest, there will always be music that sucks both Christian and non.
Some might point to a moment early as a more significant shift in the christian music industry and some might argue that it came later, but for my money 1997 was the year where things changed.