Norma Jean

King Tut’s, Glasgow, Fri 19 Jan


Let’s blame it on Sir Cliff. But the perception of Christian music is of something rather dull. Strange, considering musical greats and notorious hellraisers, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis had such strong ties to the church.

But ever since Led Zeppelin and The Doors dabbled in mysticism, Christianity and rock music have been awkward bedfellows, rock’s anti-authoritarian nature clashing with Christianity’s ideals. Plus, the occult just looked cool. No wonder the Devil has all the best tunes.

In the 80s, influential metal bands Venom, Celtic Frost and Slayer went further, using satanic imagery on their albums and since then metal has retained a mostly harmless fondness for satanic imagery. But the mid-90s saw a greater level of Christian-baiting. Glen Benton, frontman for death metallers, Deicide, has made a career from God-bashing and infamously burnt an inverted cross in his forehead. Varg Vikernes of Norwegian black metal group Burzum, on the other hand, went that little bit further and burnt down a Bergen church.

Hardcore, in contrast, has maintained a surprisingly considerate attitude towards Christianity. Even atheists note the parallel ideals: positivity, unity, the championing of social causes and the popularity of the straight-edge lifestyle, which rejects drink and drugs.

Ten years ago, Christian hardcore was a tiny sub-genre, with the acclaimed Zao earning begrudged respect. Now groups like As I Lay Dying, Demon Hunter and Underoath have reached an unprecedented level of popularity. And many atheists are prepared to put their prejudices aside.

But the poster-boys for Christian hardcore are Atlanta’s Norma Jean. New album Redeemer is as angry as any other hardcore album you’ll hear this year and is brought to you by Ross Robinson, the producer behind albums from heretical metal monsters, Slipknot, and post-hardcore idealists, At the Drive-In.

And while they’re perfectly happy to discuss their spirituality they’ve never been the type to preach. They’ve even openly criticised the sudden popularity of Christian Hardcore, suggesting many neo-conservative views clash with Christian values of forgiveness and love.

And when you consider that metal and hardcore have often been a refuge from authoritarian figures, Norma Jean sound like fairly normal guys, while that loon in Deicide sounds as crackers as one of those nutjob TV evangelists. I know who I’d rather spend time with.

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