Emusic.com is one of the few places you can find lost Christian metal albums from the early years when the scene was just beginning.I try to search for them occasionally because, foolish me, I bought everything on cassette tape back in the day and kept putting off buying a CD player (CDs were expensive, dammit!). A recent search popped up Intense Records and if you know anything about that label it was one of the better known ones for putting out everything from Christian pop metal to Christian thrash.
So two of the bands on the Intense label from that era are Vengeance or Vengeance Rising (due to a name change for legal reasons) and Die Happy. Ironically these two bands were in a big financial dispute that eventually ended with one lead singer getting royally pissed off and actually trying to seek “vengeance.”
I honestly do not have enough resources or information to sort through the dispute. It was more like a he said/he said debate about who owed what and what was each band member’s obligation. To sum it up, Vengeance came out with the album Human Sacrifice and Once Dead which stirred up the Christian Music Scene with the first real thrash band. This was back in the late eighties. Then after the Once Deadtour, all the band members except for frontman Roger Martinez departed to form Die Happy which played in the “new” tradition of grunge music. Roger Martinez was left with the debt of the tour and financial stress from running Vengeance Rising and felt that all of the former band members were liable. He accused Die Happy of essentially ethics violations because they wanted to wipe the debt clean with bankruptcy (again, clarification may be needed here). Martinez apparently trudged on and paid off all of the debts, some of which were personal loans, but through the process became disillusioned by the Christian music scene and Christianity in general. He turned to drugs and women, became an atheist and has not produced an album since even though he legally owns the Vengeance Rising name.
This story was part of whisper-whisper rumor mill within the Christian metal scene for the most part until so many questions were asked that it became public knowledge. The problem with the scene and Christian entertainment in general is that they want to avoid malicious gossip as the Bible condemns it. While admirable, this also allows for personal injustices to occur and for individuals to not be called out when they screw others over. Thus, there was quite a bit of infighting amongst Christian bands that was not openly discussed. The Vengeance debacle is one of the most well known because Martinez began sending out packets of information to anyone on his mailing list explaining in long rants how he had gotten f’ed over. I should know, I got one myself and then pissed Martinez off even more by doing a parody of the scenario with one of my badly drawn underground comics–even as was trying to say in my parody that there should have been financial responsibility on the part of Die Happy.
Another odd moment is that I got a call from Al Menconi after sending one of my comics to him (which he admitted he didn’t read) and he told me that he thought Roger Martinez was demon-possessed. His evidence seemed to primarily rest upon Roger’s use of foul language left on his answering machine. Demons love to say, “fuck!”
Anyhoo, it’s an interesting story from Christian music history that just goes to show the Christian industry is no different from the secular industry (tons of affairs, premarital sex and drug use all swept under the rug). BUT the music is still good! I am not one who just because I am now atheist tells people not to listen to Christian metal. You’re going to find religious lyrics in the best of music throughout recorded time and therefore I treat this music as mythology much like if Greek myths were turned into hymns.
If you want to check out Vengeance Rising, their two best albums are Human Sacrifice and Once Dead. Roger Martinez’s vocals are gnarly, the guitars are chainsaws and the drums are pounding thunder. The lyrics are filled with Biblical references and violent images of horror like the song “Beheaded”:
I want (my) head chopped off
You’ll see (my) body rot
But then (I’ll) reign with Christ
And then you will fry
The cover art for both albums was also controversial and was pulled from the shelves or covered up my many Christian book sellers at the time. It’s nothing compared to the violence of The Passion of the Christ and was quite ridiculous considering Human Sacrifice refers to Jesus and the album art shows a nail through a hand with blood. The real issue was that Christianity wasn’t ready yet for heavy metal beyond the power ballads of Petra and Vengeance scared the mainstream church. Now-a-days, bands who scream Jesus into a mic are usually bringing in a decent income, although some may or may not hit the big time just like any artist in show business. The potential to earn over 100k a year is there when it wasn’t there in the past–unless you wore bee-striped spandex.
Die Happy has two worthy albums on Emusic as well, Die Happy and Die Happy: Volume 2. The name Die Happy, as a I recall, came from a T-shirt that showed a smiley face with cross bones. I’m pretty sure the T-shirt came first and not the band but correct me if I’m wrong. Again, the music is grunge-like as Pearl Jam and Nirvana were the big thing at the time. It is solid music and these were talented band members. However, if they did leave Roger Martinez saddled with a debt as a result of playing in the band Vengeance you do have to question their Christian ethics and possibly their general moral obligations to a Christian brother? If this was simply business then maybe bankruptcy was a legitimate business option, but as I mentioned there were personal loans involved. I do not believe it is ethical to not pay back personal loans, regardless if you find a legal loophole that will not allow you to be sued. I will say from the rumor mill that Roger Martinez was apparently a difficult personality to get along with (but then a lot of creative types are).
Eventually, I’m going to have to write about Tourniquet and Believer. While Vengeance Rising and Die Happy produced some good albums, Tourniquet and Believer excelled in their craft and it is a shame they had to be labeled “White Metal” at a time when White Metal was associated with the likes of Stryper. If it hadn’t been for Jesus, you might actually know who these bands were due to their talent alone. Damn you, Jesus! You ruin rock ‘n’ roll!