Reviewed: February 2020
Released: 2016, Publisher: Indie
Christian Metal (or White Metal if you prefer) usually generates a fair amount of opinion, debate or even controversy. As a relatively small sub-genre of Metal, it has survived and thrived for almost as long as secular Heavy Metal has been in existence. Considering that, it is a bit surprising that there haven’t been too many books about White Metal published. American author and pastor J. Rife took it on himself to correct this situation and back in 2016 he completed GENERAL ADMISSION.
For the record, I am reviewing this from a PDF unfortunately so I can’t speak to the quality of the printing, paper, binding, etc, and after speaking with the author I learned that this pressing is now out of print. The good news is there might be a revised edition in the future. The book contains quite a few pictures from the authors archives, some neat memorabilia, and a bonus interview with a Christian Rock radio show host by the name of Erik Lane. The book certainly seems like an independent publication, but professional enough.
GENERAL ADMISSION is subtitled A History of Christian Metal by a Fan. This could be a problem when a fan writes a history, at times it is hard to step back and be objective. However, with a clear head and heart and help from his editor, Rife has written a very decent, albeit brief, history of Christian Metal.
Very early on in the book, Rife says this is not intended to be the ultimate documentation of the entire scene and/or history of the sub-genre. This book has yet to be written! Accordingly, this is not really like an encyclopedia, but more of a prose based journey through his experiences and thoughts about Christian Metal as a fan. Rife moved around a lot, coast-to-coast of the United States and due to his religious nature and family, like many, he combined his love or Hard Rock and Metal and his faith and was drawn to the world of Christian Metal.
He talks about the early days, the big names like Petra and others, and even the hints of Christianity in the lyrics of bands like Black Sabbath. On our journey we go covering the 70’s and 80’s and Rife mentions briefly pretty much all the Christian Metal bands you have every heard of and probably quite a few you have not heard of. He does a good job talking about the industry, labels like Intense and REX in an interesting chapter about the background of this large, unheralded underground scene. He touches on secular Metal artists and people who are slightly more outspoken about their faith (W.A.S.P., Megadeth, Alice Cooper etc) Rife also covers the new young guns of modern Metal, discusses festivals and key personalities in the scene.
There are times when Rife injects quite a few personal details about his own past and life; he talks about dating and relationships and while interesting, seem to drift quite a bit off message. Chapter Eight where he talks about his own band, Days Of Wrath, he wanders off into theories about dating and women, which seemed a bit out of place for the history of Christian Metal.
At points the book is almost part auto-biography and part history. A mild criticism is that I would have liked more detail, more dates times and places to provide more context and facts. Another short- coming is that Rife neglects the pretty massive Swedish White Metal scene. There is a whole sizeable group of prolific long-running Christian bands from Sweden supported by specialty labels like Liljgren and Rivel. I don’t know if he just know about that scene or what but that big scenes and all those bands like Golden Resurrection, Heed, Reinxeed etc should have been at least mentioned them as they are the new elite bands in the scene.
In hindsight, the book was very based on American Christian Metal and a hint of the bigger bands from Australia’s very strong Christian metal community, Horde, Virgin Black, the lesser known, but respected band Paramaecium, and of course pioneers Mortification. On the plus side, Rife covers all genres and styles evenly and fairly, like unblack Metal, without being judgmental or critical.
Rife avoids been ‘preachy’ and this choice adds a bit of legitimacy to his work, to be able to discuss a book about a music that defines itself on faith, without getting too much into the faith that is behind it. To state it another way, he doesn’t use the book as a platform to convert or spread the word of his faith, which I think was a wise choice, but the door is left open. Anyone Christian or otherwise, could read and enjoy this book and learn an enormous amount about this large, dynamic and diverse sub-genre of Metal. I’m looking forward to the updated version!