The lights were dim and a thick layer of moisture laced the club as 500+ people were packed next to each other, shoulder-to-shoulder. A mixture of cheap beer, cigarettes, and sweat was the aroma that filled the vicinity of the room. There was standing room only and people had clothes drenched in sweat from the heavy activity in the mosh pit and the consistent movement of the crowd. This is the atmosphere you get at a hardcore show. Now, most people at hardcore concerts are there for the music and to experience a band’s live performance, and that is certainly the reason why I was there, however I experienced something I was not expecting. I encountered God.
Underøath is perhaps one of the most prominent metalcore/hardcore bands to come on the “scene” in the last 4 years or so. With over 1 million records sold, they’ve reached mainstream status followed by musical grandeur. With success at their doorstep, you would think that they’d be like any other rock band….alcoholics, womanizers, and drug users. But Underøath is different. Underøath is, as a band, about the name of Jesus Christ. Underøath is what several within Christian subculture would consider a “Christian” band. However you won’t find them doing mega-church tours or Christian youth events and you won’t find them preaching a salvation message from the stage. In addition, you won’t find the average gathering of “churched” youth group kids at an Underøath show. The band of course has fans who are followers of Christ, but they aren’t out to “target” a particular demographic and aren’t about “selling Christ.” Nevertheless Underøath is my favorite band, not just because I love their music but also because of their faith in Christ. The band, at their core, is real and honest with people about who they are and do not separate their faith from the culture they’re part of. Their message is revealed by their actions more than their words (not necessarily lyrics, but “words” from the stage and in the media) and I am particularly eager to see them play tonight!
On this cold November evening at the Roseland Theater in downtown Portland, Underøath puts on a stellar performance and my small yet energetic body is enthralled by the show. The energy from the crowd of devoted fans is astounding and ecstatic! It’s down to last minutes of the show and after an amazing and hard hitting 14 song set the band takes the stage once again for their encore performance.
As anxious as I am to know what their encore will be, my ears prick up and I am soon screaming my heart out in approval as the band begins to play a new fan-favorite off their latest record (Lost in the Sound of Separation), a song entitled Too Bright to See Too Loud to Hear. Unlike the typical scream-rich hardcore/metal music you get from Underøath, this song utilizes the smoothness of vocalist/singer and drummer Aaron Gillespie rather distorted screams of front man Spencer Chamberlain. The song is slow and sweet! I, as well as many other fans, love this song because it speaks of the reality of God’s forgiveness and grace and how we are all loved and cherished as God’s children.
Chills overcame me as I peered at others in my proximity. Not surprisingly, I saw several people, bodies drenched in sweat, with their hands raised in praise and worship to God and embracing the song’s beauty. I soon felt something move inside me that I couldn’t hold back. In the midst of hundreds of sweating, tired, hardcore kids I lifted my hands in worship to my savior, singing a long at the top of my lungs. Before long, it became apparent that I was encountering God’s presence! I stood their basking of the awe of my Savior’s grace, in quite a strange place--a hardcore show! My experience encountering God with Underøath is something I have not forgotten! Every time I hear this song, I am reminded of that night.
I think so many times in our American Evangelical subculture we tend to limit the places and ways in which we can “encounter” God’s presence, having created religion. It seems as though we’ve put God in this box with rules attached to Him, and we’re only “allowed to” encounter and experience God in certain ways (Prayer, “quiet time”, church on Sunday morning, etc) as if He’s not around other times or doesn’t care. I think worship is holistic in nature, being an embodied response to God for what He’s done for us, regardless of our environment, upbringing, etc.
When it comes to encountering God in the arts, artistic expressions of faith have been limited, if not totally removed from “Christendom” except for the likes of Thomas Kinkade paintings or Fireproof-esque movies (the list could go on) that are created within the subculture with the sole purpose of bait and switch evangelism of the broader culture or being created specifically for Christian people within the subculture. It appears to me that we as evangelicals have restricted God to our finite, western, American, religious systems and nothing more. Where have the artistic expressions of faith gone? Where has the engagement of culture gone?
Too Bright Too See Too Loud to Hear was not written with the intention of worshipping God and the band’s purpose was not evangelism, but it appeared to create an atmosphere of worship among the crowd that night and I believe people encountered the true and living God. The song is first and foremost a work of art, regardless of whether it expresses the faith of the band or not. It led me to encounter God and I felt no different worshipping God in that crowd of people than I did in a church on a Sunday morning. While several within Christian subculture today would say that a hardcore concert at a “secular” venue with “secular/non-Christian” bands performing alongside “Christian” bands is not where we’d go to worship our Savior, I know for a fact that God revealed himself to me there! I experienced God in a place that was not expected and I experienced God through the medium of poetry and music…through art.
I believe the Kingdom of God will break in when and where we least expect it, and God will move in ways we least expect Him to. As MTV’s Diary of a Rock Star says “You think you know, but you have no idea!”
To listen the song Too Bright to See Too Loud to Hear, go here. Click on the “more info” link in the side bar to see the lyrics while the song is playing.