Flyleaf superb in heavy-metal Christian

What is a “Christian band”? I’m sure I don’t know the answer, and in many ways the phrase has been nothing short of a plague upon music since it was coined several decades ago—giving Christians an excuse to listen to inferior music, and giving non-Christians an excuse to write off superior music before they’ve heard it. When alt-metal band Flyleaf took the stage at the Tulsa State Fair (at a concert sponsored by 104.5 The Edge), however, they didn’t seem at all interested in answering, or even considering, the question.

And yet, before they even played a single song from their album, they were opening the show with what can only be described as “Jesus music”—a praise song written by Laurie Klein in 1974: “I love you, Lord / And I lift my voice / To worship you / Oh my soul, rejoice / Take joy, my King, / In what you hear / May it be a sweet, sweet sound / In you ear.” Lead singer Lacey Mosley sang the whole chorus a cappella with her back to the audience before the lights came up; at the time I was wondering whether the crowd (which consisted primarily of screaming teenagers—the usual state fair concert bunch) had even noticed. As soon as the number was over, the stage lights lit up and Flyleaf launched into their usual no-holds-barred, face-melting metal. Mosley banged her head, James Culpepper slammed on his drums, and bassist Pat Seals—literally—spun in circles and jumped all over the stage (without missing a beat, of course).

The band powered through several of their songs before Mosley paused briefly to introduce the band, and then add “We sing this next song for Jesus Christ,” before launching into the band’s top-40 hit “All Around Me”—a comment which sent the crowd into frenzied cheers. (Apparently, mentioning Jesus at a metal concert gets you roughly the same reaction that mentioning Satan used to.) As the evening went on, Flyleaf refused to slow down, each song getting heavier than the last (though at one point, guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya pulled out a bow and briefly played his hollow-body guitar like a cello—I’m sure he’s not the first to do that, but it was undeniably pretty cool). Mosely took a few chances to speak to the crowd, though, and spoke with an unimpeachable conviction and empathy.

“Sometimes the world seems like a pretty messed-up place. The old saying is that hurt people hurt people, and I think that’s true. You need to learn how to break that cycle. Anyway, this next song is about that,” she said before launching into one of their other radio hits, “I’m So Sick”: “I’m so sick / Infected where I live / Let me live without this / Empty bliss / Selfishness / I’m so sick.” Later, Mosley added, “We used to call our band Passerby, because we’re no different or better than any stranger on the street. We’re no better than any of you. We’re just a bunch of kids from Texas who started a band, and we did nothing to end up here today. God did this.” Shortly before closing out their set, Flyleaf pounded out a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have.” As she launched into Trent Reznor’s droning chorus, however, Mosley brought a surprising and eye-opening conviction to the (formerly) irony-drenched lyrics. As she intoned “You’ll make this all go away / You’ll make this all go away,” I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes were cast heavenward and her hands were clasped in prayer. A song about hopelessness had somehow filled the stage with…well, hope.

So what does it all mean? Well, apart from proving that a metal cover of a Nine Inch Nails song doesn’t have to be completely terrible (I’m looking at you, Korn), I guess it shows that one man’s blasphemy is another woman’s worship. Further, it shows that the only thing separating Reznor’s solitary desperation from Mosley’s battered hope is a single leap of faith. And if you want to court controversy, you can even say that it shows that rock ‘n roll has always been about Christianity (and bands like Flyleaf just connect the dots).

But more than anything, it shows that Flyleaf is a band to watch, a rarity in both circles it inhabits: a metal band that understands that darkness for darkness’ own sake is just camp, and a “Christian band” that understands that the light can’t be seen until you give it your darkness to shine in. They’re a band who can put on a show that is a work of art unto itself—taking you to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows (often within a single song)—and can still rock as hard as anything. I’m sure music snobs will be tempted to write them off because of their commercial success, their pop sensibilities, or—yes—their thing for that controversial Jewish carpenter, but that would be a huge mistake. When their long-foretold second album launches, I’ll be first in line.