Zombie love-songs are sadly missing from the landscape of Christian music these days. Okay, they have pretty much always been missing. Matt Redman does not sing about the undead. Michael W Smith rarely croons about the recently deceased rising from their graves to feast upon the flesh of the living. Don Francisco has never, to my knowledge, done the soundtrack to a B-grade horror movie. And more’s the pity, frankly. I love b-grade horror films like I love my Christian music. That’s right, you heard me correctly. My name is Jonathan and I am a Christian who loves classic horror.
There are plenty of secular bands who feed (voraciously, with ghoulish growls and grunts) on the genre of horror films for subject matter. Most of them, I’m sad to say, are not on our team, spiritually speaking. Having a darker, edgier aesthetic as well as a Christian faith, it can sometimes feel like you’re the only one eating pork-scratchings at the bar-mitzvah. But wait! What’s that noise outside the door? Cue a power-failure and an electrical storm: the door swings open to reveal the ghastly visage of… Showbread. My new favourite band.
Showbread are not, despite what you have read so far, a shock-rock band. They are an example of a new type of Christian music that is both unapologetically evangelical and unashamedly original and authentic in its aesthetics.
You can see it in the zombies. “George Romero Will Be At Our Wedding” is a track from the latest Showbread album, The Age of Reptiles. The title refers to the legendary director of such horror classics as Dawn of the Dead and the love-story it tells takes place in the films, as a zombie boy searches for his undead bride. With lines that amuse, like: “I don’t believe that love will rot away (so first aim for the heart, then aim for the head)… love never dies, it just becomes the living dead,” and others that horrify, the song captures the spirit of the genre and still manages to make an oblique scripture reference.
This willingness to bring together the fun and faith that are clearly part of this band’s everyday life is an part of a larger move in Christian music towards not only being honest enough to reflect the whole Christian experience, but to take artistic risks. There will always be a place for the essentially Marxist aesthetic that insists that music follows message and that message is all in Christian music. I would not want Sunday any other way. But what has long been neglected in evangelical circles is purer, riskier art that is great in itself, apart from any message. Christian art on the cutting edge.
Shot through with larger themes and oft-repeated leitmotifs (the titular theme of reptiles and their similarlity to cold-blooded humanity is everywhere, references to Kafka and William S Burroughs abound), it is an ambitious project to be undertaken within the humble confines of what is essentially old-fashioned Rock and Roll. Yet it is not so arty as to miss the popular mark. Cult rock magazine Kerrrang! recently featured Showbread alongside the cream of secular rock.
The 90s rock-influenced musical style, while gentler than their previous album and certainly accessible, is not for fans of easy listening. Almost every song contains, for some bizarre reason, a reference to vomiting (you can call it a lyrical leitmotif, I call it creepy yet amusing). But most also feature a sincere spirituality which is sometimes touching, sometimes startling, not just in its depth of feeling but in its orthodoxy. The title track cries: “the world is full of ones like me, who need to see the truth,” and speaks of forked tongues confessing Jesus, calling desperately: “hallowed be your name.” On “Your Owls Are Hooting”, another love-song, in the dark sexy style of Nine Inch Nails, describes the object of affection as being “like a Bible-verse spilling right across my lips” and actually makes it sound more sensual than silly. These are talented boys.
The Christian messages will bother some unbelievers. The disturbing images, baffling obsessions and truly unique artistic vision might frighten off Christians of a more squeamish disposition. But the rest of us need to go out and buy this album, not just so I can stop pestering Matt Redman to release “Undead Worship: The Resurrection”, but to give other Christian bands the courage to be this creative.