Rock of Ages

But Herdman explains that the lyrics actually celebrate the master-slave relationship between God and His subjects. "The Bible talks about how we are slaves," he says. "And we're just saying that you're owned by God, you're a slave to God, you've been killed, and you've been brought back up as a new person."

Perhaps the first Christian band to couch religion in the "music of the devil" was Stryper, the heavy-metal band that appeared in the mid-'80s. The band looked and sounded like Mstley CrYe but distributed miniature Bibles at its concerts. For secular listeners Stryper was difficult to take seriously: Was this really a band or just a group of proselytizers in costume? Yet Stryper successfully crossed over into the secular music market, enjoying a platinum album, To Hell With the Devil, in 1986, and a Top 40 hit, "Honestly," in 1987. But when metal went out of fashion, Stryper changed its stripes and pursued a mainstream pop-rock sound. However firm the band's religious commitment was, its musical integrity was questionable.

Today many religious bands take pains to present themselves as rock musicians first, Christians second. Jars of Clay, which is on the secular label Silvertone, avoids overt preaching in public and maintains what one publicist has called a "low Jesus-per-minute ratio" in its lyrics. The strategy worked, and in 1995 Jars of Clay's single "Flood" made its way onto alternative radio and MTV.

But many Christian bands would rather not restrain their religious zeal to gain mainstream success. Herdman says that Audio Adrenaline -- whose overtly religious songs have titles such as "New Body," "Lighthouse" and "Superfriend" -- has no intention of breaking into the secular market.

"It would be nice," he admits, "but it's not one of our concerns. That's basically a record-company thing, and ForeFront is not into that. Their thing is Christian music, staying on the Christian side. They don't really know that much about secular radio and all that stuff." He adds, "We'd never change our lyrics to be more abstract. We'd never do that. But if someone wants to listen to us the way it is, that's fine."

Such an attitude may seem like preaching to the converted. Yet the hardcore band Strongarm -- led by Chris Carbonell, a 25-year-old youth counselor at Calvary Chapel in Pompano Beach -- only rarely performs in churches or Christian venues. "The whole point of the band was not just to play for Christians," says Carbonell. "On stage I don't sit there and give big, long, preaching sermons, but I never get on stage without telling people what we're about, what the songs are about. And if you want to talk to us afterward, we're more than happy to answer questions. I'd say almost every show somebody comes up to us."

The five members of Strongarm have a reputation for playing heavy, sweaty, furious hardcore; in fact, many of today's Christian bands play with as much intensity as their secular counterparts. The tattooed-and-pierced members of Puller, for instance, play hard rock that recalls the band Helmet, while Blindside's growling vocals and heavy guitars earn comparisons to the thrash band Korn. Mason's mother says she appreciates the "intensity" of the music but still feels the need to monitor her daughter's listening habits.

"Everything that's labeled Christian isn't genuinely Christian, and we've learned to distinguish," she says. "To me, the devil can quote Scripture. And some of these groups are there under the guise of Christian groups that I think are just infiltrating." She cites as an example the outspoken punk band MxPx. Its song "Teenage Politics" scolds parents: "Never do what we're told/Well that depends on you/Are you doing the right thing?"

"The effect of listening to these groups is not positive," says Mason's mother. "They put over a rebellious feeling and a negative feeling, even though the words are Christian."

The idea that the Holy Spirit might be evoked by guitar-wielding kids with goatees or shaved heads may seem ridiculous to some. But the Christian-rock genre is definitely gaining widespread acceptance. Albums can be found everywhere from Christian bookstores to Uncle Sam's; Mason says she finds a lot of her favor-ites at Best Buy. Audio Adrenaline's and Puller's videos have debuted on MTV's new music channel, M2. Locally, Strongarm has developed a large following among secular hardcore fans, especially the drug-free, "straight-edge" crowd.

For Kelly Mason the message comes through loud and clear. "Once you find Christian bands that sound a lot like secular bands," she says, "I'd rather listen to Christian bands."

Audio Adrenaline performs with the Supertones at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 6 at First Baptist Church, 301 E. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15. Call 800-881-1

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