The ten best Christian metal bands of all time

Over the years, Christian metal bands have played in a variety of styles, from death metal to metalcore to '80s metal. Some artists in this realm often wish that critics and fans would focus less on the religious aspect -- claiming it detracts from the music -- while others embrace the Christian themes expressed in their songs. The result is a sound that you might never guess is based on a love for Jesus. Keep reading for a rundown of the ten best Christian metal bands of all time.

See also: The ten geekiest metal bands of all time

Zao Zao began in the early '90s in West Virginia and rose to become one of the loudest, emerging bands in the metalcore scene. With a heavy Christian theme, the band's early albums were inspired by religious imagery and were heavily faith based. Yet, as time progressed, and the band's line up changed, this influence became less and less tangible in the act's music, especially since none of the original line up remains in the band. The outfit's seminal 20014 album, The Funeral of God, has been its most well known effort to date. The group has toured on the Warped Tour and alongside other bands such as Misery Signals, Unearth, Dillinger Escape Plan and Shadows Fall. Also be sure to check out the more abrasive, darker and mysterious album eighth, 2006's The Fear is what Keeps us Here, produced by iconic musical engineer Steve Albini.

Believer This thrash metal band from Pennsylvania was always reluctant to label themselves as a Christian band, even though the lyrics had been primarily faith based, early on in the band's career. Along with groups such as Cynic, Pestilence and other similar death metal bands, Believer's emphasis on Thrash metal truly made them a different breed among other extreme metal bands. With origins on the East Coast in the mid '80s, the act disbanded in 1994, but has reunited with an evolved sound, one that fuses elements of experimental rock, classical, symphonic and even operatic metal. Believer's lyrics have often dealt with themes from the Bible, and personal struggles with religious faith. Be sure to listen to 2009's Gabriel, and 2011's Transhuman, and then contrast the sound with the band's early releases, such as 1991's Sanity Obscure.

Vengeance Rising Unlike most other thrashy death metal bands from L.A. in the late '80s, Vengeance Rising stood out like a sore thumb, not because of its sound or imagery, but because of its lyrics and faith. As one of the first American Christian extreme metal bands, vocalist Roger Martinez led the band and recorded two of the most successful Christian extreme metal albums known, to this day, 1989's Human Sacrifice and 1990's Once Dead. But this story took a turn for the unexpected, when after coming back from a tour in the early '90s, with the outfit in major debt, Martinez was abandoned by his band mates, and eventually became separated his initial faith in Christianity, first turning Atheist, then fully embracing Satanism, especially with his music. For a taste of this Anti-Christian music Martinez created with an entirely different line up than the original Vengeance Rising, be sure to check out the 2000 album, Realms of Blasphemy. The music Web site All Music said it best: "Vengeance Rising has one of the most entertaining and bizarre stories in the realm of heavy metal."

Mortification With one listen to the Australian extreme metal band Mortification, you might be inclined to compare the band to such darker, sinister death metal bands as Carcass, Dismember, Grave, or Bolt Thrower. What you might not expect, however, is that the group's members are devout Christian members, and the lyrics are from a Christian perspective. But this doesn't mean the songs aren't brutal, both in music and imagery. With a thrashy death metal backdrop, the act has over twenty albums under its belt, and for decades, Mortification has been pounding out intense music focused on the suffering of sinners in Hell, the epic violent tales from the Bible and even ancient prophecies. Mortification is still going strong, and has even dabbled in power metal, punk and hard rock, but have always, in the end, stuck true to its roots in extreme thrash and death metal. For a taste of the he band's most well known record, be sure to check out the 1992 album, Scrolls of the Megilloth.

Impending Doom From Riverside, California, this death metalcore group formed in 2005. The band plays a self-described type of extreme metal known as 'Gorship,' which allows them to express themselves with brutal music, while at the same time honoring its shared Christian faith. The outfit features vocalist Brook Reeves, Guitarists Manny Contreras and Eric Correa, along with drummer Brandon Trahan and bassist David Sittig. Impending Doom has four full-length records and has already has success touring, already appearing on the Warped Tour in 2012, and sharing the stages with bands like Bleeding Through, Winds of Plague, All Shall Perish, Suicide Silence, Carnifex, Chelsea Grinn, and many others. With the act's last two albums, 2012's Baptized in Filth and 2013's Death Will Reign, Impending Doom will surely take its blend of death metal, metalcore and apocalyptic biblical themes to as many fans as possible.

Extol Another metal band formed in Norway, Extol is known for defying the subgenres of metal by combining thrash metal, progressive death metal, and even ambient black metal. The band has sold over half a million albums worldwide, and has toured Europe and North America several times, over the years with such acts as Mastodon, Opeth and God Forbid, among many others. Extol is known for the technicality of musicianship and virtuoso style playing that has intensified on each subsequent release. Check out the 2000 album Undeceived, as well as 2003's Synergy for slabs of metal that is slightly tinged with elements of progressive rock and even hints of jazz, but is clearly founded on a heavy dose of old school thrash and death metal bands such as Atheist, Death and Pestilence.

Narnia Hailing from Sweden, Narnia is a Christian power metal band, with heavy influences from neo classical, progressive rock, and melodic heavy metal. The band formed in 1996, and disbanded in 2010. Narnia's music is known for the uplifting vocals, neo-classical style guitar playing and a constant fast tempo. Narnia's last line up was made up of singer German Pascual, guitarist CJ Grimmark, Andreas Johansson on drums and bass player Andreas Olsson. With epic albums such as Awakening (1998), Long Live the King (1999) and The Great Fall (2003), the group has earned an especially huge fan base in countries such as Germany, Mexico and Japan. Although the outfit was signed to underground metal record label Nuclear Blast, the band's style of music has often been referred to as "White Metal," a stark contrast to the polar opposite style of Satanic black metal. In 2010, Narnia performed its final two concerts, in Germany and Mexico City, before officially disbanding.

Antestor The term Christian black metal might seem paradoxical to fans of this dark, often Satanic subgenre of extreme metal. Yet that is exactly the type of music this Norwegian band plays. Formed in 1990, the act rose out of the infamous Satanic black metal bands, to inspire a legion of many other Christian bands, who although played a distinctly Evil sounding type of extreme metal, were for Christ, not against him, like the church burners in bands as Mayhem, Burzum and others. This sinister, dark, raw sound, which was at once known as "unblack metal" and was later changed unofficially to "sorrow metal" to avoid any confusion with other black metal bands that were actually Satanic. At one point, Antestor was the only Christian band on Cacophonous Records, an underground almost exclusively black metal record label, featuring such bands such as Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. More interesting, is the fact that the renowned black metal drummer Hellhammer (Mayhem, Dimmu Borgir) actually recorded the drums on the band's 2005 album The Forsaken. Be sure to also check out their second full-length album, from 1998 entitled The Return of the Black Death.

Tourniquet With thirteen studio albums, and a career that spans almost a quarter of a century, this L.A.-based Christian metal band incorporates everything from progressive and classical music, to hard rock thrash and even death metal, mixing up styles within each record. The band's 1991 album, Psycho Surgery, is a whirlwind of traditional metal, '80s thrash metal, progressive, melodic death metal and even doses of rap metal. Drummer, founding member and main songwriter Ted Kirkpatrick has led the band since its inception in 1989; currently, the outfit is also comprised of singer Luke Easter, and guitarist/bassist Aaron Guerra. Tourniquet's lyrics are based on various biblical stories and often include strange medical terms, bizarre metaphors, and often focus on ending animal cruelty.

Stryper Quite possibly the quintessential Christian metal/glam rock band, Stryper was formed in Orange County in 1983. With a traditional hard rock, classic metal sound, the band has toured the globe, and sold over ten million albums worldwide. In the mid '80s, when the act was at the height of its popularity, Stryper became a staple on MTV, and the infamous Sunset Strip glam metal scene. The outfit's seminal 1986 album, To Hell With the Devil, is considered to be a classic '80s metal album. The band's name is said to stand for the acronym: Salvation Through Redemption, Yielding Peace, Encouragement and Righteousness. Yet, despite the overt Christian message and themes in the band's music, members have been insistent throughout the years, that although their music is faith based, they do not try to forcefully convert people into Christianity.

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Alex Distefano