If you’ve lived in the mountains very long, there’s a good chance that church music has influenced your life. It’s a part of our heritage and like a lot of things, this music comes in many flavors. Some may argue that heavy metal music has nothing to do with the gospel, but Judah First takes its passion for the Christian experience and forges that with a sophisticated rock personality. Their music is a molten message of power, joy and hope that ministers to youth and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Keith Harkleroad called last week and mentioned he was playing bass with Judah First. Keith’s an old friend and the best memory we have together is standing in line to see White Zombie in near zero weather in Bristol several years ago. I’ll never forget that night as passionate local ministers picketed the concert wielding hand-made signs that read, “Turn or burn!”

Keith said he just started playing bass with this Nashville band that features two Dobyns-Bennett grads, James Aaron Hagy and Phillip Meade. This night, they were debuting their new CD at The Fire Escape, a Christian nightspot on Center Street in Kingsport.

During the day, it’s easy to see this venue, right down the street from Hibbert Davis Coffee Shop, but at night it’s hard to find. They sure could use some signage on the front, and we weren’t sure we were at the right place until we drove around back and saw the red neon sign aglow above the rear entrance grotto.

Inside the lights were dim like a bar, but instead of libation they substitute games, fellowship and rockin’ entertainment every Saturday night. There’s a big difference, too, between a bar and a Christian nightclub, in particular the all-ages crowd, which included parents and young children. For me, it was the welcoming smile from a little 5-year-old blond cutie who wanted me to see her colorful new bracelet. We were waiting for the band to begin their first song, and I smiled because it was truly nice to hang out with an angel.

Following a group hug, Judah First began its show at 8. It’s been awhile since I experienced a Christian rock performance and wasn’t sure if we had walked into a Saturday night revival, but this band is serious about its their music and prefers to let the lyric shape its testimony.

Their original songs are similar to much of the music we hear on rock radio. “The Battle Won” is a thundering march of distort ed guitar, bass and drums that immediately ignited a small mosh pit in this crowd of 60 or so teens. While the music had a powerful punch, the lyrics were admonishing ideas that relate to the Christian sacrifice.

James Hagy and Phillip Meade are close friends and that’s obvious from the stage. James is an energetic front man and vocalist who comes across as a humble ringleader and Phillip reminded me of Keanu Reeves on stage in his long black coat.

According to the song credits on the CD, Phillip pens most of the music and his electric presence and metallic excellence was the core of the modern rock sound that Judah First brings to the stage. His ability to blend effects, speed metal scales and electric ambience was extraordinary and a pleasure to experience.

Lots of metal players like to tone down their music so that they can reach sub-contra tones that vibrate the foundation of the venue. Sporting a new blue Mohawk, Keith Harkleroad’s bass was tuned to C and during “Nightmares” he was slicing loud and low tones from his old Fender that hung close to his knees. Together with drummer Chris Rosenstone, these guys teamed up for a metallic force of sound that was volatile and enough to stoke the energy of plenty of the young fans in front of the small stage.

The band performed songs from its new CD with precision and enthusiasm. Their back ground harmonies were excel lent and their performance was tight and ready for any stage. They took a few moments to talk to the youth about commitments and relationships, but for the most part, they let the music carry their beliefs.

“The Vision Road” has 10 crafty metal songs with great riffs and extraordinary metal sensibilities. There are lots of fast unison scales, plenty of thunder from the kick drum of Rosenstone and a modern vehicle for sharing Christ to youth from street level.

Judah First is an entertaining metal band. Although the music is derivative of lots of hard rock on the market, their lyric and personality deserve attention anywhere they might perform.

If you like Christian rock, then check out The Fire Escape. Lots of talent appears at this local venue, and the folks here are supporting a great haven for young people. If you get a chance to catch Judah First, you won’t be disappointed. These guys are talented and humble players who are able to share their love for Christ and music in one shiny, slick, metallic package.

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Relevant Links:

  • Judah First
  • Judah First performance photos and videos
  • The Fire Escape

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    David Cate is director of new music for the GoTriCities Network. E-mail tips for The Buzz or comments to him at dcate@gotricities.net.