Barren Cross

By Peter Hemminger

‘It’s a well-known fact that Jesus was a metalhead. If His long hair wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the Slayer t-shirt He silk-screened almost two millennia before the band formed leaves little doubt about His musical preferences.

Barren Cross understood this, and throughout the ’80s and ’90s, made every effort to become metal’s Judasless priests. They meet all the requirements of the mental metal checklist–overly pampered hair, threatening album titles, a band name that could be seen as anti-Christian (a barren cross implies no Christ, right?). Despite what this may imply, Cross were more influenced by Priest and Iron Maiden than by the umlaut-laden groups that were fast overwhelming MTV.

What set them apart and helped relegate them to novelty status for secular music fans was their strong pro-Christian message. "We tried to show you God’s love," they shout over the rapid-fire riffs of "Out of Time" on 1989’s State of Control. "We tried to help you to see/You said He’s not for me."

These guys wouldn’t dream of breaking the law, let alone shouting at the Devil.

Which isn’t to say these high-powered choirboys were averse to controversy. It takes a lot of chutzpah to write an entire song about the evils of abortion. Barren Cross did just that with "Killers of the Unborn," sung from the perspective of a fetus as it’s being aborted.

Pardon my blasphemy, but Jesus Christ! The closing refrain of "I feel the pain" will surely do what decades of debate could not and end this abortion nonsense once and for all.

If the three discs Rykodisc has reissued provide a complete overview of Cross’ career, it’s safe to say they were consistent to the point of monotony. Metal bands aren’t exactly known for their diversity, musically or lyrically, but Cross take the lyrical side to an extreme, falling into the same trap as most Christian acts by singing about almost nothing but God. Yes, religion is obviously an important part of their life, but surely it isn’t the only part.

These reissues aren’t the Holy Trinity of heavy metal, nor are they going to win over a lot of secularists who will likely listen to a few seconds for a lark and then toss it in the "sell to a second-hand store" pile. In fact, when they arrived unsolicited and unexplained in the Gauntlet mailbox, it resulted in naught but confusion and decidedly sacrilegious attempts at humor. But they’re letting Jesus indulge His heavy metal sweet tooth, which must be refreshing compared to all those tired hymns He hears most of the time. A good hymnal’s got nothing on a screaming axe.

At least Barren Cross seem like nice guys. At the end of Atomic Arena’s liner notes, Cross left this touching message to fans: "this album is a combination of our hearts and minds, feeling and virtues presented in our style of music. We very much enjoyed making it and hope you’ll enjoy listening to it as well. This is Your Atomic Arena. We love you all."

Little known fact–if you play these CDs backwards, you’ll hear God’s last message to his creation: "love thy neighbor, then rock his heathen ass off!"

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