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January 23, 1997 * Vol. 7, No. 3

Disciplinary Action by Mike Gibson

Christian rock trio Disciple dispel the myth that nonsecular = limp-wristed

The sanctuary of Green Meadows Church of God off Alcoa Highway possesses that impeccable, implacable tranquility that is the sine qua non of all such suburban houses of worship, that serene quality which seems to instill in visitors a properly prayerful frame of mind.

But on this Thursday evening (as on many others like it), the venerable quiet is interrupted and the spruce piety of the cathedral is rudely marred by the flame-red drum kit set up at the far right of the pulpit, by the towering Crate amp stack at pulpit left, by the threadbare gym bags and empty soda bottles scattered haphazardly across altar tables and pews.

Then, at precisely 7 p.m., Disciple guitarist Brad Noah arrives, plugs in, and starts kicking up a decidedly unholy noise. Drummer Tim Barrett, heretofore reading quietly at a pew, jumps behind the kit and falls into ferocious rhythmic lock-step, while singer-bassist Kevin Young hurriedly pulls his four-string out of its case. Seconds later, the trio is roaring through "Moth-man," a savage, brooding cut from the band's local What Was I Thinking CD.

That four-minute tsunami of sound is followed by a long, earnest group prayer led by Noah—a man who, only moments before, almost consumed his microphone at the height of a particularly feral scream. And the grinding three-hour practice that ensues is followed by another three hours of free-form worship—singing, dancing, loud prayer, a run-on ecstasy of hand-waving and hosanna that Young says "has to be experienced to be understood."

The dichotomies that surround Disciple, a young (ages 20-22) Blount County Christian metal trio that just might be the area's next signed band, are manifold; flannel-sheathed rockers bearing songs of consecration, dirty power chords resounding off pristine church walls. And the apparent irreconcilability of those elements seems to beg the question as to whether the primal, worldly rhythms of rock can truly serve as a vessel for divine message.

To the secular ear, Christian pop artists as a species tend to suck out most of the active ingredients that make rock vital and worthwhile in the first place—the angst and the attitude, the grit and sexual charge. Not so with Disciple—the tempered steel rhythms and rugged, piercing vocals of their post-grunge metal oeuvre fairly pulse with visceral authority In less secular terms, theirs is a sound as bracing and galvanic as a backwoods baptism in a cold mountain stream.

But according to Young, the alleged paradox of playing rock in a soft place isn't such a paradox at all, and the members of Disciple wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's not what goes into the heart of a man that defiles him, but what comes out of him," says Young, paraphrasing scripture. "It's just like King David dancing before the Lord. All of the emotions we tap into came from God; what really counts is what you do with them."

Noah agrees, noting the visceral traditions of black Gospel music, many of which seem only a shout removed from the earthier blues and R&B rhythms to which they are symbiotically tied.

"There's a fine line as to how those impulses are used," he says. "I happen to believe that rock music is a good and perfect gift."

If that's true, then Disciple was indeed blessed in 1996. The January release of What Was I Thinking (which has sold more than 1,200 units to date) helped earn the five-year-old trio a berth in the finals of last year's Music Association of Knoxville showcase. The disc, as well as the band's fierce live show, drew the attention of a Nashville A&R rep who eventually dropped What...into the hands of executives at Warner Brothers Records' fledgling Christian subsidiary, Resound.

"We met one of their reps for lunch at a Nashville steakhouse, and we stayed so long the waitress asked if we wanted dinner," Noah enthuses, describing the meeting that produced a verbal agreement for Resound to release a Disciple EP. "The label hasn't got its finances straight yet, but everything looks good. They want to send us on a tour of the southeast, then release a full-length album maybe next year."

But while Disciple is serious about making money from its music, Noah says the band's higher mission will remain that of saving souls. He reports that two audience members converted at a recent battle of the bands competition at Knoxville's Bombay Bicycle Club, while "countless" more were saved at a subsequent Heritage High School show.

"If you come to one of our shows, you won't leave the same," he promises. "You'll be up at least one night tossing and turning, knowing you were in the presence of God."

Of course, the mantle of musical missionary often requires that the band venture into locales some self-appointed arbiters of decency might deem less than suitable for a group of tee-totaling Christian lads. Young admits some fellow believers are critical of his chosen path; in answer, he points out that Christ Himself worked His miracles not in the powdered palaces and resplendent synagogues of the Holy Land. Rather, He chose to consort with earthy fishermen and seedy tax collectors, with a motley assortment of whores, beggars, and thieves.

"If you play at a church, who have you helped?" says Young. "We catch some heat from other Christians sometimes. But then He got slammed for it, so why shouldn't we?"

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