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Garrett Russell is “a Christian who plays music” 

click to enlarge Garrett Russell, who disputes his band’s “Christian metalcore” label, brings Silent Planet to the Black Sheep on Friday, Aug. 16. - SOLID STATE RECORDS
  • Solid State Records
  • Garrett Russell, who disputes his band’s “Christian metalcore” label, brings Silent Planet to the Black Sheep on Friday, Aug. 16.

Exciting news, everyone — God is coming back to Colorado Springs.

Well, actually, that might just be overselling it, but it’s certainly true that an eclectic mix of Christian music is descending upon our humble town in the weeks to come. Perhaps these are the “birth pangs” spoken of in the book of Matthew... which, frankly, gives those billboards for Stork Fest that have been popping up around town a decidedly ominous vibe.

American Christianity and rock music still share an uncomfortable alliance, despite the massive amounts of capital associated with Christian music. Many artists who occupy the musical mainstream but are concerned with the spiritual side of things are uncomfortable being called a “Christian artist,” while many in the religious cohort remain quite zealous in their impulses to attribute the degradation of society to whatever is happening in the cultural zeitgeist. On some level, it’s kind of impressive that this theater of cultural tension has continued to play out for decades now, even as the music industry as a whole has seen massive structural changes in production and distribution.

Garrett Russell is an artist who has spoken out at length on the difference between being “a Christian who plays music” and all the political and business implications of being a “Christian band.” The frontman of the Azusa, California-based metalcore act Silent Planet, who takes the Black Sheep stage on Friday, Aug. 16, discussed his dislike of the “Christian metalcore” label with Metal Injection earlier this year. Indeed, even if the band takes its name from C.S. Lewis’ science fiction novel Out of the Silent Planet, listeners will hear a more direct thread of musical DNA from the Deftones and Glassjaw than, say, The Devil Wears Prada.

Nevertheless, Silent Planet’s 2016 LP Everything Was Sound managed to be that rare thing — a bona fide crossover success — reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock and Christian charts, in addition to reaching 85 on the Billboard 200. The band’s latest effort, 2018’s When the End Began, finds them integrating more atmospheric and post-rock sonic elements to their fiery sound, while continuing Russell’s inclination for complex lyrical themes — I doubt you’ll find many bands of any genre ruminating so thoughtfully on the Spanish Civil War, as Silent Planet does on the alternately punishing and anthemic “Northern Fires (Guernica).”


On the tamer side of the spectrum, we find singer-songwriter Matt Hammitt, who performs at Springs Church the following Friday, Aug. 23. Hammitt, the former lead singer for the Grammy-nominated Christian rock act Sanctus Real, left to pursue his solo career in 2015, releasing Every Falling Tear and Matt Hammitt in 2011 and 2017, respectively.

The more comfortable nestling of Hammitt’s career into Christian Contemporary Music is reflected in this “Living Room Reset” tour, which focuses not wholly on the music, but also functions as a seminar on marriage and parenting, and is “co-headlined” by evangelist and former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron, who has definitely never said anything controversial, ever. Nope.

On Aug. 13, meanwhile, you can hear the alt-country/Americana trio Michigan Rattlers bring their critically lauded sound to the Black Sheep stage. While there’s nothing overtly religious about the band’s music, it should be common knowledge that alt-country (and American folk in general) is the perfect genre for Saturday night’s sinning and Sunday morning’s atonement. (Plus, local legend Chuck Snow, who appears in support, has been known to spin a sermon or two from the stage in his wilder moments. Prepare to break out your wallets for the collection plate.)

Michigan Rattlers have drawn positive comparisons in the press to Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy’s outputs, though you’ll also hear strains of Will Oldham in their vivid storytelling and Gram Parsons in their ear for barroom balladry — though the band is certainly capable of amping up for lively Western swing, as on “The Heat,” and outright barnstormers like “Drinking Song.” The band has drawn critical praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, No Depression and The Bluegrass Situation, and their 2018 LP Evergreen, a collection of road-wizened, intimate folk-rock, certainly deserves the hype.

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