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Holy Soldier Circa 1990





Photos by Aaron Rappaport

It's quite amazing when you stop to think of the vast amount of hard rock and metal bands that were birthed in the mid 80s Hollywood club scene that actually withstood the test of time. These bands that once dominated Billboards album and radio charts and went on to fill concert halls around the world, seemed to all but disappear when the grunge and the corporate alternative movements started to dominate the rock music scene in the early nineties. Now, when you stop think of the Christian artists who were included in that scene that went on to stand the test of time, you end up with just a small handful of bands that would forever set the standard and pave the way for generations of up and coming Christian Rock musicians to come

Holy Soldier is a band that has secured their position as one of the most important and identifiable bands Christian rock & roll history. The group, which formed in Los Angeles in 1985, distilled so much of the music that had come before them and has exerted a decisive influence on so much that has come after. Very few artist and musicians in their genre have achieved that stature, and stand proudly among them.

Every album the group released through the early Nineties - from Holy Soldier in 1990 to Promise Man in 1995 -- is essential not only to gain an understanding of the music of that era, but to an understanding of the era itself. Through their intense interest in hard rock, classic rock, and the blues, Holy Soldier connected a young audience to music that was neither anticipated nor acceptable with the narrow-minded - middle America -church going families this young audience came from. What is remarkable is that Holy Soldiers sound has never been classified as overtly Contemporary Christian, but they would still become legendary in that marketplace. Soon, of course, Holy Soldier had become somewhat controversial for their lyrics, their image and even for the secular venues in which they chose to perform, as they became synonymous with scrutiny from certain religious leaders and religious groups of that era.

For this reason, as the eighties drained into the Nineties, Holy Soldier went on a creative run that rivals any in Hard Rock music. Holy Soldier routinely turns up on lists of the greatest Christian Hard and Metal albums of all time, and deservedly so. In support of the release, band launched a tour that reached over 60 cities across the US, Japan and Canada. The album went on to sweep the Hard Rock award categories at the 1991 Dove Awards taking home Hard Rock Album and Hard Rock Recorded Song of the year. Before the band went to work on Last Train, guitarist Michael Cutting departed for a short period and was replaced by Scott Soderstrom- a guitarist whose melodic flair counterbalanced guitarist Jamie Cramers insistent, irreducible rhythmic drive, adding a different element to the band's sound, and opened new musical directions.

In January of 1992, "Last Train" was released. The album immediately went up Billboards CCM sales chart to ..10. The title track "Last Train," went up the CCM rock charts to ..2 and received an award from the Nashville Songwriters Association International for "Superior Creativity in Words and Music." Once again, Holy Soldier hit the road embarking on a 50 city nationwide tour and tours in Europe, Canada, Central America and Mexico. By 1993, Holy Soldier was now an indomitable force on the music scene, and they have continued to be to this day. At this period Jamie Cramer departed and guitarist Michael Cutting re-entered, adding another key element to the musical evolution of Holy Soldier.

In 1995, the band's album, Promise Man, had to rise to the challenge of the dominating the alternative scene. The title track Promise Man unveiled energy and attitude the band had defined a decade earlier. Holy Soldier even swung with the sinuous grooves of the delta blues on the track Mumbo Jumbo. The album was also reviewed as one of the best of that decade- proven in the fact that it too swept the Dove Awards in 1996 taking home Hard Rock Album and Hard Rock Recorded Song of the year.

More significantly, though, Holy Soldier has set a standard for live performance during their time. That is an achievement completely in accord with the band's history. Holy Soldier used their release Encore (1997) to celebrate their classic repertoire, by releasing live versions of their greatest hits. As the final album of their career, Encore finds the band at its rawest and most rhythmically charged, a reflection of elements that attracted their audience and their industry in the first place- that being their live show.

The flame was lit again with a full reunion nine years later, and it's burning still. Since 2005, the band has been performing live again to ecstatic response. Vocalist Don Russell, brother to Holy Soldiers drummer Terry the Animal Russell, joined Holy Soldier in August of 2005, replacing Steven Patrick and Holy Soldier turned what could have been a setback in their reunion plans into a rejuvenating rush of new energy. Holy Soldiers live success during this new period is not a matter world tours and box-office breakthroughs, though the band has enjoyed plenty of both. It's about demonstrating a vital, ongoing commitment to the idea that performing and promoting their spiritual message is what keeps a band truly alive.

But, for all that, Holy Soldier is best understood as musicians, and their own acceptance of that fact is what has enabled them to carry on so well for so long. Don Russells incredible vocal abilities tied into his enthusiastic performances drive home the bands lyrics and turn them into messages. Michael Cutting and Jamie Cramers guitar playing, solos and melodic riffs are the propulsive engines that drive Holy Soldier and make their music instantly recognizable. Bassist Andy Robbins delivers both complex and solid driving rhythms throughout their songs, and colors and textures the band's music with melodic touches. And The Animal, needless to say, is one of Christian rock's most energetic and animated drummers. He is both the rock that anchors the bands music and the force that swings it. At times elegant in his simplicity and other at times soaring in his impact, none of his gestures are wasted; all are necessary.

Musicians live and create in the moment, and that's why fans still go see Holy Soldier. Certainly there's also a catalogue of songs that only a handful of artists could rival. Surely there's also the desire to encounter a band that has played a pristine role in defining our very idea of what Christian Music is. But seeing Holy Soldier on stage enjoying themselves live is to see a working band playing as hard as they can, and there's no last time for that.

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