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Culture

New Face of Christian Rock

The rock group Payable on Death has taken Germany by storm. The group’s single 'Alive' is in the top ten, and the album "Satellite" is selling at an astronomic rate. But what makes this Christian rock group so popular?

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P.O.D.'s hard rocking energetic brand of Christian music ranks high in Germany

Discard whatever notions you have about Christian music. Payable on Death or P.O.D. is different. It’s not folk, gospel, soul or any of the other traditional forms of popular Christian music.

It’s not soft, gentle and soul-searching, but rather loud, energetic, and heavy rock. It’s get up on your feet and take a stand music from a group of young, heavily tattooed men with long hair and skater clothes.

Sound-wise, P.O.D. is more akin to heavy metal than anything Christian. In fact, the group is often classified as "nu-metal", a contemporary blend of traditional e-guitar, drums, and bass mixed with elements of rap and reggae.

But P.O.D’s message is undeniably Christian: live every day as if it were your last.

So alive

The video for the group’s hit single "Alive" starts out with a car accident. A young man drives along a quiet street, not paying attention to the traffic. His car is rammed, it flips over a few times and lands under an overpass. The car is a complete wreck, but the driver survives. Slowly, dazed by the sudden change of events, the man gets out of the car and looks around.

The music starts, heavy rock accompanied by wild, jubilant singing "Everyday is a new day / I’m thankful for every breath I take / I won’t take it for granted..."

Still under the shock of the accident, the young man has a revelation. He discovers God is with him, and there’s no denying it. He vows never again to live a care free life. He’ll be thankful for every day God gives him.

Then the four-man band bursts out energetically, "I feel so alive / For the very first time / I can’t deny You / I feel so alive."

All the while, the camera circles around the musicians – four young men, jamming away on their instruments, uncaring how they fit in to the music scene. For them, it’s the message and their style of music that counts.

As the lead singer Sonny Sandoval shouts out, he has "A new song to sing / Tell the world how I feel inside / Even though it might cost me everything."

A journey for a lifetime

It took the band a long time to get where it is today. For more than 10 years, the group struggled, worked on its music, refined it and endured while the rest of the world went through phases until it was finally ready to listen to P.O.D.

Individually, the members of the band also suffered. Growing up in "Southtown" San Diego a stone’s throw away from Tijuana, Sandoval, Marcos Curiel, Traa Daniels and Wuv Bernado experienced first-hand what it’s like to go through hell and come up singing of heaven.

Like the stories and characters in their songs, the musicians lived for years in disbelief until they were shocked into accepting God’s presence. Bernado, for example, watched how his father fell victim to violence and drugs until he finally, inspired by God’s love, pulled himself back up. The miracle of his father’s recovery left such a strong impression on Bernado that he too embraced God.

Sandoval turned to God after his mother died. She had suffered from a disease for many years and was only able to bear the pain through her belief in God. Struggling to overcome his mother’s death, Sandoval founded P.O.D. in 1992. For him, the music was an outlet to express the sorrow of loss and the joy of discovering God’s love.

The group’s desire to make music inspired by Christian love is obvious in the name. Payable on Death is an allusion to the belief that everyone will be held accountable for his or her sins when Judgement Day comes. The group’s symbol, three intertwined rings, stands for the holy trinity of father, son and holy ghost.

Music for all

When asked about their beliefs, the group is refreshingly open and positive. For them religion is life-affirming. They candidly admit that God is part of their everyday lives, but they are not proselytizing.

They may pray before every performance, but they do not enforce their beliefs on their listeners. Unlike other Christian music groups who use their music as a mouthpiece for evangelizing, P.O.D. basically says, "here’s the way we see things, but you don’t have to subscribe to our beliefs." Fans can listen and enjoy the music regardless of religious views.

In fact, this laid back and tolerant attitude is what makes the group so popular, says Ole Kirchhoff, the band’s marketing manager in Germany. "They have an uplifting message that’s not necessarily purely religious," says Kirchhoff.

"The band has an unbelievable positive energy, and it comes across when they play. The fans sense the optimism and they respond to it," Kirchhoff told DW-WORLD.

Positive success

It’s not dance music, it’s not peppy pop, and yet the song "Alive" is catchy – so catchy in fact that it’s climbed the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Germany the hit single is ranked number seven on the German charts – a surprisingly high position for a hard rock number. Most of the other top singles are the run-of-the-mill dance, hip-hop or rap tunes – short lived songs that come and go. P.O.D.’s songs have the making of music that will last.

The group’s latest album "Satellite" has already sold an unbelievable number of records in the few months it’s been out. In the US it’s made platinum; in Germany sales are skyrocketing. And the number will most likely continue to increase as more of the album’s singles are released.

Kirchhoff attributes the band’s success in Germany to their unique mix of positive lyrics and good strong rock sound. "The music is good – very good," he says.

But even more than that, P.O.D. has managed to find the sound of the times. "Rock is in again," Kirchhoff explains. After years of sampling different types of sound from electronic and techno to the pre-produced, pre-packaged teeny-pop, listeners are rediscovering the joys of good hard rock music.

"There’s an obvious trend to handmade music, back to the roots of rock," Kirchhoff says. And P.O.D. has been making this type of music all along.

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