Day 11: Chris, Jeremy, Michael, and Scott's Top 20 Tooth & Nail/Solid State Bands
Tooth & Nail Records had humble beginnings back in 1993. A young Brandon Ebel took out a small loan from his grandfather and started a powerhouse of a semi-indie label that ran very strong through the ‘90s and is still going today. Back then, Tooth & Nail ran the gamut from punk to ska to hardcore to hard rock. Their first act, Wish For Eden, signed to the label under the impression that it was actually Michael Knott’s label. Even though this was not the case, Pet the Fish is still a ridiculously solid album.
Solid State Records is an imprint of the Tooth & Nail label. Ebel started Solid State in 1997 (the same year BEC Recordings was formed in partnership with EMI) and began putting the metal and heavier acts onto the new imprint. It didn’t take long for Solid State to become the standard-bearer for the best metal acts in the business. Almost 20 years in and Solid State Records is as strong as it’s ever been.
Scott, Chris, Jeremy, and I wanted to take a minute to show our appreciation for Tooth & Nail, along with Solid State, and what they have meant to Christian music, as well as Jesus Freak Hideout. We have collaboratively compiled a list of our Top 20 bands (10 from each side of the house) to share with you all. The most interesting thing I discovered about this list is that even though I’m the sole old school Tooth & Nail fan collaborating here, no artists currently signed to the label, other than Starflyer 59 (who signed all the way back in 1993!) made the final cut. I’m not sure if that says more about their outstanding history or their current state. Many felt the label to be in decline for years, but they seem to be coming back around again with acts like Artifex Pereo coming on
I wanted to take a brief second to talk about some phenomenal bands from T&N’s past that did not make this list; artists that long time fans like me will likely be sad to see absent. Bands like: Plankeye, who released so many great albums on T&N; Ghoti Hook, Dogwood, and The Huntingtons that gave us all some really fun punk rock; Poor Old Lu and Mae that gave us some really good alt/rock records; and even the legend, Michael Knott himself, who helped get the label off the ground, produced the first T&N release, and even released the album Strip Cycle on the label. On the Solid State side let’s not forget about groups like Zao, Embodyment, Officer Negative, Stretch Arm Strong, or Selfmindead. Of course I could go and on, but we must get to
the list. Here’s our Top 20 in no particular order!
Tooth & Nail Records
Tooth & Nail started in 1993 and likely made the most important signing in label history that year. The members of MxPx were still in high school when the label snatched them up, but in 1996 MxPx really put themselves and the label on the map in a big way. Life in General was a huge release for the label and gave them and the band a ton of notoriety, complete with MTV airplay. I don’t think it’s too far fetched to think that Tooth & Nail would not be the label they became without MxPx in the fold. Their break-up was a little nasty, with the trio thinking they were taken advantage of as high school students, but the Bremerton boys patched it up and came back to the label for a brief stint in 2007. MxPx most certainly deserves a spot on
this list as one of the top T&N alumni.
Project 86 has been around for 20 years and still going strong. After releasing their debut and sophomore albums with BEC, the band switched over to BEC’s partner label, Tooth & Nail. With one of their best albums being released independently just a few years ago (Wait for the Siren) they continue to prove they are still one of the best hard rock bands in the business. Schwab always has something meaningful to say, and man, does he hold nothing back. Even when the messages of his songs can sometimes be hidden behind cryptic (and sometimes eerie) songwriting, they still never fail to have a powerful emotional effect. From their intriguing song titles to
their album artwork to the details found in the music, you can tell they take their craft very seriously to make sure they are producing art that is to be engaged with, and not quickly consumed. With so many rock bands "going soft" it's nice to know that we can always count on Project 86 for an in-your-face hard rock album.
Anberlin only spent about half of their career with Tooth & Nail Records (the other time with Universal), but the guys do have 4 solid releases with the former. Blueprints for the Black Market was a great introduction, but it wasn't really until Cities that Anberlin became almost a household name. An influential band in the modern rock and alternative sector, Anberlin was a shining star in Tooth & Nail’s sky. (Note: their pre-Anberlin days, under the name SaGoh 24/7, also gave us two fairly decent albums worth checking out...if you can find them that is!)
In 2004, “emo” and “South Carolina” didn't seem to go too well together for some reason. From what I've heard, Brandon Ebel didn't think so either. But Emery proved us all wrong. The Weak’s End shattered expectations, and The Question cemented their legacy as a prime name in emo/screamo circuits. As with a lot of bands, Emery was susceptible to a diminishing fanbase as their sound matured and changed ever-so-slightly (I’m Only A Man is good album - I don't care what anyone says), but even now, twelve years later, they're a tour de force of emo and alternative rock that's hard to beat.
The O.C. Supertones
When MxPx left the label Ebel, the company needed a big presence to replace them. The Orange County Supertones had a phenomenal debut album in 1996, but 1997’s Supertones Strike Back may have just saved the day. Even though the album was actually released on BEC, it still provided the shot that the T&N company needed. The Supertones flopped back and forth between T&N and BEC over the years (I honestly have no clue as to why), but they remained a constant. I’m not sure that they ever topped their first two albums, but the southern Cali ska outfit provided a lot of enjoyable music under the T&N umbrella for many, many years. They are truly one of the best that Tooth & Nail had to offer.
Starflyer 59 is synonymous with Tooth & Nail Records. They signed in 1993 and released their debut album, Silver, the following year. They guys have remained active and released every studio album (other than the crowd funded IAMACEO) on the label. It’s hard to think of a group that has remained active for 23 years, but then throw in their loyalty to one label… It’s unheard of. Jason Martin started the band with a shoegaze influenced sound that evolved over time. Starflyer 59 has an undeniable legacy and no list of T&N greats should be missing this band. Any questions about their status was answered loudly and clearly with the release of Slow earlier this year.
An important figure in Christian music history, Aaron Sprinkle has been making quality music for decades. He got his start in 1990 as a guitarist and backing vocalist for Poor Old Lu, and now, 26 years later, he is a seasoned musician and prolific producer. Even if you are unfamiliar with Aaron Sprinkle, I would bet that everyone reading this blurb has heard his production work or vocals on something (probably even a few of your favorite albums). Definitely check out his work with Fair or his latest solo project Water & Guns if you fall into that category.
These guys. Showbread is the epitome of what it means when your mom grounds you for listening to non-Christian music and you have to frantically try to show her the lyrics that are clearly about Jesus. And they are about Jesus. Rarely do I come across a band that signs to a major label that does the opposite of what the label wants because it wasn't what the Lord would have them do. Age of Reptiles, in all its glory, would be a different album if T&N had gotten its way, and Anorexia and Nervosa probably wouldn't exist. Like Emery, their fanbase decreased gradually, but to a larger extent; but these guys didn't care, because they were doing what was
on their hearts: making great music and praising Jesus with it. And that's why they're one of the best.
The Classic Crime
These guys are alternative rock kings. With Matt MacDonald's signature commanding vocals at the center of their sound, The Classic Crime knows how to make quality alternative rock albums. They got their big break on Tooth & Nail records 10 years ago when they released Albatross, and went on to put out an EP and two more full length projects with the label before going independent. They are now hard at work on their 5th studio album, and fans can only expect more greatness.
Thousand Foot Krutch
Thousand Foot Krutch has been instrumental in bridging the gap between Christian rock and mainstream rock--most notably during their time with Tooth & Nail records. From their massive hit song "Rawkfist" to their most recent 12 track rockfest in Exhale, TFK always knows how to rock the crowd. They round out their adrenaline-filled anthems with thoughtful mid-tempo numbers and ballads like the desperate plea to God "This Is A Call," the beautiful love song "My Home," and the thought-provoking "Be Somebody."
Solid State Records
Talk about Christian metal pioneers… Living Sacrifice started on R.E.X. and released three albums before dropping Reborn on Solid State in 1997. The group shifted away from death metal upon signing to Solid State and lost their original singer, but many folks hold Reborn in high regard as their best album. The band faced more changes with Jason and Chris Truby, as well as bassist Joe Stacey, leaving after Reborn. However, Bruce Fitzhugh embraced the change and made the band his own. In 2002, the band released what I feel is their best album in Conceived in Fire and then went on hiatus shortly after. In 2010, the band came back with a vengeance with
"Death Machine" and the The Infinite Order. After all of this, Living Sacrifice is still with us today and writing great music. They are the oldest band on this list and I cannot wait for more music.
If all the Solid State bands on the list were to join forces for one glorious tour, Demon Hunter may be the most likely of the bunch to serve as the headliner. All talk of talent and achievement aside, their brand of well-executed hard rock has undeniable mainstream appeal. But for me, it’s been the extraordinary consistency displayed by this band that earns them their place on this list. From 2002’s self-titled debut to 2014’s Extremist, every release has remained engaging, fresh, and enjoyable. I’m hoping for 14 more years of Demon Hunter and I doubt I’m alone.
Haste The Day
Truthfully, I don’t know where to begin. In growing up and growing into different genres of music, there has been no band more near and dear to my heart than Haste the Day. I arrived to the scene somewhere around Pressure the Hinges and the “play your old stuff” phase had already begun. But while “Blue 42,” “When Everything Falls,” and “American Love” have graced my speakers as much as any track, one of the many things I love about this band is that they have improved with time. I mean, who releases arguably their most impressive work after ceasing to be a band? From the youth pastor vocalist to their hymn-inspired band name, Haste the Day were, and continue to be, a special Christian band.
The only time I have had the pleasure of seeing Norma Jean live, they headlined the 2011 Scream the Prayer Tour. After a long day of talented acts, it took less than a single song to understand exactly why they are legends. Crafting a unique spectrum of heavy music from hardcore to grunge, the Atlanta-based group’s storied career began in excellence and has improved since. Wrongdoers is the current pinnacle, a master work to be sure, but Polar Similar is on the horizon…it is an exciting year to be a Norma Jean fan.
Extol once occupied a unique and important position within Christian music. After an eight year hiatus, 2013’s powerhouse, self-titled release saw them assume this role once again. By providing an intriguing sampling of progressive rock and death metal, significantly strengthening a largely underrepresented genre, and satisfying the lofty expectations of long standing fans, Extol gifted a 46 minute proof that they still deserve to be kings. One can only hope their recent reformation will continue producing more of the same.
I'm a self-described late-blooming fan of The Chariot. Their debut, Everything Is Alive, Everything Is Breathing, Nothing Is Dead, and Nothing Is Bleeding, was too chaotic for me when it came out (and today still probably), but since The Fiancee, I've come to appreciate them. Their intensity, both onstage and in the album, is nearly unmatched, as hardcore’s darling child Josh Scogin bears his soul about life, love, and God. Their best albums were arguably after their Solid State years; nonetheless, Solid State was a better place for a heavy band to be when The Chariot was their labelmate.
What can I say about Oh, Sleeper? A multi-album storyline that rivals that of Coheed & Cambria mixed with technical and detailed hardcore and metal is what these guys are all about. Of all bands to have ever graced Solid State’s line up, Oh, Sleeper is in the top three bands I get excited about when it comes time for a new album. Though they’re independent now, their last hurrah with the label - Children of Fire - remains their strongest effort to date (though I'm pretty stoked for Bloodied//Unbowed).
The Ongoing Concept
For The Ongoing Concept, the name of the game is creativity. While it is difficult to think of another band to whom they could be compared, this young group shares certain, impressive characteristics with several others on this list, specifically, distinctive vocals, exceptional musicianship, and (if the rumors are true) a wild live performance. As such, it should come as no surprise that they are being mentioned here beside some of the most notable Christian metal bands of the century. Brandishing handmade instruments and a knack for experimental, southern hardcore, The Ongoing Concept are an act packed tight with talent, promise, and, courtesy of two impressive releases, momentum.
I doubt anyone will be offended if I say that Underoath is the cream of the crop. Dancing on the line between Tooth & Nail and Solid State for a couple of albums, these guys just absolutely blew up the scene. Between They're Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line, they became immensely popular (even with some people who didn't like heavy music), and they stayed true to their sound (although Lost in the Sound of Separation and Disambiguation did display some change in sound). I’m still puzzled that they never wound up signing to a larger label like
Norma Jean or For Today did, but regardless of their decisions on label choice, it's extremely difficult to get better than Underoath.
Becoming The Archetype
What a band! When I first heard the harpsichord on Terminate Damnation I was hooked! These metal giants have now, almost quietly, been on the scene for 12 years (even longer if you count their previous bands). Each album, for the most part, has presented a different taste of what these metallers have to offer. You may not find another metal album quite like Celestial Completion ever. I mean, have you listened to “Cardiac Rebellion?” The only remaining member from the Terminate Damnation days is “Count” Seth, but he’s working hard to keep the spirit of the band alive. Their last album, I Am, bordered on the generic side
of metal, but extremely solid musicianship helped to hold it up. Hopefully another great album is around the corner from these masters of the metal arts.