During the mid-1980s heavy metal music was under attack on multiple fronts. Tipper Gore's Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was fighting metal in the halls of congress, while Christian evangelists like Bob Larson waged war on the music from the pulpit. Their messaging was effective, convincing some parents that metal music would turn their children into sex-crazed, suicidal satanists. Metal records were forbidden in households across the United States, creating space for the rise of a new market within the music industry.
It was in the midst of this culture war that Christian metal emerged in American popular culture. The Los Angeles-based band Stryper became the face of Christian metal when their 1986 album To Hell with the Devil went platinum, earning the band Grammy nominations, and regular rotation on MTV. Stryper's unprecedented success inspired a generation of young Christian metalheads. Electric Jesus tells the story of one of those groups, a fictional teenage Christian metal band called 316.
Set in 1986, the film offers an affectionate look at '80s Christian youth culture as it documents 316's journey from playing bible camp talent shows and church lock-ins, to performing at Christian music festivals and hardcore metal nightclubs. Any decent fictional rock biopic requires a convincing soundtrack, and Electric Jesus' director Chris White found the perfect collaborator in Daniel Smith. Smith is a prolific figure in indie rock, having worked under the Danielson moniker (and its variations- Danielson Famile, Brother Danielson) over the past two decades. Smith is known for his highly unique vocal style, which is characterized by the frequent use of a screeching falsetto. Serendipitously, this sound overlaps perfectly with the screaming falsetto vocals of hair metal. Smith also brings a nuanced sensitivity to the film's source material. His father is a prominent Christian music songwriter, and Smith's own work carries a deeply spiritual perspective. Smith's experience brings a credible authenticity to the project. While the lyrics were handled by director Chris White, Smith composed, or co-composed all of 316's original music and the results are spot-on.
While composing for Electric Jesus, Smith immersed himself in the hair metal music of his youth, binge-listening to a steady rotation of bands like Ratt, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crew. In addition to the music of 316, the Electric Jesus soundtrack features new material from Smith's Danielson projects featuring four new proper Danielson songs (including the fantastic sunshine pop of Danielson's Beach Boys-influenced "You Can Fly"), plus a track from Steve Taylor & the Danielson Foil, and instrumental score by Smith's "Familyre Friends". The soundtrack also contains music Smith composed for 316's black metal rivals Satan's Clutch, and Bloody Mass. But it's the music of 316 that forms the centerpiece of this 21 track release.
All of 316's songs are expertly voiced by actor Wyatt Lenhart, who is also the onscreen frontman of 316. The chemistry of this ensemble is best experienced on the album's lead single, 316's hilariously bombastic "Commando For Christ" one of the most brilliant send-ups of metal music since This Is Spinal Tap. The magic of what Smith and his crew have done here is to create a set of music that speaks to all of these responses. They clearly understand the inherent absurdities of hair metal, while also conveying a sincere affinity for the style.
1 316 - Commando For Christ
2 Danielson - You Can Fly
3 Familyre Friends - Vacation Bible Bop
4 Bloody Mass – Love
5 Danielson - Passing Through the Wall of Flame
6 316 – Barabbas
7 Danielson - Heavenly Metal
8 Familyre Friends - Do the Barabbas!
9 Soul Exhumation - Beat You Off
10 Familyre Friends - Arcade Reigns
11 316 - Love Comes Down
12 316 - Girl (I Love Jesus Too)
13 Sarah Wember & 316 - This World Is Not My Home
14 Familyre Friends - Have You Ever Had a Girlfriend?
15 Satan's Clutch - All Hail Hell
16 Joy Explosion - We Just
17 Steve Taylor & the Danielson Foil - Ecstatic Delight
18 Danielson - Come And Save Me
19 316 - Makes Me Wanna Sing
20 Familyre Friends - We All Went Commando
21 Fleming & John - Don't Toss Us Away