Metal Meets Jesus | By Ashley Altus

For young metal fans in Waco, finding a space to experience roaring vocalists and shredding guitars used to be challenging. All-ages venues closed their doors in recent years, making metal shows largely inaccessible to fans under 18. Instead of drowning in nostalgia because their favorite venues had vanished, two Waco natives took action by pulling their personal funds together and bringing their beloved music scene to their church.

Will Bishnow and Adam Richards just met a few years ago as teenagers at a local metal concert.  Their friendship quickly developed as they continuously saw each other at concerts on the weekends. Not only did they both attend shows, but they also joined the scene by performing in different bands. They eventually formed their own band, Modern Day Kings.

Photo by Derek Byrne
Photo by Derek Byrne

Growing up, Richards started listening to metal music because of its raw relatable lyrics. He’s convinced the connections people feel to the music is the reason for the tight-knit community found in this genre.

“The community of the metal scene is like our blood,” Richards said. “If someone is down, you help them up.”

On the other hand, Bishnow sees metal as an emotional and physical outlet. At shows, kids are able to mosh and fully express emotions of anger, frustration, or simply the joy of being at a show.

When they first became friends, the metal scene in Waco was thriving. Shows at all-ages venues, like Art Ambush and Beatnix Burger Barn, brought national acts to Waco. These venues also gave local bands opportunities to play their music.

However, the glory days of metal shows occurring almost every weekend ended. Beatnix Burger Barn closed its doors in 2012, shortly followed by Art Ambush in 2013.

Both Richards and Bishnow are heavily involved in the student ministry at the nondenominational Victorious Life Church. Richards has been attending Victorious Life Church since he was 3 years old and later became an intern. He also leads worship during Wednesday night student services, and Bishnow contributes guitar.  With Richards’ strong connections to the pastoral staff, he approached lead pastor Kevin Harrison with his idea to book concerts at their church.

With their love of God and metal music, the two McLennan Community College sophomores decided to take on the responsibility of restoring the scene. Their friendship evolved into a partnership as they formed Aether Productions and Management in an effort to put on shows at Victorious Life Church.

Their emerging company aims to give kids a haven for expression through metal music, encourage the formation of new bands by giving them a place to perform, and spread the message of Jesus.

By day, Victorious Life Church is a place of Christian worship with ministries for men, women and children. The church has a casual jeans-wearing dress code, worships to contemporary music, and preaches relatable and applicable messages about Scripture.

On select nights local and national bands transform the church gym into a concert experience for all ages. The church provides a safe environment so parents don’t need to worry about dropping their kids off for a concert. The 500-person-capacity location gives kids who want to listen to music a refuge away from the bar scene where drugs and alcohol are present.

“A lot of venues in Waco, they’re bars with a stage,” Bishnow said. “People go there to drink rather than pay attention to music.”

The metal genre as a whole is often mistakenly identified as being anti-religious, even satanic. However, many of the bands that Aether Productions and Management book are Christian.

“We really enjoy putting on these shows so these kids feel comfortable, have an outlet and feel safe, get anger off their chest or just have someone to talk to,” Bishnow said.

The ministry work accomplished through shows is giving kids a unique way to find Jesus.

Photo by Derek Byrne

“I’m not worried about them coming to church because I think the church isn’t a building, it’s a people,” Richards said, “Talking to someone about God is church for me.”

Head-banging, heavy bass guitar plucking, and men dripping in sweat, screaming lyrics right in the audience’s faces are just a few of the experiences witnessed at a metal show. This type of atmosphere and music at a church may seem ludicrous to some, but these two Waco natives believe metal creates a sincere sense of unity.

The shows have enabled a blossoming ministry for kids who attend the events and don’t show up to church. Richards said he prefers to connect with kids in this fashion and meet them in their own environment.

“You can shove doctrine down people’s throats 24/7, but that’s not going to do anything if you don’t love them,” Richards said. “The biggest thing about these shows is loving people, and giving them a place to have a good time and feel comfortable.”

Bishnow said he feels called to a ministry in music because he turned to music as a teenager when he didn’t have people to reach out to in his life. Bishnow and Richards invite kids to come talk to them about their lives at every show they host.

“We’re doing this because we believe Christ died for our sins, and if any kids need any help or want to talk about God, they can come to us and talk because we’re open,” Bishnow said.

Mouth of the South, a national progressive Christian ministry band that headlined a show last spring at Victorious Life Church, preached during their set. Richards said he remembers seeing a kid fall to his knees crying and praising God, while others worshipped during the band’s set.

“They were speaking Christ into people’s lives and people were raising their hands to God, for a metal band,” Richards said. “It was the best thing I could see at a show.”

Not only do Bishnow and Richards try to foster relationships during shows, but so does Victorious Life Church student pastor Austin Scott. He plays foosball with the kids and one time even bought them pizza.

“He’s more about making a personal connection with them and then inviting them to church,” Richards said.

Although Bishnow and Richards want to celebrate local bands in their hometown, they also desire to bring in more popular national Christian metal bands such as For Today, Memphis May Fire and The Devil Wears Prada.

The team wants to give kids the chance to be inspired to create their own music, just like they were as children.

“The whole reason I’m in this scene is because I had bands that inspired me and I definitely want to see metal grow,” Richards said.  “I don’t want it to die out. So how am I going to get that to happen when there are no shows going on?”

Deceived by the Fallen, a metalcore band from Hewitt, is one of the younger bands that has recently emerged in the Waco metal scene.

Alex Rosas, a 17-year-old sophomore at Midway High School and the  band’s drummer, said Bishnow and Richards have given their band opportunities to play at the Victorious Life Church and have welcomed their band into the Waco music scene.

“Seeing bands perform at the VLC drives me more to play shows and be more active in creating and writing music,” Rosas said.

Evan Vaughan, a 16-year-old Midway High School sophomore who contributes bass guitar and vocals to the band, said the shows at Victorious Life Church have increased their exposure in the Waco community.  With the platform Aether Productions and Management has given his band, they have found a sense of community in the local metal scene.

Sixteen-year-old Midway High School sophomore Noah Stracener adds vocals and plays guitar. He said he feels a part of the movement that Bishnow and Richards are trying to keep alive.

“It feels like a giant brotherhood,” Stracener said. “With a local show we’re basically resurrecting the scene.”