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Interview: Dave Williams director of Meltdown

22 March 2013

'Playing a Wesley hymn in the style of Iron Maiden on Sunday morning probably wouldn't work that well'

When I started the Meltdown ministry, young people into heavy rock were being ignored by churches. The reason was their appearance: long hair, leather jackets, T-shirts, maybe tattoos. Churches were unable to relate to the culture. I suppose they were afraid: what happens if 20 long-haired bikers come in?

We formed a Christian band, and took the gospel message into pubs and clubs. Scripture teaches us we should become all things to all men. Someone has to become like the young people the Church is not reaching.

When you get to know them, nine times out of ten they are quiet, quite soft-hearted people. They just enjoy their music hard and heavy and loud, but it doesn't affect their nature in any way. When they do convert to Christianity, they find it hard to be accepted because of the way they're dressed: Jesus didn't die for you, because he doesn't like your choice of T-shirt.

Society has changed, of course. The Church Times wouldn't have been talking to me 20 years ago. I took a few years off church and fellowshipped with people in house groups, but I've noticed, since returning to church, it's no longer possible to look at a young person in society and tell what group they're in. Some you'd look at and think, they must listen to Justin Bieber, but they listen to hardcore metal.

If you played one of the favourite Wesley hymns in the style of Iron Maiden on Sunday morning, it probably wouldn't work that well; but it might work at a youth evening. One of the areas we fail in is being seen to be relevant to young people.

Meltdown are in the process of putting together a worship band, and I've asked them to choose some really well-known worship songs and rock them up, so we can release this summer. Music in the style that young people enjoy would show them that the some parts of the Church have moved on.

Meltdown is a Christian residential weekend for people who enjoy any style of hard or alternative music. We have quality Bible teaching, and evening rock concerts featuring some of the best Christian hard-music bands in the UK. For the past 22 years, the weekend retreat has catered for people that a lot of churches find hard to reach with the gospel message. It is very much a Christ-centred weekend rather than a weekend based around music.

Starting a church for people who like a specific kind of music is defeating the object. The Church is the body of Christ, and we should be one family. Are you worshipping heavy metal or are you worshipping Jesus? If you respond to the rejection by forming your own church, you're adding to the problem. It's a solution for the individual, but when people ask me, "Why didn't you start a Meltdown church?" I'd much rather tackle the issue in the mainstream Church.

So we encourage people to find a local church who will accept them for who they are, and just come once a year for a weekend retreat and like-minded fellowship.

Detonation is an online magazine that covers the activities of the Christian hard-music scene in the UK and around the world. You can find interviews with band members, album and concert reviews, and watch video clips of bands and speakers. The magazine will shortly be undergoing a makeover, and we hope to see more regular updates and maybe - no promise - a weekly or monthly podcast.

Metal has its roots in blues rock, and the founders are generally considered to be Black Sabbath, or Lemmy, of Motorhead fame. Christian metal started in the early 1980s with the US bands Stryper and Bloodgood.

Metal and hard music is always raw. The guitars are amplified and distorted, giving a raw sound, while the drums are played hard and with an electricity that could never be replicated in any other genre of music. Metal music is always energetic even when harnessed: it is always full of power and passion, just like our faith should be.

Metal and hard music is possibly the most expressive form of music we can listen to. Both the music and the lyrics of a well-written Christian metal song can express aspects of the Christian faith. Some songs can stand aggressively against the works of the Devil, using the harsh-edged driving guitar and screamed vocals of metal music to raise a standard against the works of evil; while other songs can express the love and beauty of the sacrifice of Calvary to those who need to hear the Christian message.

People's concept of Jesus is that they see him as meek and mild. Actually, when he cleared the Temple, he sat down and actually made the whip himself. There are elements in God's nature of meekness, but also passion.

There are so many different bands, playing in different styles. For one person, the harder-edged screamed vocal styles of hardcore bands like For Today would be favourite, while, for others, the melodic, almost symphonic, metal style of bands like Theocracy would win out. At the end of the day, the Holy Spirit is writing the best music as he guides those who have been called by God to write and perform Christian metal music. Music is an ever-evolving entity, and it will change to reflect the modern music culture.

The bands that I admire the most are those who are not ashamed of their Christian faith, and express it through their lyrics and onstage performance. Bands that hide their message in their lyrics, and are unwilling to be open about their faith, are just noisy vessels making use of a Christian music scene to satisfy their own egos and worldly desires.

Without Jesus at the centre, all we have is a string of musical notes and sung lyrics. So, yes, the UK Christian metal scene is a community of believers. The people who attend and participate in these communities worship Christ in the same way our Churches worship Christ.

Some of the sincerest Christians I have met come from Christian hard-music communities.

I experience God the same way all Christians experience God: through prayer, worship, and a personal relationship with Jesus. I walk with him daily.

My first experience of God came on the day I accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour. After watching a performance of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in London, I heard a preacher at Speakers' Corner and then was led to a Pentecostal church. I accepted Christ, and I have followed him since that day. Without question, this was the most important choice I have ever had to make.

No one in my family is a musician, but both my sons have an active interest in the bands and music. My elder son has started a media company, shooting music videos for bands.

Like most people I have lots of regrets, but, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." I suppose I regret not taking my education at school seriously enough. It is good that God does not always call the qualified, but, rather, qualifies the called.

I'd like to be remembered for dying at a ripe old age, and having served God through my calling to the best of my ability.

I love the Lake District, and visiting friends in the US. I have many American friends who are metal musicians.

I enjoy the writing of J. R. R. Tolkien.

I spent many long hours listening to Roger Price, a Bible teacher from Chichester Christian Fellowship. His Bible teaching is inspirational and challenging.

Any Bible passage that contains those ridiculous long lists of names, and who begat whom, drives me to put the book down and make a cup of tea. I love the book of Job and how he dealt with the challenges he faced in his life.

Not a lot makes me angry, to be honest. I suppose I get heated with Christians who stand in judgement on a self-made pedestal of false perfection.

I'm happiest when I see the Meltdown ministry make a real impact on a person's life. I love to see God at work, and see how he can change and transform a person.

I pray all the time. I pray for my family, and my ministry, and for financial provision for the ministry; and for myself. The youth are the Church of the future, and we need to see young people making a stand for Jesus.

My first church was a Methodist church, and I was introduced to the amazing hymn-writing of Charles Wesley. It would be great to spend time with him, talking about his experiences and his faith.

Dave Williams was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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