“To all the knocked down / all the burned-out / You wanna be free? Come on and fly with me,” screams Kevin Young, lead singer of Disciple, at the Move the Hills 2019 concert in Logan, Ohio. It’s an outdoor concert I’ve been coming back to for three years specifically to see this band, with each year being better than the last.
Standing in the middle of the mosh pit with a ton of other people I don’t know, screaming our hearts out together, jumping around and feeling the rhythm pounding in our ears and hearts is an intense, beautiful and cathartic experience. Not to mention it flies in the face of the stereotype that Christians can’t rock hard.
Disciple has been around for a lot longer than most Christian heavy rock bands, having begun their career in 1992 and still continuing today. While they had some minor success on Christian charts with their first few albums, it was their self-titled record that began to launch the band higher, nabbing three No. 1 songs on the Christian charts, two Dove award nominations, along with having one song, “The Wait is Over,” become the No. 1 Christian rock song in 2005. Their next album, “Scars Remain,” won rock album of the year at the Dove awards.
The songs Disciple creates are heavy and hard-hitting, covering a range of topics and themes. One of their most popular songs, “Dear X,” is a triumphant statement about breaking the chains of negative forces in life. “Outlaws,” in true rock form, is a powerful song about being an outcast. They also often tackle issues of mental illness and suffering in songs like “Invisible,” “Someday” and “Beautiful Scars.” No matter what song, I always find myself rocking along with them, singing every word — often with tears in my eyes.
For a band with so much musical and lyrical talent, it’s surprising how little true success they’ve had outside the Christian music scene. Their songs rock hard with intense and powerful production behind them. Their performances are electric, true to rock ‘n’ roll style.
Young spends most of the concerts jumping on the stage with so much energy it’s like he drank nine Red Bulls before coming out. All the other members play their hearts out, making for an engaging and always entertaining experience. Even my sister who isn’t into rock music was waving her arms in the mosh pit and yelling along with the crowd. There’s just something about them that speaks to so many different people.
However, the band itself seems less concerned with success than with creating music that speaks a message. Perhaps they could have more fans if they weren’t so upfront about their faith, but that doesn’t seem to concern them. Every year, midway through their performance, Young stops singing to essentially preach to the crowd. He shares some of his own life experience, how God has worked in his life, then brings his audience to a crossroad.
He leads a prayer of coming home, telling everyone to let go of everything holding them back and to give it to God. It’s an emotional moment for anyone who shares this faith listening to a whole group of people in a poor and struggling community pray together. I never fail to cry every year being a part of it. Most importantly, it speaks to the message the band lives out in their music: They aren’t here to be the greatest band of all time, but to share the faith that’s changed their lives.
This year the story Young shared was a bit different than previous years. He talked about how the band went through a period of time broken up due to infighting not long after they started. During this time he was angry with God and his life spiraled out of control. Eventually, after realizing he had been left with nothing, he returned to his faith a changed man. When the band reunited they had an opportunity to sign with Columbia Records but it would most likely be at the cost of singing about their faith. Their managers even told Young not to talk about God during their performance as it might jeopardize their chance with the company.
But for Young, the choice was easy. He had already lost everything before, he could easily lose it again, but what he could not lose was his faith. Disciple never signed with Columbia, instead continuing to embrace their identity as a Christian band.
Even back when they won for rock album of the year, this was their mentality. When interviewed by ChristianToday, Young said: “We are Christians and that can’t stop. One of the things we have always said is it’s important to be who we are. If doors open up for us to play in mainstream venues, that’s great, but it couldn’t possibly change who we are. We are children of God-that doesn’t stop.” This is something the band still carries today while performing at a small free outdoor concert for a tiny town in Hocking Hills Ohio.
Move the Hills Festival is, at its core, a tool for outreach. It’s the work of a small men’s group called Out of the Boat Ministries that had a dream to bring an outdoor rock concert to their town. Bands like The Protest, Desyfer Down, Fireflight and, of course, Disciple make this all possible. Over time, the event has become an all-day attraction with these men selflessly spending their morning handing out school supplies to children in need, along with washing their feet and giving them a brand new pair of shoes.
It’s this kind of selflessness that propels bands like Disciple forward because they aren’t playing for anything this world can give them but instead for something much greater than themselves. Even with 10 Dove award nominations and two wins under their belts, they show no sign of wavering anytime soon.
Currently, they are about to release a new album, “Love Letter Kill Shot,” on Sept. 13th. I encourage anyone who loves rock music to give them a listen, not just because they’re great musicians but, because they pour so much of their souls into their songs, listening feels like a spiritual experience.