Around 1997 or so when I was living in Oklahoma City, OK, I met a really cool young man by the name of Ricky Puckett a few times when he was in his death metal band, Obliteration. Ricky was the lead singer, and has also been in several other metal bands in the OKC area including, Obliteration Death List and Broken Flesh. He was also a DJ for a local radio station, KOKF, which played extreme metal, and yes, Ricky is a Christian. I mention that, not to point out that he’s a preachy nut case, but because Christianity is an important part of his life and a big part of who he is.
He recently did vocal work for a band called Anemia and has a new project called In Darkest Dreams. Anemia is a nice brooding goth metal band and he sings on the album. IDD, is a brutal death metal band that dm fans should keep an ear out for (I’ll post a link below.) He was kind enough to let me interview for this little blog and answers some of my questions. Read on:
Me: First question, lame typical question: What got you into metal of any style?
RP: Well, one of my earliest memories of not just hearing music, but actually paying attention to the music my ears were hearing was when I was 6 years old. I used to live in the extreme outskirts of a small rural town called Guthrie, which is about a 30 minute drive north of Oklahoma City. I have 4 sisters and no brothers. In 1984 when I was 6 years old my sisters were absolutely CRAZY over Prince. “Purple Rain” had just been released in theaters, and every radio station on earth was jamming “Let’s Go Crazy”, “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” so much that it was a wonder that anyone on earth knew that other musical artists existed at the time. That was the first time I remember really, truly *LISTENING* to music, not just casually hearing it. Even though Prince wasn’t metal, as a 6 year old, I thought those loud distorted guitars on “Let’s Go Crazy” were the coolest sound I ever heard.
Fast-forward to a year later. One of my sisters (I’m not sure which one) discovered a Christian radio station that played the same style of music that all the popular radio stations played. It wasn’t just some “melody mountain” Sandi Patty garbage like you’d expect from Christian radio stations in 1985, and to a certain extent, would still expect to hear today. The station was KOKF 91FM, which, I actually DJ’d for them from 1995 to 2000. They played METAL at night during the overnight hours. The metal show was called Nitetime 91.
Nitetime 91 was my first introduction to metal. Stryper was really the first hard rock/heavy metal band I really ever got into and truly dug them. All at the age of 7 years old. Ha-ha! I actually got to see Stryper live 3 times in their heyday. Saw them in Norman, OK at the Lloyd Noble Center for the “To Hell with the Devil” tour. Saw them again in Norman at the LNC for the “In God We Trust” tour, and then again at the Diamond Ballroom in OKC in 1991 or 1992 when they were touring in support of their “Against the Law” release. Back to the mid-80’s though. From Stryper, I started listening to the likes of White Cross, Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Deliverance, Vengeance Rising, The Crucified, Messiah Profit, Jerusalem, etc. About this same time, we got cable for the first time, and my sisters and I discovered the glory that was MTV. MTV introduced me to Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Dokken, Megadeth, Poison, Ratt, Cinderella, Motley Crue, etc. MTV is where I also discovered pretty much every other genre of music in existence as well… at least within the popular landscape of music genres in the US. But yeah, to answer your question, it was originally Stryper that got me truly into hard rock/heavy metal. But I would have to credit Prince’s explosion onto the scene in 1984 with Purple Rain (and specifically, that guitar sound from Let’s Go Crazy) that first caught my attention and made me really fall in love with music in general.
Me: Ah yes, I remember all of those bands you mentioned. I saw Barren Cross, here in Tucson, then later saw Vengeance Rising up in Phoenix. I’ve also seen The Crucified and Deliverance at a show in Bellflower, CA. I also remember when I lived in OKC, listening to KOKF at night and met Vernon a few times, I think at some Obliteration shows.
Some years ago, as I’m sure you know, Antestor recorded their album “The Forsaken” and the ep “Det Tapte Liv” with the legendary drummer, Hellhammer. I seem to recall many in the Christian metal scene were appalled at this.
To me, it was musicians putting together an incredible album which just sounds fantastic. I met Hellhammer back in 2011 at a Mayhem show, and he’s really a nice guy. What do you think of this recording with him, as a Christian, and the legendary Vaakenvandring having Stian Aastrad formerly of Dimmu Borgir producing their demo ep?
I don’t think it’s a big deal at all; at least not in a negative way. I think the only people who see it as a bad thing that Christian artists sometimes collaborate with non-Christian artists… I think those people are being better “Churchians” than “Christians”. To me, there is a difference between what I like to call “churchians” and real “Christians”. Churchians practice “Churchianity” rather than Christianity and seem to be more concerned with appearance, perception, and status more than anything else. They’re more about the “institution” of the four walls of the church-building than they are concerned about understanding the love, grace, passion, compassion, forgiveness, peace, and acceptance of the Saviour they claim to serve. They’re more concerned with the “religiousness” of Church than they are with the “relational” matters of the heart and the spiritual state and condition of the soul. They’re more concerned with the rules, and walking a straight line, and not stepping on the cracks, and jumping through all the hoops to perfection more than they are concerned about living in the freedom that Christ gives to live and walk in Grace and Humility. That’s not to say the rules don’t matter, because they have their place. But more often than not, concerning yourself with the “do’s and don’ts” of Christianity usually fast-tracks you into a mindset of judging everyone else while paying no attention to the mess of a life that you’re leading yourself. There was a particular name for those people in Jesus’ time. He called them Pharisees. They were the “religious authority” of the time. Not unlike any other institution, they enjoyed being the ones who had the final say in all matters of spirituality. They thoroughly enjoyed the power they had due to their position and status. 99 times out of 100, when you put humans in a position of authority, they get prideful about it and don’t want to let it go, and oftentimes they get to the point where they think they are bigger than the ideals they’re supposed to represent. And that is not at all what Jesus, Christianity, OR the Bible as a whole are about. And that’s why they had such a problem with Jesus, because he challenged their rule and authority without even really trying. They saw that as a threat which needed to be dealt with. I’ll spare the details though. Everyone knows the story from there.
So, Christians who get butt-hurt about christian artists working with non-christian artists obviously don’t understand the concept of real relationships with real people. Either that, or they do understand it but just don’t care and would rather sit on their paper throne and judge everyone else to feel better about themselves. They’re pretty lousy “Christians” if they think “Believers” shouldn’t have associations with nonbelievers. Christianity is about faith and relationships. First and foremost, personally between you and God through Christ. Secondly, between you and your fellow man – whether they share your views and beliefs or not. Aside from that, Jesus told us to “go out and make disciples”. It’s referred to as “The Great Commission”. How can you possibly do that if you don’t allow yourself to have honest, sincere, and genuine friendships, relationships, professional acquaintances, or whatever you want to call it, with people who don’t share your beliefs?! Of course, that’s assuming the critics are professing Christians. It IS, however, noteworthy to point out that there are just as many nonbelievers who don’t think other nonbelievers should work with Christians. As many Christians as there may be who believe Antestor shouldn’t have worked with Hellhammer, there are just as many non-christian black metal fans (if not more) who think the same thing due to their seething hatred of Christians and Christianity. Both sides who feel this way are ridiculous and need to get over themselves. For those who may not know, I used to be the vocalist for brutal christian death metal band, Broken Flesh. When we recorded the “Stripped Stabbed, and Crucified” release, the drums were produced and engineered by Sterling Winfield who has TONS of VERY notable credits to his name. Most notably, he engineered and/or produced probably half of Pantera’s work, if not more. Vocals, guitars, and bass were recorded by Clay Withrow from secular prog metal band Vangough. it was mixed and mastered by Provo Provenzano from Skinlab and Everybody Panic. Furthermore, the guys in Broken Flesh listen to more secular music than they listen to christian music. Hearing them jamming out to Suffocation, Malevolent Creation, Sepultura, Aegeon, Thy Art Is Murder, Black Dahlia, Suicide Silence, etc, is a daily occurrence for those guys. That may come as a shock to a lot of christian metal fans, but honestly, if they knew how many of the christian bands they look up to, actually listen mostly to secular bands more-so than christian bands, those fans would be stunned in disbelief. But it’s true though. And you know what? Maybe christian metal fans SHOULD know these things. That way they might learn to judge less and learn about relationships and compassion, and UNLEARN some of the judgment they like to throw around over idiotic things that don’t matter, nor do they have anything to do with ones Salvation.
Me: And are you a Christian first and a musician second, or a musician first and a Christian second?
RP: in all things, I am a follower of Christ first, and everything else is second. It is the basis for who I am as a human being, period, so how can it be anything else BUT first. With that said, however, I don’t feel that my Christianity should get in the way of making good art. Whether that art is in the form of music, drawing, painting, or anything else. I want to make the very best art that I can possibly make regardless of my Christianity. Unfortunately, A TON of Christian artists get caught in this trap where they feel like they have to be sure to include a certain amount of “Jesus” in their lyrics so they don’t get trashed by their Christian fans and the Christian media who covers them, and accuse them of not being “Christian enough”. Inside the industry, it’s called JPM: “Jesus per minute”. Meaning, “How many times do they say Jesus per minute in a song,” kind of thing. It’s stupid! Ultimately, that leads to their music – their ART – being compromised in terms of quality, because they have been trapped in this box that suffocates and smothers their creativity. So, they end up releasing sub-par music with sub-par lyrics. It’s really sad and unfortunate. Not all bands deal with this, but a majority within the CCM (author’s note: Contemporary Christian Music) industry do. That’s why I can’t stand the CCM industry
Thankfully, I’m in a position where NOBODY dictates terms to me as it relates to the music I make. Where music is concerned, I want to make good music to the best of my ability. Whether anyone else feels it’s good or not is up to them. They have the final say, and I’d like their “final say” to be based on the merits of the music itself. Not on how “Christian” it is or isn’t. I want to put everything I have into my music. THAT is my focus. If I happen to help someone else along the way who hears my music and is impacted in a positive way by it, that’s just icing on the cake. But I want to make the best music I can, because if I try to water down my music by compromising the quality in order to appease the “churchians”, then any message I want to convey won’t matter to anyone, because if my music sucks, no one will listen to the message anyway.
Me: In a previous blog, I wrote about how the metal community, as a rule, doesn’t care about what you believe, what you look like and so forth. When Antestor worked with Hellhammer or other Christian musicians tour with non-Christian bands, it’s about the metal…well, the music as a whole. Too often in life people are judgmental of others, whether it’s Christians, musicians, or whatever.
For those who don’t know or understand metal music, especially death metal or black metal, it can come across as very aggressive, pissed off music. I’m fairly certain I know the answer to this next question, but how does Christianity and extreme metal work together, or why does it work together?
RP: You’re absolutely right! The majority of the metal community DOES get along with one another regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), and regardless of what you look like, etc. But every group of people has their idiots. Christians, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindu, Muslims, new agers, wiccans, etc. Those idiots are definitely part of the minority, but they’re often the most vocal people. It’s one of those “silent majority, vocal minority” things. The minority doesn’t speak for the majority, but since they are oftentimes the loudest, it gives everyone else a bad name. Case in point: Look at the quality of the comments section on any Blabbermouth news post about any Christian band. It would be pure comedy gold if some of those people weren’t so serious about their hatred for Christianity.
Metal music in general *IS* about aggression and more often than not, DOES have a pissed off characteristic about it. But, it’s for a good purpose. For those of us who LOVE metal, that’s one of its big appeals. We live in a world where horribly unjust things take place constantly. We live in a world where unspeakable acts human beings are committed all the time. Metal music (Christian or otherwise) is really a medium by which the bands who perform it and the fans who love it, can vent some of the frustrations that life throws their way, without actually going out and committing some of those atrocious crimes we see every night on the news. Metal music CONFRONTS those terrible things and various issues, whether they are social, political, personal issues, etc. And it confronts it straight up and with force. A lot of other genres of music don’t confront those issues. Instead, they ignore it and try to cover it up with glorifying the possession of more money, more drugs, more alcohol, and more sex. Sure, some metal bands do that too, but there are FAR MORE metal bands who sing about REAL issues that affect REAL people’s lives every day. Now, if it was still 1987, THEN you might have a better case against the metal genre, but only if you’re talking about “commercial metal”. REAL metal has always been about REAL issues. It can serve as an effective release for your pain, anger, frustrations, failures, etc. That’s not the only appeal, and those aren’t the only kind of people it draws to it though. But, you would be naive to deny that that aspect exists. There are tons of people who lead perfectly happy lives and are just as into metal as anyone else. Ultimately, it’s no different than asking a rap fan why they like rap. God knows I personally will never understand why and/or how they could like it, but they do for whatever reason they like it for.
I believe Christianity and extreme metal work together just like any other belief system works with extreme metal. Strip the lyrics from a Deicide song, and then strip the lyrics from an Extol song, and there is absolutely no difference at all. Let’s also assume that once the lyrics are stripped from both songs that you don’t know who the bands are that you’re listening to. You wouldn’t know that the Deicide song was written by a band who sings “kill the christians” any more than you would know that the Extol song was written by a band who sings about the hope that lies within and talks about eternal salvation through Christ.
Bottom line is, music is music, period. There is no style of music on the face of this planet that has ever been created that was inherently evil, whether it’s metal or anything else. It’s just music! It’s the message embedded within the music that determines whether something is evil or not, if you believe in such concepts, that is. There is a lot of darkness, hostility, and anger within the metal subculture. There are a lot of hurting people in this subculture and that subculture appeals to them, because they identify and relate with it. It’s a subculture where they don’t have to feel like they’re all alone with whatever they’re dealing with in life.
As a Christian, I’m just trying to show people God’s love. It’s not specifically an evangelistic thing. As a Christian, of course, that would be what you hope would happen for that person who is hurting and seeking answers at some point in their life, but it’s never a thing to force the issue. Forcing the issue on someone isn’t going to make them more receptive to hearing it. But just hanging out with them, being a good friend with them, being there when they need someone, etc. That can make a world of difference to someone sometimes.
Me: I remember Steve Rowe talking about the Light Force days and how he and Steve Johnson used to be very “preachy” on the stage and then couldn’t understand why people at their shows didn’t really want to talk to them. He said he finally understood that actions speak better than words and stopped doing that with Mortification.
What I’ve always appreciated about you and Kevin Tubby (from the band Broken Flesh) is that both of you know I was a Christian and that I decided that it wasn’t for me any longer. Neither of you have never judged me, nor ever asked what happened. That’s something that I not only appreciated, but was not surprised by it. You both know and understand how the real world works.
Now then, I have mentioned to you on more than one occasion that your vocals are as low and impressive as Nile’s Dallas Tover-Wade. Two part question: who are your influences and do you play any other instruments?
RP: Yes, you have mentioned that to me a few times, and I appreciate the compliment. I really honestly do. It’s nice to know someone appreciates what I do. If truth be told, though, I don’t think I’m that great of a vocalist. I think I’m good, but I don’t think I’m anything special. I growl into a microphone. How hard is that? No, seriously, though, I know that what I do is a talent, and it’s one that not everyone can do. But I don’t think I’m all that special when it comes to death metal vocals. That’s why here recently within the last few years; I’ve also been doing vocal work outside of the death metal genre. I did the vocal work for a Goth project called Anemia, and it was all completely clean vocals. I’ve also done a handful of vocal covers of other band’s work under my own name that you can find floating around on YouTube with various vocal styles. The death metal stuff… it’s always been one of those things most people think, like I said earlier, “I growl into a mic. How difficult could it be?”… of course, you and I (and everyone who’s into death metal) know the fact of the matter… that it’s actually a real talent, but a lot of people that don’t “get” death metal don’t really see that. I’ve always wanted to highlight and showcase the fact that I can actually really sing. That I actually do have talent beyond the scope of just growling through a mic and sounding like some monstrous beast. Not that that’s a bad thing, because it’s not. Pissed off, heavy-as-a-ton-of-bricks music with abrasive-sounding vocals is where my heart is at. I’m not dissing it at all. But having that opportunity with Anemia to really be able to show another side of what I can do was one of the things that really appealed to me when I was approached about doing the vocals for that project. Having that opportunity remains one of the reasons I continue doing all the vocal covers under my own name as well. Of course, working with Skot Shaw from Chicago goth band, Leper, on the Anemia project, was really great too.
I don’t really have a lot of vocal influences in death metal. At least not “influences” as it relates to people I listened to growing up who influenced and shaped my own vocal development. To tell you the truth, although I’ve mostly been in death metal bands as a death metal vocalist, there are probably more thrash vocalists that I was influenced by and tried to emulate growing up than death metal vocalists. I listened to a TON of thrash growing up. I listened to WAY more thrash than death metal. That is, at least, until I discovered death metal. Lol! But, there’s only one death metal vocalist that ever really truly influenced me in that way, and that was Steve Rowe with the first three Mortification albums. Especially his vocal work on the “Scrolls of the Megilloth” release. MAN, those vocals were awesome! Didn’t care for Mortification after the first three albums, but those first three, musically AND vocally were amazing! There are a TON of vocalists that I would say have been an influence on me outside of death metal. Number 1 is Eric Clayton from Saviour Machine. People often joke that if God doesn’t sound like Morgan Freeman that it would be a disappointment. In my opinion, even THAT would be a disappointment. Freeman has a nice voice, but he’s got NOTHING on Eric Clayton. ANYTHING less than God sounding like Eric Clayton would be a total and complete letdown. LOL! Then, there is Christopher Scott (now Christopher Neiswonger) from Precious Death and Blackball. PHENOMENAL vocalist!
I think he’s often underrated, but Michael Sweet is a HELL of a vocalist! Even at 50-something years old! I really like Randy Rose’s vocals (not to be confused with Randy Rhoads). I always appreciated Dale Thompson’s vocals and Jamie Rowe’s vocals. I can sing a little bit like Jamie Rowe if I want to, but he’s actually a really good singer. And Thompson… he’s one of those guys that sound so freakin’ awesome, but I could never sound like him in a million years of trying. He and Michael Sweet have some REAL pipes on them! I remember back in the day people compared Dale to Axl Rose. I think that’s a complete insult to Dale. Dale Thompson is far and away a better vocalist than Axl Rose. ANYONE is better than Axl Rose! The homeless guy on the streets who has never taken a vocal lesson in his entire life is a better vocalist than Axl Rose. LOL! Let’s see… who else? Rowan London from Virgin Black is incredible! Mark Salomon. Fredrik Sjöholm from Veni Domine, Jimmy P Brown from Deliverance, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Freddie Mercury, Ronnie James Dio, Maynard, Peter Steele… all MASTER vocalists!
I don’t play any other instruments. I mean… I can play a little bit on guitar but I’m not an accomplished player by any means. When I say a “little bit” I really mean that. I can do a few things though. I can play drums decently, but again, I won’t be starting up a band as a drummer anytime soon. Haha! Well, there you have it. Cat’s out of the bag now. I’m just a talentless “singer” who growls through a mic and sounds like a bear! LOL!
Me: Well sir, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you for my lil blog. Although I don’t play music or read it or anything, I’m sure you know music is a passion of mine and I like to have fun with it.
Keep it metal and DON’T behave hahahaha
Broken Flesh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck8lNMHxcVQ
In Darkest Dreams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75AbAi2NHbs