I, the Breather perform during Mayhem Festival alongside Anthrax, Motörhead, Slayer, Slipknot and more.
$25-$85, 1 p.m., Aug. 5. Comcast Theatre, 61 Savitt Way, Hartford, livenation.com
Religion and music have long been two crucial, interwoven elements of Morgan Wright's life. At 8, the raised-on-the-church Wright got into P.O.D — his first Christian rock band. At 11, he attended a life-altering gospel concert. Toward the end of the set, which featured Fred Hammond and other important gospel names, the artists asked anyone out there who wanted to know the Lord to step forward. "I was curious. I wanted to know more," says Wright, who speaks about faith issues with a cheerful, wide-eyed sincerity. "I stood up and that's when it hit me that this is my life. 'I'm gonna devote myself to the Lord tonight.'"
Now 22, Wright drums in I, the Breather, a Christian metal five-piece who hit Hartford as part of the touring Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival alongside a fleet of metal and hard rock notables (among others, Slayer, Slipknot and Anthrax) who certainly aren't cut from a similar cloth. But like Underoath, Norma Jean, the Devil Wears Prada and other Christian metal acts, the Baltimore-based ITB are serious about the ties between faith and sound. When the band was formed in 2009 (As their bio clarifies, the name comes from "God allowing of us to breathe; breathing is meaning"), all of its members came from Christian backgrounds, making these connections natural. ITB's music rarely ventures outside the standard metalcore palette — crunchy riffs, pounding breakdowns, intelligible and muscular screams — but their choice of subject matter reflects greater nuance and risk. In an Alternative Press interview in February, Wright and vocalist Shawn Spann's track-by-track breakdown of their latest record Truth and Purpose revealed lyrics that probe the darker side of faith: charlatans pretending to be God, keeping belief after losing someone to death, and radical Christians ruining the religion's reputation.
Even though Christian metal is growing, it is still a subculture within a subculture that traditionally rejects or mocks their beliefs. You figure that ITB must have encountered prejudice at some point while playing alongside secular bands, but that's not the case. Instead, Wright says they've received flak from Christians who don't regard ITB as proper worship music because of the screaming. "When we're playing Christian festivals, we're playing with TobyMac and Newsboys and all these huge Christian artists. They're mainstream artists, so people don't really get to see the metal side of things, and when they do, they're kind of shocked that we declare ourselves a Christian band." Wright says. "But if people would take the time out and open up their minds and read our lyrics and actually talk with us and just give us the time of day, they would realize that what we're doing is a positive thing. There's nothing negative about us." They set out with the goal to "inspire people and challenge people" and aim to have listeners to relate to their encounters with faith.
On the road, ITB (all members of whom are nondenominational) stick with routines of faith: They pray before hitting the stage and use technology to keep up to date with religious goings-on at home. While Wright comes off as clean-cut a rock guy you'll find, he says that even with these publicized ties to faith, the band members have their human flaws, too. "Shawn smokes cigarettes, and I'm sure people judge him for doing that. Everybody thinks a Christian guy shouldn't smoke or drink or [do] anything like that," he says. "It's disappointing, but we're normal people and we do normal things like that. I feel like people just hold us to higher expectations."
While his faith-heavy lifestyle is clearly incredibly important to him, Wright shows love to secular music, too; he's a fan of Blink-182, Dave Matthews Band and The Lion King soundtrack. As he tackles a question about the possibility of his own band ever going secular, he shows hesitation. He is willing to consider the idea but at the same time emphasizes that I, the Breather will always retain Christian undertones. Besides that, he sees good things for Christian metal. "I'd like to say it's going in the direction that it's going to be way more acceptable in the future and people are just going to have to deal with it," he says. "Kids have always been into it. It's not like they like a band because they're Christian and that's it. They like a band because of their music — it's good — and I feel like as long as all these Christian bands keep writing good music, then [this genre can get as big as a band like Slipknot in the mainstream metal market."