KEEPING COOL IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY: Maryville metal outfit Morior Invictus still overcoming obstacles
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides,” or so goes a fake Bible verse recited by Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winfield in the Quentin Tarantino classic Pulp Fiction.
If anybody gets that, it’s Joel Rainwater and his bandmates in the Christian metal band Morior Invictus.
It’s been less than a year since the band changed its name from Against the Opposition, and in that time, the members have labored toward Saturday’s release of “The Anonymous,” the band’s debut album on the Raging Storm label. It’s been a long, arduous process, one fraught with setbacks and, in some cases, physical peril.
“It’s definitely been a huge struggle,” Rainwater told The Daily Times this week. “Starting out, we were supposed to release it in February. Then, we were supposed to have it back in time for Saturday’s release show (at Alnwick Community Center, an all-ages affair featuring several other local metal bands), but then we found out the company that was supposed to be duplicating it had gone out of business.
“So we rushed around and found another company that could do a small order in time for the show, and as I was uploading all the media to get it done by Friday, the house got struck by lightning. I literally felt it — it jolted through the laptop and into my body. I thought the laptop was blown, but somehow, it still worked, and I finally got it all uploaded.”
Needless to say, for a group of spiritual individuals who seek divine guidance in all of their decisions, such events have to be examined. Coincidence isn’t ruled out, but neither are other explanations. And after getting blasted by lightning, Rainwater and his bandmates are praying harder than ever.
“We’re not sure what to make of it,” he said. “It very well could have been Satan’s law straw, or it could have just been coincidence, or it could have been God telling us, ‘I don’t want you to do this; I’ve got other plans for you.’ We’ve been praying about it, and we’ll see where it goes. Needless to say, we’re a little confused right now.”
One thing about which there’s no confusion — God’s will trumps those of the individuals in Morior Invictus. It’s always been so; even in the beginning, the band members agreed that they were Christians first and musicians second. The band got its start when Rainwater and bass player Kristy Walker — who have set an October wedding date — decided to start a band and began seeking other members.
From the outset, the couple wanted to be something more than just a couple of local rock ‘n’ rollers. They saw starting a band as an opportunity to minister to those in need, as a way of taking the faith that was such a big part of their lives and sharing it with other like-minded metalheads. One of the first band members they recruited was Josh McDaniel, the group’s guitar player.
“The first day I sat down with Joel and Kristy, one of the things we talked about was the long-term,” McDaniel said. “We made an agreement that we weren’t going to get stuck as a local bar band. We wanted to take this out there.”
“Our goal in starting it wasn’t just to be a big, famous band,” Rainwater added. “That’s not why we didn’t want to get stuck in Knoxville. We met and felt we had the same passion and same calling from God to share his word and be ministers for him anywhere in the world. That’s what we wanted to be, and why we want to reach everybody we possibly can.”
Other pieces of the lineup were added to the mix — guitarist Richard Tallent and drummer Aaron Hancock — and Against the Opposition played its first show on Easter Sunday, 2009. By and large, the members were Blount County kids — Tallent and Rainwater graduated from William Blount High School in 2006 and Walker from there in 2008; McDaniel graduated from Maryville High in 2009. (Hancock attended a Knoxville Christian school.)
The music was simple — straight-up metal. It’s what they listened to as teens (even if, as Walker pointed out, they don’t look like it) and what they still love. And while Christianity and metal may seem mutually exclusive, the members of Morior Invictus point out that the trademarks of metal aren’t always what people think. Aggressiveness doesn’t equal violence; ferocity isn’t the same as brutality; and loud-and-fast rock can be used to lift up the name of God as much as gospel music can.
“Being a Christian band was the goal — it was about ministry just as much as melting faces,” McDaniel said. “We don’t get embarrassed to talk about our faith. We’re not preachy, and we’re not the stereotypical Bible Belt Christians telling you you’re going to hell for the way you’re living your lives — but we’re not hiding our lives from you, either. We’re not embarrassed to say those things because that’s the way we believe.”
“We make it a point not to shove it down your throat,” Hancock added. “We don’t approach it like that, because it drives people away. But before we’re musicians, and before we’re friend with our fans, we’re Christians first.”
Last fall, several things happened that led to the group rebranding itself as Morior Invictus. In addition to returning to the Cornerstone Festival, a Christian music and arts festival held every year in Marietta, Ill., the members struck up a deal with Raging Storm Records, an independent label “promoting positive music with a Christian world view,” according to the company’s website. At the same time, Rainwater and his bandmates started thinking of the band’s future and decided that the Against the Opposition moniker needed to be retired.
“The name wasn’t something completely fitting for us, and we also didn’t think it was a name that would last,” Rainwater said. “We wanted a name that, when you heard it you knew it was us.”
Enter Morior Invictus — Latin for “in death, unconquered.” And work began in earnest on “The Anonymous.” Along the way, there have been struggles to fit into the metal genre. one Raging Storm executive suggested Walker not smile as much or look “too cutesy” on stage — something that’s been a challenge, she admitted, adding that her persona has also been “a good way to burst through the whole stereotypical bondage pants and a Lamb of God shirt.”
In addition, the continued breakdown of metal in various categories and sub-genres has left the Morior Invictus sound something of an anomaly in the wake of the growing use of synthesizers and Auto-Tune technology. The gimmicks, Walker said, take away from the head-banging purity of “classic” metal and detract from the band’s primary purpose — to carry its message.
But, Rainwater added, those pressures, as well as the aforementioned challenges, have only strengthened the members’ convictions. They’ve served to fuel their collective passion to rise above and overcome, because they feel in their hearts that God has given them a calling, as well as the means to carry it forth.
And in that sense, the final stanza of Ezekiel 25:17 — at least the passage as it’s quoted in “Pulp Fiction” — is more than apropos: “Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.”
“This band isn’t about becoming popular or doing what’s popular,” Rainwater said. “I still feel such a strong passion and calling for it, and I feel like I would be more miserable if I left it than I would be playing in an underground scene where only 10 people like what we do. We would rather reach the whole world, because that’s what we feel like we’re called to do, but even if it’s just 10 or 15 people per show, then that’s all it is.
“That’s all we care about — playing the music and reaching the people, and we’re going to keep doing it, but only if God tells us to do it. In the meantime, we’re going to keep chasing the dream that God’s given us.”