What's a Christian band from Gisborne doing on the same bill as Korn, Megadeth and Rob Zombie? Chris Schulz talks to extreme metallers Saving Grace.

Songs about suicide, drug addiction and death. An album cover that shows a man expunging devilish flames. And lyrics like, "We are here to burn your world to the ground" and, "What we carry crushes kingdoms".

When guitarist Vasely Sapunov says Saving Grace have just made their "darkest and rawest" record yet, he's not kidding.

The five-piece band's fourth album The Urgency is a dose of potent metal extremism, flexing its guitar muscles over devilish death growls and the kind of hardcore musical violence that incites moshpit action at concerts.

One listen to tracks like Ablaze and Like a Trainwreck and it's easy to see Saving Grace are pushing metal to its extremes.


But there's one big difference between Saving Grace and most of their contemporaries: two members of the band are Christians, and their faith is a subject that pops up regularly in their music - and in conversation.

"We always talk about our faith as the crux of why we're still a band, even though not every person in the band is a Christian," Sapunov tells TimeOut.

"(Vocalist) Nick (Tautuhi) and I didn't grow up as Christians, in Christian homes or with religion. We never started this band intending to speak about our faith. We had genuine experiences that we wanted to share.

"The whole thing about Saving Grace from day dot is we wanted to write this really disgusting, heavy, brutal music but have this juxtaposition in the name. People (hear the name) and go, 'Aww, that's lovely.' But it's the complete opposite of that."

The band - Sapunov and Tautuhi, who share lyrical writing duties, are joined by guitarist Ross McDougall, bassist George White and drummer Shaun Anderson - include extremely personal stories in their songs. On The Urgency, The Banks of the Otara is about the death of Tautuhi's cousin in a car accident, Like a Train Wreck is about drug addiction, and The Man Who Painted the Pavement is about a suicide attempt several members of the band witnessed during a trip to Auckland.

"(The suicide attempt) stuck in our mind for a long time. It was in the back of our mind for this record. The focus is on death, the inevitability of it and the frailty of life. We're exploring a whole bunch of dark, personal stuff.

"This is the darkest and hungriest of the bunch but we definitely touch on topics of our faith on this record. It's a really dark, raw record (but) the songs have redemptive sides to them."

It's a brand of music that has found the band plenty of popularity. They're embarking on their fourth US tour in March, and tonight they're one of the opening bands on a line-up that includes childhood heroes Korn ("I had Korn posters on my wall," says Sapunov) at Vector Arena's two-day metal festival Westfest, which included Megadeth and Rob Zombie on Wednesday's opening night.


That's a long way away from the tiny shows they started playing in Gisborne in 2005.

"We used to have this venue out the back of a pub where we used to have all ages shows. We had no intention of doing anything crazy, just playing for our mates. But we started to tour and get out and about as much as we could.

"We ended up signing three separate deals for our first record in 2007 and things really started taking off for us. We were fortunate enough to be around when the internet was good for promoting music, especially in our kind of genre, when MySpace was taking off - we got a lot of attention."

Despite getting occasional criticism for their beliefs, and for band members wearing black "Satanic" T-shirts in photos, Sapunov says Saving Grace aren't about to start changing what they do.

"We don't want to be preaching to the converted.

"We don't want to be a Christian band playing to Christian fans. We're so far removed from the Christian music scene.

"Most people know what we're about and we're never going to change that. We're going to be as honest and confrontational as we want to be."

Who: Saving Grace
Where: Playing Westfest at Vector Arena tonight with Korn, Asking Alexandria, Black Veil Brides, August Burns Red and Terror.
Listen: New album The Urgency, out now. Also Behind Enemy Lines (2008), Unbreakable (2010) and The King is Coming (2011).

- TimeOut