Rock music has historically excelled at glorifying three not-so-excellent themes: being bad, being mad and being sad. Sometimes all at once. In contrast, the list of rock songs in which an artist or band earnestly, honestly and unabashedly pines for goodness and virtue is far shorter.
Which brings us to the curious case of Devour the Day.
Now, you might expect a hard rock act with a moniker like Devour the Day to be chomping at the proverbial bit to spit clichéd tales of rage, rebellion or rejection. But it turns out this Memphis, Tenn., group (which formed in late 2012 out of the ashes of the now defunct alt-rock act Egypt Central) is keen to explore territory that's well off rock's beaten path. Even the fierce-sounding name isn't what it seems. In an interview with upstatemetal.net, guitarist Joey "Chicago" Walser said he and lead singer Blake Allison didn't want a "stupid name like Triggerfinger, or whatever, that didn't have any challenge to it." Instead, he describes the one they chose as being "like carpe diem with some teeth." In other words, seizing the day … with a vengeance.
Walser, Allison and Co. do exactly that in the group's first hit, the hard-hitting, mid-tempo ballad "Good Man." And it's the kind of song that might have secular rock fans who hear it on the radio wondering if they've accidentally ended up on a Christian rock station by mistake. (Walser has said that's not the case, which I'll get to momentarily.)
"Good Man" delivers a stark, prayerful plea for something that might best be described as an extreme character makeover. "I want to be a good man," Allison begins forthrightly. "I want to see God." Then, with lyrics that sound like they could have come from one of David's psalms or the Apostle Paul's mediations on our sinful nature in Romans 7, Allison admits, "I want to be faithful, but I know that I'm not/I want to be a good man, I want to do right." That's followed by an allusion to the fact that perhaps the man making these pleas has been anything but good up to this point: "I don't want to be a criminal for the rest of my life."
The next verse delivers another desperate petition for a changed heart as the singer confesses his brokenness: "Everything that I've done before/Has brought me back down to my knees/I'm crying out to you, Lord/It's getting harder and harder and see/If there's any good left in me." Accordingly, he asks again, "Is there any good left in me?"
It's a deeply personal question that leads into the next chorus, which now articulates a desire for salvation and deliverance from bondage. "I want to be a good man, I want to be saved/I want to be a free man, but I feel like a slave." Those poignant words pave the way for the final verse, one filled with still more language that sounds as if it could have come straight from Scripture: "Pull me from the darkness," Allison begs, "lift me back into the light." And he adds one last request, "Fill this empty vessel, fill this hole I have inside," before asking, "Am I worth forgiveness? I can't make myself believe/Show me that you're listening and tear this devil out of me."
The song concludes with its core statement paired once more with its core question: "I want to be a good man/Is there any good left in me?"
Devour the Day's answer, it seems, is that finding goodness within us requires admitting our weakness, prayerfully reaching out to a God who pulls us into the light, and trusting Him to deliver us from the emptiness and darkness inside. As far as it goes, that message is entirely consistent with what Scripture says about our need for God to rescue us from our sin, a spiritually crippling condition from which we cannot extricate ourselves apart from His intervention.
So it's no surprise that interviewers in the rock press have been curious about where Devour the Day is coming from, specifically whether it's a Christian band and/or whether this is a Christian song.
Cassie Carlson at rockrevoltmagazine.com asked Walser, "Do you guys claim to be a religious band?" Walser replied, "We aren't a religious band in any sense. You always get slapped with a label when you bring up God or believing in something. We're far from a Christian band. … [But] this album has brought us deeper into our cores than we have ever been. Taking the risk of diving into our values and beliefs has paid off and given listeners something more to think about than materialistic things."
In a separate interview with loudwire.com, Walser added, "['Good Man'] was literally a hard song to write because I'm not a religious person and I was from a religious town where I felt like that stuff was shoved down my throat. And I wanted to paint a picture of someone who maybe doesn't believe in a God or believe in something, but when you come to this point in your life, if everyone is honest with themselves, everyone has, where you get to this place regardless of your belief system, you just are calling out to something. Something bigger than yourself or bigger than an understanding that you don't have."
That makes sense, because the words Walser uses to describe his existential struggles are not generically spiritual. Instead, these lyrics rightly frame questions of goodness and salvation in terms of needing help from a loving, personal God if we do indeed want to be a "Good Man" (or woman).
And that's good stuff.
A postscript: Despite the strong, positive spiritual themes in this song, it's worth noting that Devour the Day's debut album, Time and Pressure, has been given a Parental Advisory sticker for explicit content. Clearly, not everything on it is as good as the spiritual musings on "Good Man."