You just had to be there. From a distance, sure, a lot of the emo of the ’00s looks a little cringe. And, to be honest, it was pretty cringe in the middle of it too. But for a certain kind of person in a certain section of pop culture during a certain era of music, emo was a very big deal. It was especially big for a certain kind of Christian teenager, since emo rock was a little disproportionately Christian at the time.
Maybe it’s better to call it “Christian adjacent,” since a lot of the bands deemed “Christian” mostly got that way by never explicitly denying it. But the music could surprise you, zigging into spiritual reflection right when you thought it would zag into another sad breakup anthem. Bands that really made their bread and butter off whining about heartbreak found themselves musing on God to an unexpected degree.
For some bands, it wasn’t hard to find examples. Acts like Pedro the Lion, The Chariot and Kevin Devine became well-known for their faith musings. But some bands came at you out of left field with their ecclesiastical ponderings.
Here are some times that emo bands got unexpectedy spiritual but, please note, emo is a notoriously broad brush and this list will not overly trouble itself with gatekeeping what does and does not meet the criteria. Emo is a vibe, vibes are subjective so don’t get too bent out of shape if something here doesn’t quite fit your description of emo. We know how you emo fans can be.
Further Seems Forever: How to Start a Fire
Further lyrics can be a little tough to discern, especially after the band swapped original frontman Chris Carrabba for Jason Gleason. Still, on the title track for the band’s sophomore album, Gleason sang an ode to hope for a broken world, “waiting for you to sound a prayer in the form of an anchor.”
Copeland: When Finally Set Free
Copeland trafficked in a lot of whispery, melodic tunes about romantic longing and familial affection, but their first album ended with this lovely look ahead to a day when everything is redeemed and asking God to “make our hearts as perfect as new.”
Waking Ashland: I Am For You
Waking Ashland’s hit anthem woozes back and forth between a song to a forlorn friend and a desperate plea for meaning. But unlike many of their contemporaries, this band encourages fans to find something real: “Don’t give up, just keep seeking / I send myself to you …I send my love to you.”
Brand New: Jesus Christ
Brand New’s 2006 masterpiece The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is full of spiritual struggle, with the band hurling questions to the Almighty like Job. Their search for truth reaches its crescendo in “Jesus Christ,” with lead singer Jesse Lacey sounding terrified of what happens after his death. “At the gates does Thomas ask to see my hands?” he asks. “I’m scared I’ll get scared and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up.” Emo rarely got more real or more haunting.
mewithoutYou: O, Porcupine
mewithoutYou has been all over the map both lyrically and stylistically, moving from hardcore to melodic and existential dread to spiritual confidence in a more or less straight trajectory. Their third album Brother, Sister was a masterful declaration of faith. “O, Porcupine” is just one example: “I may be mistaken on this or that point, but that light is God.”