Although Athens-based Vigilantes of Love leader Bill Mallonee says that his musical goal is "Bible study that rocks," don't lump VOL in with the tepid majority of contemporary Christian rock. For one thing, Mallonee usually has his tongue slightly in cheek and a sly grin on his face when he says it; for another, VOL use their faith not as the thing to be sung about, but as a launching pad for pop description and analysis, much like the implicit treatment Bruce Cockburn favors. In past trips through town, the band has played Club Dada one night and the basement of a church the next; both shows were remarkably alike, both in presentation and the reaction they got out of the crowd.

Unlike Cockburn, however, Mallonee avoids overt politicization, going instead for street-level tales in which ordinary folks wrestle with the vicissitudes of life. Unlike many of the contempo Christian crowd, Mallonee isn't afraid of the grit, sweat, or just plain unpleasantness of life; he'll swear if it serves a song, use a rooftop sniper as a narrative vehicle or masturbation as a metaphor for selfishness. Matching this lyric approach is a musical attack that's pure American bar-band roots rock, carrying the crash, clatter--and yes, even jangle--of groups like the Del Fuegos, the Bodeans, and the Gear Daddies into the '90s.

Trimmed down to a trio (singer Mallonee on guitar, Chris Bland on bass, and drummer Tom Crea) now after several albums with the larger Struggleville band (named after the band's 1994 album), VOL recently released Slow Dark Train, the band's seventh album since 1990's indie Jugular. Don't let the implied theology behind songs like "Blister Soul," "Balaam's Ass," or "Judas Skin" put you off: Vigilantes of Love is a unique blend of (American) rock 'n' roll and thoughtful spirituality that doesn't let its higher ambition get in the way of rocking the house.

--Matt Weitz

Vigilantes of Love play the Downstairs Cafe in the Wilshire Baptist Church on September 11.


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