M Iaftrate & The Priesthood: Christian Burial
M Iafrate & The Priesthood’s Christian Burial is a pretty religious record. With a name like that, you’d expect it to be I suppose. I thought it might be goth rock or black metal at first glance. I should probably pay more attention to things. To me, a solid atheist, this presented a unique challenge in spite of the fact that I am by no means against religious music. After all, faith is a common theme of classical music and, even more so, bluegrass (and that’s not even getting into gospel). Indeed, there is some great music out there that speaks to people’s religious faiths; the question I had upon listening then was, “Does the album have anything to say to me?”
Wheeling native and frontman Michael Iafrate is a talented musician, and Christian Burial finds him paired with an equally fine band. Their sound is modern, even slightly raucous in places. If I were in a bar in the middle of the night and heard a band playing this music, I wouldn’t think twice (about it feeling out of place). Sonically, the album has a more than a little in common with the folk- or country-tinged indie rock that has, for the last several years, bubbled beneath the surface of American music with performers like Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bon Iver. In Christian Burial’s more Americana rock moments, you may even think of Tom Petty’s guitars.
My favorite track on the album, “God O God” is a building wail of guitar noise that would be right at home on a Neil Young track. In this song, Iafrate lets us hear a conversation with his god, one whose vision seems apocalyptic:
“Maybe the fire will rain down tonight / The flocks will all run and take cover.”
“God O God” stands out to me in that I have always understood the impulse to find something greater when faced with human imperfection and the horror of a world that seems out of anyone’s control. We can all agree that we live in troubled times. Anyone can relate to this song, even if they do not offer prayers themselves.
Christian Burial’s other stand-out track, “Holy Poly Child” is next on the album. In this song, Iafrate’s lyrics seem to either focus on the birth of Jesus or his cousin, John (or maybe both or neither). The guitars here are more like those of Pearl Jam’s glory days. It’s the hook, however, that sells the song:
“All God wants from us is a bloody bite of time.”
One of the issues you sometimes run into with religious music is that the artists feel unable to be ironic or questioning in the music. Faith has a way of sometimes papering over the cracks of doubt that exist in a normal human being; the weakness remains, but the surface appears solid. Christian Burial suffers from that in places. Iafrate doesn’t seem to be like Jacob contending with god for a blessing; rather, he’s like the faithful who wrap themselves up in god like a blanket, whole and content with the answers of religion. Because my worldview is so different, that’s just not fully satisfying to me.
On the other hand, Iafrate’s certainty and conviction absolutely rings out on this record. Although I don’t personally see faith as intrinsically virtuous, I do value earnestness and honesty, both of which are amply characteristic of Christian Burial. Furthermore, I put a lot of stock in the human ability to touch each other with music. I think that can happen across lines of belief and religion. In fact, if there is any hope for humanity at all, we all had better hope that it can.
From spending some time with this album, I would say that Iafrate is the kind of person who uses his faith to make himself into a better man. When that impulse is egalitarian and liberal, as it seems to be in this album, I see love and charity come from it. When we assume the best in each other, we can see see the beauty in another person’s perspective, even when we don’t share it.
Give M Iafrate & The Priesthood’s Christian Burial a listen. You might like the themes, or you might just enjoy the guitars and tuneful songs. Even if you don’t believe in a damn thing, you may still find yourself touched by the resolve of those who do to be good people.