P. O. D. - Holy Rockers with Bite

If P.O.D. seems unusually self-possessed for a fledgling band, it's because the quartet isn't a fledgling band at all. The group had already spent some seven years building a modestly successful indie existence (two studio albums, a live recording, an EP and lots of diligent road work) from its home base on the mean streets of San Diego's south side when Atlantic signed them last year.

"I think we got as big as we could get in that scene," says guitarist Marcos of the grassroots life-style. "We were ready to take it to the next level. We had been touring for four or five years on our own -- you know, indie style -- and we were like, Man, if we could just catch somebody to get our vision, we're a hard working band and it'll work out.' I think we found that, so we're pretty stoked."

The fiery music on P.O.D.'s major label debut, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown has a lot of familiar fundamentals. The driving rhythms that bassist Traa and drummer Wuv hammer out and singer Sonny's volatile quasi-rap approach have been likened to Limp Bizkit, and more often Rage Against the Machine.

"We've gotten it since day one," Marcos says without a trace of the annoyance that such chronic comparisons often engender. "But as the band grows you'll be able to tell what the differences are. Once people actually compare them. It's the same concept [but different]. Like there's a million punk bands, but Pennywise doesn't sound like Green Day or NOFX -- though it's the same genre."

Marcos' fretwork is one of P.O.D.'s more distinctive features, binding the music together with blistering riffage and a melodic bent that's often quite lyrical. The vibrant guitar lines in "Freestyle" and "Rock the Party (Off the Hook)" hearken back to New Order hits like "The Beach," and a few of the mellower stretches evoke Santana. Also unique to the band is the spiritual vibe that underpins the songs. Though P.O.D. is technically a banking term (Payable On Death), the band looks at it as a metaphor for settling accounts with the Almighty when the time comes to cash out of this earthly existence.

Taking a cue from U2 (whose "40" was based on Psalm 40), P.O.D. offers a semi-spoken word rendition of Psalm 150 in which Sonny croons the verses in Hebrew against an ambient backdrop. The Psalm urges the faithful to praise the Lord "with timbrel and dance, stringed instruments and loud cymbals." And P.O.D. does just that -- sometimes overtly, as in "Psalm 150" and the Jah-love vibe of "Set Your Eyes to Zion." At other moments, they're more subtle, as in their searing version of U2's "Bullet The Blue Sky," Yet as forthright as the music is, the band avoids the preachiness that is frequently a hallmark of Christian rock.

"Music is about passion and what you believe in," Marcos says with quiet conviction. "I think if you're sad and you want to sing a love song, sing it. If you have this love that's in your heart and you want to express that through your music, then sing it. We like to be tasteful on how we present [our faith] because that's what moves our music. I don't think music should have boundaries and a lot of people give it boundaries, which is pretty whack because isn't music about passion and emotion and expression? I feel passionate about what we sing about."

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