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Holy moly! Christians get their own music chart

Paul Bignell and Zachary Norman on surprise acts lining up for tomorrow's new top 20

The Devil, it is said, has all the best tunes. Pop diva Rebecca St James begs to differ. Along with hairy metal noise-makers As I Lay Dying and singing monk Friar Alessandro, she will be jostling for position in the name of the Lord from tomorrow as the UK gets its first official Christian and gospel music chart.

The Official Charts Company, which provides the UK's singles and albums charts, says the new top 20 is being launched in recognition of growing interest in the sector. More than 600 albums in the category were released in the UK last year. The biggest seller was Friar Alessandro, who became the first friar to sign a major label record deal.

The days of happy clappers and tambourines are long gone. The new chart is expected to include some of the most traditionally un-Christian of styles.

The music of Texan Lecrae, a Grammy-nominated rapper and ministry leader who has sold almost half a million albums, is classed as Christian hip-hop and gangsta rap. While heavy metal band As I Lay Dying fuse "death metal" and hard core punk, yet all five of its members are Christians and the lead singer, Tim Lambesis, says their faith comes across in their lyrics. Rend Collective are a Northern Irish experimental folk rock group who formed 10 years ago with the intention of "figuring out the purpose of their lives" and changing negative attitudes towards the church. Other acts will be eligible if their lyrics contain at least 80 per cent "faith-based content", though each album will be considered individually. Being Christian won't be enough to gain a place in the charts.

Tim Ingham, editor of Music Week, said: "US stars such as Johnny Cash and Al Green have recorded gospel albums after being better known for edgy, secular music, so the precedent has long been set. It is, literally, the most reverent music you can listen to. The success of the likes of Mary Mary and BeBe & CeCe Winans in R&B and pop charts in recent years has shown the music can have crossover appeal, but, even before sales get to that stage, it has one of the most engaged audiences possible."