If you are new to Christian rock, please read this
post about the definition of Christian rock and some of the biggest questions about Christian music.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Thank You

After much consideration and thought, I'm sad to announce that my Christian rock blog is coming to an end.  When I started writing 2 ½ years ago, I simply wanted a place to share my thoughts and love for music.  Since then, my hobby has exploded with over 100,000 views from readers from all across the world.

Over the last two years, if you were involved in any way, I cannot thank you enough.  Whether you left a comment, viewed a blog post or simply watched a video, it’s been a blessing for me to share this journey with all of you.

From the very beginning, I’ve always felt like this blog was bigger than me.  Yes, I wanted to write top ten lists, conduct interviews and share videos from my favorite artists.  But, more importantly, I wanted this blog to be a testimony about the love and changing power of Christ.

When I first started this blog, I was a junior in college.  Now, I am pursuing a Master of Divinity degree, and I am serving as the pastor of a local church.  God has closed the door on this chapter of my life, but I’m eager and excited to see what the future holds.  Even though this is my final post, I will continue to leave my blog up for you to enjoy and read.  Keep rocking for Jesus!

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Monday, December 3, 2012

Top Christian Rock Songs of 2012

This is Part 1 of my top 20 songs of 2012.  This list features songs 20 through 11.

20.  Stay Close - Fireflight

“Stay Close” is by far the hardest song on Fireflight’s new album.  A musical stretch for the group, “Stay Close” highlights the drumming skills of Adam McMillion, while also showing off the full range of Dawn Michele’s vocals.  Here is the trippy music video for “Stay Close.”

19.  Murdered Love – P.O.D.

A rock and roll onslaught, “Murdered Love” is all about the crucifixion of Christ.  Being the title track off arguably their most controversial album to date, “Murdered Love” is full of spiritual imagery, screams and hard rock.  In P.O.D.’s words, the death of Christ was the day that they murdered love.  Below, is the official lyric video for the song.

18.  Draw the Line – Disciple

According to Kevin Young, Disciple’s latest album, O God Save Us All, is a musical story of someone coming to Christ.  “Before you’re a Christian, life feels a certain way.  Then you’re introduced to the gospel, receiving Him and walking with Him.  And then, life is over and you get to be with Him.  The album covers all of those bases.  It’s about the life of a Christian.”  Serving as the lead single, “Draw the Line” details the crucial moment in which a person gives up their life for Christ.  This is a fan made lyric video for the song.

17.  Anthem of the Lonely – Nine Lashes

After being signed to Tooth and Nail Records in 2011, Nine Lashes released their debut album earlier this year.  The lead single, “Anthem of the Lonely,” is a straightforward piece of modern rock that’s similar to Red and Three Days Grace.  For the official video, Nine Lashes developed a story about torture and to a point, perseverance.

16.  Losing – Tenth Avenue North

“Losing” is a powerful story of forgiveness.  In the chorus, lead vocalist, Mike Donehey, boldly sings, “Oh Father, won't You forgive them.  They don't know what they've been doing.  Oh Father, give me grace to forgive them, cause I feel like the one losing.”  Using a background choir, an abrupt key change and some very challenging lyrics on forgiveness, “Losing” is one of the best songs of Tenth Avenue North’s career.

15.  Pushover – Manafest

“Pushover” is a prime example of Manafest’s growing vocal talent and song writing abilities.  Featuring crunchy guitars and hip hop beats, “Pushover” is a great, rap rock anthem.  The official video combines the two passions of Manafest:  music and skateboards.

14.  The Lesser Worth – The Wedding

“The Lesser Worth” includes my favorite musical intro of the year.  To begin the song, The Wedding features a young child saying, “Let me see a circle pit.”  By far the hardest song on their new record, “The Lesser Worth” feels like one big jam session with screams and riff driven rock.  Interestingly enough, The Wedding even collaborated on this song with Story of the Year’s frontman, Dan Marsala.  Here is the lyric video for “The Lesser Worth.”

13.  Redeemer – War of Ages

For going on 10 years now, War of Ages has been offering listeners album after album of catchy metalcore.  With a sound similar to As I Lay Dying and The Great Commission, “Redeemer” is chalked full of chugging guitars, guttural growls and clean vocal choruses.

12.  We’re All Liars – Sent By Ravens

Coming in at number 12 is “We’re All Liars” by Sent By Ravens.  Drawing inspiration from hate groups such as Westboro Baptist Church, “We’re All Liars” is a scathing depiction of people who deny others the gift of grace.  Adding to the song’s already intense and heartfelt message, the official video is a creepy portrayal of nightmares and dreams.

11.  Crash and Burn – Write This Down

For “Crash and Burn,” Write This Down sings about the difficulties and struggles of being a full time band.  With a gritty, hardcore sound, “Crash and Burn” is ultimately an anthem about never giving up on your dreams.  Despite living off their parents and facing numerous setbacks, the members of Write This Down are still passionate about making music.  This is the official video for the song.

To see the top ten songs of the year, you can go to Part 2 here.

Top Christian Rock Songs of 2012 Part 2

This is Part 2 of my top 20 songs of 2012. If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.

10.  Modern Age – Anberlin

As I said in my review of Vital, “Modern Age” could be the best song that Anberlin has ever released.  With a perfect mix of poignant lyrics and haunting guitars, “Modern Age” is a four minute masterpiece.  This is a homemade lyric video of the song.

9.  Dead Flowers – Demon Hunter

Symbolizing rebirth and life after death, “Dead Flowers” is an uplifting and comforting ballad.  Driven by symbolic lyrics, harpsichord melodies and Ryan Clark’s chilling voice, Demon Hunter once again proves their gift for creating metal ballads.  Reminiscent of “One Thousand Apologies” and “Carry Me Down,” this video features the album cover of True Defiance along with the lyrics of the song.

8.  Moment to Moment – Children 18:3

Clocking in at just under three minutes, “Moment to Moment” is filled with organic punk rock, dual vocals and the Hostetter siblings’ signature style.  By taking inspiration from 1 Corinthians 10, Children 18:3 passionately sing about living life to the fullest.  For the official video, Children 18:3 use a very simple story, but it fits the song perfectly.

7.  Cray Button – Family Force 5

By using Kickstarter, Family Force 5 was able to raise over 24,000 dollars to shoot the video for “Cray Button.”  With a heavy, patriotic theme, Family Force 5’s latest video features everything from American flags to four wheelers to even mud fights.  If you are looking for deep and meaningful lyrics, you will probably be disappointed with “Cray Button.”  There are no spiritual or deep meanings to be found here.  Instead, Family Force 5 offers their usual craziness and fun spirit.

6.  War of Change – Thousand Foot Krutch

According to Trevor McNevan, “Change can be beautiful and painstaking, but rarely is it comfortable.”  Taking that thought to another level, “War of Change” is a soaring anthem of militant charged lyrics.  Combative, intense and spiritually driven, Thousand Foot Krutch urges listeners to be change in this world.  “War of Change” is simply another hit song from these veteran rockers.

5.  Infected – 12 Stones

This is my favorite song on the new 12 Stones record.  Describing how Hollywood and impure lifestyles are polluting this world, “Infected” is an interesting commentary on today’s social and political world.  With killer guitars and high octane rock and roll, it’s great to hear 12 Stones making stadium rock once again.

4.  Awaken – Wolves at the Gate

“Awaken” includes my favorite lyrics of the year.  Proudly declaring the full glory of God, Nick Detty passionately screams, “Oh how You've shown me that this isn't a blind faith in a distant God.  You went before me and You bore my sin.  Awake my soul, My faithful King.  For I believe.”  A forceful burst of screamo, “Awaken” will have you pushing the repeat button over and over again.  Below, is the official lyric video for the song.

3.  New Horizons – Flyleaf

“New Horizons” is one of the more positive songs of Flyleaf’s career.  A hopeful look into the future, Flyleaf paints a picture of peace and encouragement for their listeners.  With Lacey Sturm’s exit from the group earlier this year, “New Horizons” serves as the perfect end to her chapter in Flyleaf.

2.  Touch This Light – House of Heroes

The true genius of House of Heroes comes through their song writing abilities.  They simply know how to make great rock songs.  With the energy and intensity of a live show, “Touch This Light” is a powerhouse of alternative rock.  Here is the official video for the song.

1.  Dead Man – Wolves at the Gate

Wolves at the Gate put their talent and love for Christ on full display with this song.  According to vocalist Steve Cobucci, “Dead Man” is a personal look into the salvation of his own heart.  “The verses from the Bible that are used in that song were crucial in my growth in knowledge, understanding and love for Jesus' perfect work of salvation.”  By overlaying screams and rock guitars with the theme of grace, “Dead Man” is a beautiful example of screamo worship.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at my top 20 songs of 2012.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Top Ten Christian Rock Albums of 2012

10.  O God Save Us All – Disciple
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Outlaws, Once and For All, Draw the Line
According to lead singer, Kevin Young, O God Save Us All is a loose concept album about a person coming to faith in Christ.  “It’s a narrative: If there was a soundtrack to a movie made about a life of a Christian, this would be it,” said Young.  With an emergence in radio play over the last few years, it’s no surprise that Disciple included numerous radio ready singles.  “Draw the Line” is already impacting radio, while “Once and For All” and “Someday” have hit single written all over them.  Dynamically, their sound is more accessible and their softer moments are highlighted.  But, Disciple still offers fans plenty of chances to rock out with metal riffs.  Being a band for 20 years, O God Save Us All won’t go down as their best album of their career.  But, it’s another solid and enjoyable release from hard rock veterans.

9.  Vital – Anberlin
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Self-Starter, Little Tyrants, Modern Age

With the release of Dark is the Way, Light is a Place in 2010, Anberlin seemed as if they were moving in the wrong direction.  The momentum and edge that was created on Cities and New Surrender was all but gone.  When they announced plans for a new record in 2012, my hopes were relatively low.  However, Anberlin not only surprised me, but they completely reinvented my love for their music.  Stephen Christian’s voice has never sounded better, and Anberlin regained much of the aggressive momentum and drive that was lost on their previous record.  Throughout Vital, the guitars are faster, the drums are harder, the synthesizers are exaggerated and the production is flawlessly executed.  To top it all off, “Modern Age” could be the best song that they’ve ever released.  With a perfect mix of poignant lyrics and haunting guitars, “Modern Age” is a four minute masterpiece.

8.  Fighter – Manafest
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Pushover, Prison Break, Heart Attack

Chris Greenwood, also known as Manafest, exploded onto the Christian rock scene in 2010 with his rap rock album, The Chase.  With huge singles like “Bring the Ruckus” and “Avalanche” along with guest vocals from Trevor McNevan (Thousand Foot Krutch), The Chase became an instant hit with Christian rock fans.  Fast forward two years later, Manafest returned with his new album Fighter.  Dominated by hip-hop beats and fast-paced melodies, his latest release features 11 hard-hitting rock songs.  With themes of positivity and encouragement, Fighter is a bold statement of hope for anyone struggling through tough times or adversity.  Not only does Manafest portray an album of inspiration to his listeners, but he also stays true to the hip-hop rhymes, crunchy guitars and clean vocals that created buzz two years ago.  With rap rock being described as a dead genre by some, it’s refreshing to see Manafest creating such memorable and addicting anthems.

7.  Mean What You Say – Sent By Ravens
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Prudence, Learn from the Night, We’re All Liars

Sent By Ravens' second and final album is all about the power of words.  Drawing inspiration from hate groups such as Westboro Baptist Church, Mean What You Say covers everything from being transparent in relationships to fighting inner struggles to even recognizing our frailty and weaknesses.  Dark and thematically intense, this is more than just another hard rock record.  It’s about something bigger.  A heartfelt punch to the gut, Mean What You Say is about possessing true conviction and overcoming a world that spews anger and hate. 

6.  Cold Hard Want – House of Heroes
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Remember the Empire, We Were Giants, Touch This Light

Described as being an urgent point in their career, Cold Hard Want is an album filled with organic and natural rock and roll.  With an obvious evolution from their previous releases, House of Heroes offers 13 songs that are fueled by catchy hooks and classic rock melodies.  “Touch This Light” packs the energy and power of a live show.  “Remember the Empire” is largely driven by technical guitars; while “Out My Way” will blast your speakers with alternative fun.  By using simple song structures, smart lyrics and even some old fashioned a cappella, House of Heroes once again proves that rock and roll is not dead.

5.  On the Run – Children 18:3
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Moment to Moment, We’ll Never Say Goodbye, Always on the Run

Being easily one of the best bands on Tooth and Nail Records, expectations were high for Children 18:3’s third album.  For On the Run, the Hostetter siblings stay true to their established style of vocal harmonies and fast punk.  But, for long time fans, Children 18:3 also feature some slight changes to their sound.  “Why Are You Afraid of the Dark?” offers a variety of whispered verses and guest vocals from Blindside’s lead singer, Christian Lindskog.  A noticeable step up for the group, “All In Your Head” is a schizophrenic mixture of punk and screaming.  Plus, “Always on the Run” could be their slowest song to date.  By incorporating their usual fast, punk style and making some slight changes, On the Run could be a step in a different direction for these punk rock geniuses. 

4.  Lost Weekend – Write This Down
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – The Older I Get, The Better I Was, Crash and Burn, Cheap Affairs, Lost Weekend

Both truthful and painful at times, Write This Down’s latest record is all about honesty and freely confessing past sins and struggles.  The opening track, “The Older I Get, The Better I Was,” literally sets the stage for the entire album.  In the chorus, the group sings, “We've come to shake things up.  We're here to make things interesting.  God forbid that we bring offense, when you read our sins in the album print.  And honestly, this honesty has been killing me.”  With brutal sincerity and a newly defined sound, Lost Weekend definitely shakes things up for the group.  Musically, they shed the pop elements from their debut album and completely focus on a grittier, hardcore style.  While lyrically, the album magnifies the group’s many struggles on the road.  From being broke on tour to affairs to being sick of sin, Lost Weekend is almost a modern day story of the prodigal son.  The guys of Write This Down are honest and open about their past struggles and sins, and in the end, they offer a hardcore album of forgiveness, redemption and even some painful truth.

3.  The End is Where We Begin – Thousand Foot Krutch
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Let the Sparks Fly, Be Somebody, War of Change, Fly on the Wall

Thousand Foot Krutch rocked the Christian music world when they announced plans to leave Tooth and Nail Records in 2011.  Their first album as an independent band, The End is Where We Begin takes the group back to their early, rap rock roots.  By taking inspiration from Set It Off and Phenomenon, Trevor McNevan boldly raps over driving guitars and loud drums.  At times, a few of the rhymes are a little corny, but they offer a nostalgic sound for long time fans of the band.  Even though I love the rap rock elements, the true highlights come from the urgent and combative rock anthems.  “We Are,” “Let the Sparks Fly,” “Courtesy Call” and “War of Change” are some of the hardest songs of Thousand Foot Krutch’s career.  Being their first independent release, The End is Where We Begin only strengthens the group’s already strong passion and talent for music.

2.  New Horizons – Flyleaf
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – New Horizons, Call You Out, Cage on the Ground, Broken Wings

With New Horizons, Flyleaf sheds the heavy screams and dark imagery of their earlier works (“I’m So Sick,” “Breathe Today” and “The Kind”), and embraces a more mature, and, at times, positive sound.  The result is a melodic pop album with a few heavy tracks thrown in for good measure.  Even though all the members of Flyleaf are talented and tight musicians, Lacey Sturm’s vocals are still the strongest part of the band.  On New Horizons, Sturm’s voice is absolutely breathtaking.  She beautifully portrays passion and control on the more intimate moments while also pulling off the occasional chant and scream.  She not only has the power to hit very high notes, but one can simply feel the emotion pouring out of her throughout the record.  It’s sad to see Sturm leaving the group, but New Horizons is a fitting end to her chapter in Flyleaf.

1.  Captors – Wolves at the Gate
Rating – 5 Stars
Top Tracks – Awaken, Dead Man, Amnesty, Man of Sorrows

By combining the truth of Scripture with hardcore screams, each song on Captors serves as a bold witness to the life changing power of Christ.  “Dead Man” describes the freeing power of grace; “Step Out to the Water,” is a stirring depiction of courageous faith.  Before its end, “Man of Sorrows” will have you on your knees in worship.  Every lyric and musical note on Captors literally functions to proclaim the Gospel.  Not only do they put their faith on full display, but Wolves at the Gate also offer an album filled with unified and masterful musicianship.  Nick Detty’s screams are intense and forceful without being overpowering.  Steve Cobucci easily has the best clean voice in Christian hardcore music today.  Not to mention, Jeremy Steckel, Ben Summers and Ben Millhouse all perform a clever and subtle style of post-hardcore rock.  After multiple spins, Captors can easily be described as musical perfection.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at my Top Ten Christian Rock Albums of the year. This list would not be complete without honorable mentions. These albums were very solid but ultimately did not make it into the top ten.

True Defiance – Demon Hunter
Live Riot – Worth Dying For
Wait for the Sirens – Project 86
Beneath the Scars – 12 Stones
No Direction – The Wedding

Monday, October 1, 2012

Concept Albums

A concept album can be described as a record that is unified by a theme or subject.  This theme could appear in the lyrics, music, composition or even album artwork.  For this post, I want to highlight some of the more recent concept albums that have been released in Christian rock.

The first concept album is Fangs by Falling Up.  Featuring a soft and mellow electronic sound, Fangs served as a transitional album for the group.  By embracing a new sound and style than their previous efforts, Falling Up attempted to distance themselves from their hard rock albums of Crashings and Dawn Escapes.  Not only did the group shed their hard rock sound, but they also embraced a totally new lyrical style.  Vocalist Jessy Ribordy has always crafted songs that are heavily influenced by allegories and symbols.  However, Fangs dives head first into a symbolic and, at times, ambiguous style of lyrics.

According to Ribordy, this concept album traces the journey of a hero who serves as an ambassador on another planet.  Each song on Fangs allows the listener to go on an imaginative journey of science fiction and wonder.  With song titles like “Lotus and The Languorous,” a concept based on fantasy and a heavy alternative sound, the Christian music industry simply ignored this record from Falling Up.  Mostly forgotten by much of the Christian rock world, Fangs is a memorable, spiritual and enjoyable experience.

The second concept album is Dear Diary by FM Static.  Released in 2009, Dear Diary traces the story of a high school student’s journal.  With their usual pop punk style, FM Static highlights the story of a young character named Aero.  After moving to a new town, Aero attempts to survive high school as a teenager.  Dear Diary follows the path of Aero’s inner thoughts and journal entries.  The concept and story of the album leads the listener through diary entries that describe love at first sight, fitting in and the heartache and questions of dealing with tragedy.

Within the physical release of the album, FM Static also included artwork and story entries that further enhance the theme of the record.  The cartoonish style drawings and short stories add to the depth and character of Aero throughout the album.  With Dear Diary, FM Static has created a nostalgic and even tearful collection of songs that deal with the fun and stress of high school.

Third is Suburba by House of Heroes.  Another coming of age tale, Suburba follows the life of a young kid growing up in middle class society.  While being reckless and a little dangerous, the main character is repeatedly trapped by bad decisions and negative influences.  With stories of gang fights, theft and even involuntary manslaughter, Suburba covers a wide variety of subjects and life lessons.
However, the entire story is not completely negative.  According to vocalist Tim Skipper, Suburba, more than anything else, is an album about redemption. “It’s about having big dreams and going after them with reckless abandon, yet having to reconcile the fact that things aren't always going to go your way. And it’s about realizing, throughout all of it, that God is real and is the one constant among all the variables of life.”  With witty lyrics, gang vocals and fast guitars, the guys of House of Heroes know how to tell a unique and engaging story.  Filled with honesty and emotion, this alternative record screams pure joy, summer fun and ultimately redemption. 

The final concept album is Son of the Morning by the heavy metal group Oh, Sleeper.  Before I get many comments and emails about the album cover, let me explain it.  Interestingly enough, the artwork goes right along with the concept of the record.

As you can see, the album cover features a pentagram cut in half.  When looking at the history of the pentagram, it actually started off as a Christian symbol.  For Christianity, the five points of the star have been described as symbolizing the five wounds of Christ, the star of Bethlehem, the five books of the Pentateuch and protection over evil spirits.  One of the more popular meanings behind the Christian pentagram was the power of the Spirit of God.  The highest point of the star symbolized Christ, while the lower four points represented earth, air, fire and water.  Thus, Christ is portrayed as having power over all the earth.

However, many pagans and other religions have perverted the original meaning behind the Christian pentagram.  Now, in some circles, the pentagram has a negative and even satanic element.  Pagans have twisted the star to symbolize a goat-head and the ruling power of Satan.  Satanic pentagrams attempted to make their symbol recognizable from the early Christians by flipping the star upside down.

With all that said, Son of the Morning is a concept album about the war between God and Satan.  The title track begins the album by describing the relationship between them.  The verses are from Satan’s perspective, as he spreads lies and false accusations about God.  In the chorus, God replies to Satan’s deceptions by saying, "If you could see like Me, you’d see you haven’t won anything.  If you could see like Me, you’d see; it’s by My grace that you’re breathing.”  God proclaims to Satan that he hasn’t won anything and his schemes are futile.  Throughout the rest of the songs on the record, Oh, Sleeper sings about humanity and their role within the supernatural war.  Ultimately, the concept comes full circle with the final song, “The Finisher.”  Oh, Sleeper sings about Christ eternally defeating Satan by ripping off his horns.  In the final moments of Son of the Morning, vocalist Micah Kinard repeatedly screams, “I’ll cut off your horns.” 

The album cover directly deals with the overall theme and concept.  Oh, Sleeper uses the pagan symbol of the pentagram by portraying it upside down.  But, instead of using it to promote Satan, they use the pentagram to represent Christ’s eternal power.  By having the star cut in half, the album cover represents the final song of God cutting off the horns of Satan.  This metal album definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s one intense thrill ride.  Oh, Sleeper boldly proclaims their faith and the power of Christ, while also telling a unique story of a Biblical and supernatural war.  The concept and thematic material behind the album serve to show the ultimate power of Christ.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Top Ten EPs

With only four or five songs per release, EPs are quickly becoming more popular in our modern music age.  This could be due to a number of different reasons:  the steady decline of physical album sales, different buying habits for music lovers or the rising cost of studio time for bands.  At any rate and for whatever reason, musicians and labels are regularly releasing EPs.

When looking at other top ten lists from critics, journalists and music enthusiasts, a common denominator that I find is that critics almost exclusively focus on full length albums.  Not to say that EPs are completely forgotten or ignored in the scope of music journalism, but many times they get lost in the shuffle or subsequently overlooked.  For this post, I want to give all of my attention to the EP.  I want to lay out my top ten EPs of the last ten years.  With this post, some EPs are from independent bands, others are on major labels, some are widely popular and a few of these groups have a small, but dedicated following.

10.  Love Like Gravity – Love Like Gravity (2010)
Top Tracks – Stronger, Adrenaline, Gravity

Coming in at number ten is Love Like Gravity’s self-titled independent EP.  A mixture of grunge and modern rock, this release proved to be a breakout point for the group.  Their hit single, “Stronger,” even managed to land a spot in the Top 15 on the Billboard Christian rock chart.  For true fans of hard rock, Love Like Gravity offers plenty of rock and roll to enjoy.

9.  Apathetic EP – Relient K (2005)
Top Tracks – The Truth, Apathetic Way to Be, In Like a Lion (Always Winter)

With their usual pop style and tongue in cheek lyrics, the Apathetic EP begins perfectly with “The Truth” and “Apathetic Way to Be.”  Both of these songs could easily be described as pop hits.  Immediately after these two gems, the EP takes a much slower turn with three acoustic songs.  Finally, the EP slows down even more with two piano ballads, one of which was inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia.  Serving as a bridge between the Mmhmm days and the future sound of the group, the Apathetic EP was a perfect turning point.  On future albums, Relient K fully committed to their serious and mature pop sound, and this EP proved to be the catalyst for the major transition from their fun, punk rock early days.

8.  I Am Terrified – I Am Terrified (2008)
Top Tracks – Heaven Knocking, Hell Rising, Falling On Everlasting, Velvet Thunder

Released by Gotee Records in 2008, I Am Terrified’s self-titled EP is a proud proclamation of faith.  Inspired by many well-known hymns, I Am Terrified is filled with heart pounding screamo songs mixed with fire and brimstone lyrics.  This short, six song EP is easily summed up by the song, “Falling On Everlasting.”  Lead vocalist, Patrick Schefano, sings, “Go and tell the whole world, it’s alright.”

7.  The Sound The Steel – The Wedding (2008)
Top Tracks – Redeem, Receive, Reveal

Immediately after their second full length album, three members, including lead singer Kevin Kiehn, left the group in 2007.  Much to my surprise, The Wedding released a new EP, The Sound The Steel, only a year after announcing multiple exits from the group.  Slightly different from their earlier full length albums, The Sound The Steel fully embraces an emo style with a tinge of southern rock.  Using catchy hooks and the full range of their new vocalist, Matt Shelton, this EP is an impressive message of Christ and rock and roll.

6.  The Effects of Fashion and Prayer – Sent By Ravens (2008)
Top Tracks – Trailer vs. Tornado, This Awakening, This Battleship Won’t Budge

Before being signed to Tooth and Nail Records in 2009, Sent By Ravens released this hard rock EP in 2008.  Dominated by chugging guitar riffs, blazing drums and anthem after anthem, The Effects of Fashion and Prayer is a hard rock roller coaster ride.  However, the true power of Sent By Ravens comes from vocalist Zach Riner.  Filled with intensity, angst and even a couple of screams, this EP showcases the strength and diversity of Riner’s voice.  With a sound reminiscent of Disciple and Ivoryline, The Effects of Fashion and Prayer is an emotional and powerful hard rock ride.

5.  III.V – Family Force 5 (2012)
Top Tracks – Zombie, Cray Button, Superhero (Acoustic Remix)

Less than a year after the release of III, Family Force 5 graced fans with a new EP, titled III.V.  A continuation of their crunk rock sound, the EP kicks off with two great party anthems: “Zombie” and “Cray Button.”  Infectious and fun, these dance driven hits easily remind me of the early days of Family Force 5.  The three remixes of “Love Addict,” “Kountry Gentleman” and “Fever” are also great additions for loyal Family Force 5 fans.  These remixes are not better than the original versions, but it’s great to hear these songs arranged in a completely new and fresh way.  The EP wraps up with a stripped down, acoustic song called “Superhero.”  It’s definitely different than any song they’ve released in the past, but it’s a fitting and moving finish to a great EP.

4.  The EP – Wavorly (2011)
Top Tracks – Caught in the Middle, One More Try, Carry You

Coming in at number 4 is Wavorly with The EP.  With five brand new songs, including two versions of “One More Try,” the main focus of Wavorly’s sophomore EP is relationships.  Both beautiful and catchy, The EP can easily be labeled as lyrically charged pop rock.  “Caught in the Middle” describes being stuck in a relationship, “One More Try,” sings about the longing to change past mistakes and “Part That Won’t Let Go” expresses the fear that comes with letting go of something you love.  Even though it took four years between their debut album and their sophomore EP, one can still argue that the wait was definitely worth it.

3.  Oh Snap – Philmont (2008)
Top Tracks – The Difference, I Can’t Stand to Fall, Photosynthetic

Straightforward, pop rock is the best description of Philmont’s debut EP on Forefront Records.  The physical copy of Oh Snap features six songs, including their pop hit, “The Difference.”  On their EP, Philmont doesn’t create an overly unique sound or make any huge strides in pop rock.  Instead, they craft a fun, overt Christian EP, which serves as a must have for any pop punk fan. 

2.  Don’t Wake Aislin – Don’t Wake Aislin (2011)
Top Tracks – Through the Oppression of the Wicked, The Moon Keeps Track of the Seasons, To Escape the Tempest and Storm

Don’t Wake Aislin has experienced moderate success in the independent world of Christian rock.  With numerous performances at Cornerstone and tours alongside Sent By Ravens, Children 18:3, The Wedding and We As Human, Don’t Wake Aislin is slowly climbing the Christian rock ranks.  Their self-titled EP, Don’t Wake Aislin, is a mix of alternative rock and female fronted vocals. I know this description could fit many, many other female driven rock bands, but there just seems to be something different and memorable about this group.  With their rock arrangements, the occasional screams from vocalist Deena Jakoub and the grandiose feel of their music, Don’t Wake Aislin’s self-titled EP is a unique and exciting experience.

1.  We Are the Ones – Wolves at the Gate (2011)
Top Tracks – Oh the Depths, Heralds, No Rival

Wolves at the Gate exploded onto the Christian rock scene last year in 2011.  Before they released their independent EP, We Are the Ones, relatively few people had heard of this screamo group.  After a successful release, We Are the Ones eventually led the group to be discovered by Solid State Records.  Not only was this my favorite EP of last year, but it’s also my all-time favorite EP.  The members of Wolves at the Gate do an amazing job of combining their screamo style with passionate lyrics of faith.  “Oh the Depths” could be my favorite worship song of all time, and after many, many spins, “Heralds” still gets me pumped up.  Wolves at the Gate are one of the rising stars in Christian rock, and this independent EP is spectacular.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Language in Christian Rock

For this post, I want to tackle another controversial debate between musicians.  Is it okay for Christians to curse in their music?  Furthermore, if an artist chooses to not use language, is that stifling their creativity or being legalistic?  With the release of a couple controversial songs, these questions have started to arise between musicians, record labels and critics.  Before I share my opinion on this issue, I want to talk about two high profile Christian artists who recently used language in their music.

First, is Derek Webb.  He is most notably known as the lead singer of Caedmon’s Call.  Since 2003, Webb has also ventured out by releasing quite a few solo records.  In 2009, Webb released his somewhat provocative album called Stockholm Syndrome.  The main point of controversy centered on the song “What Matters More.”  This short, 3 minute track confronted the topic of sexuality, and Webb claimed that “What Matters More” was the most important song on the record.  Because of his use of the words d**n and s**t, Webb’s label at the time, INO Records, attempted to bar the song from being on the album.  A short disagreement erupted between the label and Derek Webb, but the issue was eventually resolved and the song was released.

The other major contention was on the latest album by P.O.D.  The group released their highly anticipated record, Murdered Love, this past July.  The final track, “I Am,” is told from the perspective of a non-Christian struggling with life and sin.  Within the song, P.O.D. used a few derogatory terms like fa***t and ba****d, along with the word f**k.  The word is bleeped out, but one can still easily distinguish the word, f**k, six different times.  According to vocalist Sonny Sandoval, the process of thinking and praying about “I Am” was very long.  Sandoval ultimately decided to use the word, but only if it was bleeped out in the song.

I want to begin by saying that I am not judging these musicians or any other Christian musician who decide to use language in their music.  I am not judging their Christian faith.  I have seen the ministries of many bands, including P.O.D. and Derek Webb, and I know they are doing great things for the kingdom.  I am not judging their beliefs at all.  I simply want to tackle the debate of language in Christian music.  I do have to give these musicians credit.  They have a lot of courage.  Despite the opinions of critics, fans and record labels, both Derek Webb and P.O.D. are standing by what they believe. 

I will shout from the rooftops about artistic freedom and expression.  I think all musicians should have the freedom to sing about whatever subjects they choose.  But, I have a bigger question.  My question would be, “As Christians, should we take advantage of our freedom in music?”  Our faith is not defined by what we do or say, but our faith is defined by our relationship with Christ.  So, does that mean we have the freedom to say or do anything?  My answer is no.

For all of my opinions and beliefs, I have to come back to Scripture.  I want to lay out what the Bible says about using language.  There are quite a few verses related to how Christians are called to act, but I just want to share three passages with you. 

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” James 3:10

Finally, when you have time, read the 14th chapter of Romans.  Paul goes into great detail about making your brother or sister stumble in their walk with Christ.  He is not talking about the sins that are described in detail throughout the Bible, but he is talking about things that are trivial and do not matter within your relationship with Christ.  The first half of the chapter lays out how we are not defined by the beliefs of those around us, but we are identified by our relationship with Christ.  In the second half of the chapter, Paul describes the act of making your brother stumble.  This includes your Christian brother, as well as someone who may not know Christ.  What’s interesting is that Paul condemns both good and bad behavior in the second half of Romans.  He said we must not do things that make our brother falter, even if it’s something harmless or good.  Meaning, if we do something that is perfectly fine and good, but it makes our brother stumble, then our actions will be counted as a sin.

I don’t want to become a legalist by simply throwing out a couple of verses.  I pray every day that I do not become a legalist.  However, I do not agree with artists who choose to use language in their music.  The Bible does not specifically condemn certain words or phrases, but it does give us a warning.  The Bible speaks, in multiple passages, about not using filthy language and causing your brother to stumble.  Scripture also speaks about what comes out of your mouth.  In Matthew, Jesus says that whatever comes out of your mouth is from your heart. 

I believe it is the right of any band to say and sing about the subjects they want.  It is their right and freedom, and I think musicians should take full advantage of it.  But, I would urge Christian artists to use discretion.  When bands choose to use inflammatory words, the meaning of the song is sometimes stripped away.  I think both of the songs by Derek Webb and P.O.D. are phenomenal.  The messages behind them are tough to swallow, but they definitely need to be said.  Webb speaks about loving everyone and P.O.D. sings about Jesus dying for every sinner in our world.  Yet, people lose sight of these powerful meanings by simply picking out a few, select words in a song.  I fully admit that this post is also adding to the discussion.  But, if bands do not want their message or song being broken down into a couple of curse words, they might want to think about not using language.  Christian artists who use curse words in their music, run the risk of being defined by those few, inflammatory words.

Is it okay for Christians to curse in their music?  My answer is no.  If an artist chooses to not use language, is that stifling their creativity or being legalistic?  Once again, my answer is no.  As a Christian artist, you may want to prove a point or reach a different audience, but think about your heart.  Your language does not define your relationship with Christ, but it’s still a factor in it.  Even though bands have the freedom to use language, I would say use discretion.  It’s much better to not use language, than to cause someone else to falter in their walk with Christ. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wolves at the Gate Interview

Wolves at the Gate exploded onto the Christian rock scene in 2011 with their independent EP We are the Ones. With a post-hardcore sound, Wolves at the Gate fused together their beliefs with a style that was slightly different than your usual screamo acts. What they created was a powerful form of worship and rock and roll. The main goal of Wolves at the Gate has always been about sharing the Gospel, and their EP beautifully translates into hard-hitting anthems of Christ. We are the Ones eventually led the group to Solid State Records, which landed them a spot on the heavy label alongside juggernauts like August Burns Red, Demon Hunter, Emery and Underoath. On July 3rd, the group exploded once again in Christian music with their debut full length album. Produced by Andreas Magnusson (Haste the Day, Oh, Sleeper), Captors takes the band’s talent and sound to a whole new level. Receiving both fan and critical acclaim, Captors could easily qualify for album of the year in 2012. By mixing together the truths of Scripture with screams and hardcore rock and roll, Wolves at the Gate has created an unforgettable debut record. I recently had the chance to interview guitarist and vocalist Steve Cobucci about their new album, the effects of Spotify and pulling teeth on tour.

Webb: Your new album just dropped on July 3rd. What were your feelings on the release day of Captors?

Cobucci: I would say that collectively, we all were just excited. For as long as I can remember, since I picked up a guitar, all I wanted to do was record and put out a full length record, as it was the same for the rest of the guys. So naturally, we could not wait for people to get their hands on a record that we've been waiting to write and record since day one of the inception of the band. We were eager to hear from long-time fans and from new fans as to their reception of our new music.

Webb:  On this new record, what song are you most proud of?  What is that one song that you are really excited for fans to hear?

Cobucci:  This is a tough question as it's almost like being asked, “which one of your children do you love the most?”  But personally, I was most excited for fans to hear “Man of Sorrows,” which is the last track on the record.  This is a completely different type of song than fans generally would expect from us.  To date, it is easily the most different sounding song we have ever written.  The music to this song has some cool dynamics that really help communicate the weight of the message in the lyrics.

My goal with the music and lyrics for this song was for the listener to feel the weight of Jesus' humility in taking on human form, living in poverty, serving His own disciples, humbling himself before His own creation that nailed Him to the tree, beat him, spat in his face and eventually put Him to death.  Almost all of our songs directly talk about the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ, so for this song I wanted to paint a picture of the One who gave His life for us.  I want the listener to read these lyrics and see that Jesus is a valiant Savior who endured much for the sake of providing peace between God and man.

Webb:  When listening to your record, the main thing that I came away with is your overt proclamation of Christ.  From beginning to end, you guys unashamedly share your faith on Captors.  Is the main goal of Wolves at the Gate to share Christ through music?

Cobucci:  We hope that our love for Jesus and His gospel is clear in our music, performances and lives.  Since day one, four years ago, we established that the precedent be the exaltation of Christ as Savior and Lord.  The message hasn't changed simply because we know that it is the Gospel alone, through the work of the Holy Spirit, that will beckon people to the cross of Jesus Christ, and see that He alone is the way, the truth and the life.

Webb:  My personal favorite on the album is the song “Dead Man.”  What’s the story behind that song?

Cobucci:  “Dead Man” is a look into my own heart and what the Lord saved me from.  It is a depiction of the thoughts that ran through my mind upon the work of God revealing the sin in my heart, leading me to repentance and drawing me into a love for Jesus Christ for simply who He is.  The verses from the Bible that are used in that song were crucial in my growth in knowledge, understanding and love for Jesus' perfect work of salvation.

Webb:  For your debut, you worked with producer Andreas Magnusson.  What was it like working with someone who had such an accomplished resume?

Cobucci:  Working with Andreas was a real blessing.  A band as young as us had no place working with a seasoned producer, such as Andreas, but [we] were excited and thankful nonetheless.  It was a huge help for us to work with someone who had a clear vision with how to capture the sounds we were looking for in various portions of the record.  He has a really broad perspective when it comes to music, which worked in our favor as our music definitely is not as heavy as a lot of the records he works on.  He quickly caught on to our style and sound, and how to help us capture it for the record.

Webb:  You guys also feature a new screamer, Nick Detty, on Captors.  What was the story behind him joining the band?

Cobucci:  Last summer, we knew that we were going to need a new vocalist because our old vocalist, Colin Jones, was married and had two little girls, which would keep him from touring full time.  Nick really came out of nowhere.  We had not posted anything about looking for a vocalist and really hadn't told anyone about our situation as well.  We played a show with some friends of ours and Nick's band at the time (Cyrene) played earlier in the show; and we all separately thought to ourselves, “dang, this kid is good.”  We played later on in the show and in the middle of our set, I began sharing the Gospel with the crowd.  For some reason, the crowd this particular night was really loud and distracted from listening to the Gospel.  Then here comes Nick, he walked across the floor in the crowd right in the center, and locked eyes with me.  He had a smile on his face as he was encouraged by our boldness in sharing the Gospel from stage.  It was really encouraging to me and afterwards I found him, and told him I appreciated his encouragement.

I then contacted him a couple weeks later about trying out, and he totally killed it on his tryout.  He knew all the lyrics, all of the patterns, all on his first try.  That was an awesome testament to his work ethic and respect for us as well.  We then took him on two tours to see how he would do.  They both were difficult tests for him, but we were able to see his heart and get to know him much better.  Since then, everything has been a big learning experience for him, as we are [all] 5 - 6 years older than him (being 19).  So, it has been cool to see him grow and mature as a person and most importantly spiritually.

Webb:  You released your debut full length through Solid State Records.  Being such a young band, how did you get connected with the label?

Cobucci:  To be honest, I have no idea.  We had already been a band for three years when they contacted us, but We Are the Ones was our first official release that we did on our own.  Before that, we had released four singles and a three song EP.  We really are a testament to "right time, right place," as we are not really sure what we did to get their attention, beyond their enjoyment of our music.  This was just yet another sign of God having His hand of blessing in the life of this band.

Webb:  How do you craft a song?  What is the process for your band from beginning with an idea to hearing the final version of a song?

Cobucci:  It really is different per song.  Many songs start off with a chorus/riff on the acoustic that I eventually take to my computer, and start tracking tons of different ideas to fit around the main feel of a song that I am seeking to communicate.  Sometimes, a song is sparked from writing lyrics long before any music; and other times I simply sit down with a concept in mind, and then it just flows out of me seamlessly.  Once I demo out the main core of the songs, I email them out to the band with all of my ideas in them for vocals, guitars, bass, drums, etc.  Then the guys are able to analyze what I have constructed and either alter the part to fit their playing style a bit, change it completely or change nothing.  It is more or less a filtration system to which everyone listens and gives their input about the songs.

Webb:  You also just had an album release show on July 7th.  How did the show go, and how was the turnout?

Cobucci:  The release show was a great success.  It was such a blessing to have great friends there, excellent bands and at an awesome venue.  We have always loved going to shows at the Newport in Columbus, and this was the second [time] we have ever been able to play there.  The last time we played there was about two years ago when we opened up for the PacTour with Saosin and Innerpartysystem.  So naturally, this time around it was really weird to be the headliner.  We had an incredible turnout of fans supporting the release of our record, and [we] were really thankful that God was able to use that show to be such a blessing to so many of the hearts there at the show that night.

Webb:  Wolves at the Gate is fairly new to the touring scene.  But, do you have any crazy or funny tour stories you would like to share?

Cobucci:  There were a couple funny stories from Nick's first tour with us in November of 2011, but I will just share one.  We were in Connecticut at a local pizza shop; and Nick took a bite out of the pizza, and somehow cracked his molar in half.  So, he played that night, and then the next morning we decided that we needed to pull this tooth.  I grabbed some needle nose pliers, sterilized the pliers with some Vitamin Water, had him lie down in the grass; I put my foot on his chest and then pulled that bad boy out.  It took me two tries, but we got that sucker.  We have the whole event recorded; we just need to post it for fans to see the essence of Nick Detty.

Webb:  What’s your favorite part of touring and least favorite part of touring?

Cobucci:  I really enjoy traveling, meeting new people, hearing different music, seeing great musicians perform and learning from them.  Touring really is just a big learning experience in general, and I always walk away from tour learning something new.  My least favorite aspect of touring is the fact that you spend a lot of time away from friends and family.  I am very close with my family, so it's difficult to miss spending time with my brother, parents, grandparents, etc.  As well as missing out on what's going on in my friend's lives, as they are all now starting families and having kids.

Webb:  One of the hot topics in music right now is the emergence of the internet.  How do you feel about digital music and online sites like Spotify?  Do you like the idea of, if you can get your hands on our music that’s awesome, or do you support the thought of fans having to buy music?

Cobucci:  This is a topic that comes up all the time in talks with other bands, fans and people involved in the music industry.  Thankfully, we have fans who care; and ask us all the time the best way to support our band with how they purchase music, to which we are extremely blessed and thankful for.  There simply are problems on either side of this debate.  While I am all for music being available to people to enjoy and especially in reference with our goal for people to hear the Gospel of salvation through Christ, I do have a problem with people illegally downloading music, and will never come to a show or support the bands they enjoy.

My personal conviction is that I simply will not illegally download music or use Spotify.  Bands see no return from people using Spotify.  If people are really interested in seeing how Spotify affects bands, then I would encourage them to research, and see how many plays are needed before a band will make a fraction of a cent.  I love the idea of buying records because that is how I show a form of support for people who write music that I enjoy.  I have all the t-shirts I could ever need; yet, I want to buy shirts from bands I enjoy, as I know merchandise is the lifeblood of touring bands.

Wolves at the Gate simply doesn't exist without all of the records that I have bought over my lifetime because that is what has impacted me to write our songs.  As a kid, I saved any money that I made to buy the records that I wanted.  I remember mowing lawns, working for my dad and grandpa, so that I could go to the record store on my way home from school and find a new record to listen to.  The harder we make it for bands to play music for a living, the greater risk we run on missing out on great music.  I would never hold resentment towards someone who uses Spotify or illegally downloads our records, although I feel it definitely is hurting bands.

Many times people use the defense of wanting to listen to a record before you buy it; but, bands usually release upwards of five songs from a record and stream the album before it comes out, providing plenty of opportunity for people to get a taste of what they will be purchasing.  When you go to a restaurant, you can't eat a sandwich to see if you like it, and then decide you will pay for it after realizing you like it.  If our economy was based on the foundation of that mentality, we would be in even more trouble economically than we are now.  Yet, on the other hand, I really do want as many people as possible to hear our music.  We personally have given our records away for free plenty of times and to strangers or kids who don't have the money.  I simply would encourage kids to have the boldness to make an investment in the bands you love with either buying records, giving bands a place to sleep or however you can lend support.

Webb:  Do you have a favorite Scripture or Bible verse? 

Cobucci:  Isaiah 53 has always been a portion of Scripture that I read frequently to remind me what a great Savior I have in Jesus.

Webb:  What does the future hold for the group?  What can fans expect from Wolves at the Gate in the next couple of months?

Cobucci:  Touring, possibly a new music video, more touring and probably some cool things that we haven't even thought of yet.  We do our best to stay active and to give fans something tangible to enjoy from the band.  We really just want to get out there, play these songs for new and old fans and support this record that we are really proud of.

Below is the official lyric video for their song, “Dead Man.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Love Songs

The art of creating a love song has always played a special part in music.  Over the years, music has served an important role in communicating and sharing love.  In Christian rock, the theme of love carries a couple of different meanings.  Some songs are very romantic, while others are simply fun, sing along summer tunes.  Still, others sing about a heavenly love with our Savior.  With each song and subject in mind, Christian artists regularly sing about different forms of love.  For this post, I mainly want to focus on one type of love song. Here are five, romantic love songs from some of your favorite Christian rock musicians.

The first song is “Deer in the Headlights” by Owl City.  With the inclusion of many tongue in cheek lyrics, Adam Young sings about finding love at first sight.  According to Young, randomly talking to girls could land you with a black eye, bloody nose or even some pepper spray to the face.  The video includes Young riding in a DeLorean, his encounter with Lights and a nod to his video for “Alligator Sky.”  All in all, this is another fun tune from Owl City that will give a few laughs alongside love at first sight.

Next, is “MySpace Girl” by The Afters.  Off their album Never Going Back to Okay, this is a much different style of song than their usual hits.  A little creepy and a little funny at the same time, The Afters sing about having a crush on a girl who works at a fast food restaurant.  This crush eventually leads to stalking on MySpace, which finally turns into a relationship.  The best part of this song is that it’s a true story.  According to lead singer Joshua Havens, “MySpace Girl” is a true tale of how their bass player met his wife.

Third, is the song “A Day Late.”  Early in their career, Anberlin dabbled in punk rock, and this has to be one of their poppiest songs they’ve recorded.  In “A Day Late,” the theme of love is a little different than most songs, in that, Stephen Christian sings about falling in love with someone after their relationship had ended.  The music video features some really cool shots with a simple, but interesting concept.

The fourth song is by Run Kid Run.  “One in a Million” features a straightforward message of true love.  The group sings about finding love with a one in a million girl.  Another pop hit, a young man uses the help of a marching band and a generous old man to find true love in this video.

The final song is “Definitely Maybe” by FM Static.  One of the more well-known Christian rock love songs of the past decade, this hook driven melody will get stuck in your head.  Off the debut album from the side project of Trevor McNevan and Steve Augustine, “Definitely Maybe” sings about falling in love.  The only problem is the woman of your dreams is dating someone else.  Throughout the song, McNevan attempts to point the girl in a different direction than her jerk boyfriend.  “Definitely Maybe” has high school love written all over it, but the addicting qualities make it one great hit.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at some popular love songs in Christian music today.  If you are a fan of these love songs, here are a few more Christian rock hits to check out.

“Treasure” – Flyleaf
“How in the World” – Family Force 5
“Here With Me” – Eleventyseven
“Moment of Truth” – FM Static
“If You Love Someone” – Dizmas
“Wind in My Sails” – Spoken
“The Best Thing” – Relient K
“A Summer’s Song” – Wavorly
“Revelation” – The Wedding
“Say Goodbye” – Skillet
“Souls on Ten” – The Almost