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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Top Ten Underrated Albums in Christian Rock

For this post, I want to discuss some of the most underrated and overlooked albums in Christian rock. Some of these records were overlooked because of band break ups, some had distribution issues, while others simply did not get the recognition that they deserved. This list is completely subjective, every album and piece of criteria was created by me. Below, I listed the main criteria that I used to determine these ten albums. Even though I tried to stick to each of these standards, there are a few exceptions on my list.

1. Greatness. An album cannot be labeled underrated, unless it was a truly great record.

2. Recognition. Did an album get recognition in awards and honors, or was it overlooked? If it was overlooked, then a record could be viewed as underrated.

3. Album Sales. This is definitely not the most important criteria, but I think it needs to be mentioned. If an album sold millions and millions of copies, can it really be labeled underrated? I say no.

4. Popularity. To be underrated, I don't think an album can be one of the most popular Christian rock albums of all time.

5. Major Christian Label. I felt like these albums needed to stay within the scope of major labels. The possibilities are endless for underrated independent albums and bands, so I only chose albums that were on a major Christian label.

6. I have a vast knowledge of the history of Christian rock, but I rarely listen to Christian music before the 1990s. Each of these albums was released in the last 20 years.

10.  Ardent Worship – Skillet (2000)
Top Tracks – Your Name is Holy, Angels Fall Down, Shout to the Lord

Skillet is currently at the forefront of Christian music.  Their last two albums have gone gold while also producing two gold singles.  Skillet started out as a grunge rock group in the 90s, before turning to the genres of electronic and hard rock later in their career.  Stuck between these different genres was a small, live worship album.  Skillet has had a few worship songs throughout their career, but Ardent Worship is an entire album of worship music from Skillet.  With huge worship anthems like "Shout to the Lord" and "Angels Fall Down," Skillet proved that they can not only rock, but they also can perform powerful worship songs.

9.  Last Chance to Breathe – Spoken (2005)
Top Tracks – Bitter Taste, From the Inside, 4th Street

Spoken has been around for a long time; they have released six albums since 1997 and had a very short stint on Tooth and Nail Records.  With an emocore/hardcore sound alongside very unique vocals, Last Chance to Breathe was a joy to listen to.  "Bitter Taste" is still one of my all time favorite screamo songs, and the group even recorded a pretty good cover of "Time After Time."  However, most people simply can’t get past the lead vocals.  Matt Baird’s high pitched, almost whiny vocals are an acquired taste and take a little getting used to.  But, if you enjoy unique vocals and a hardcore sound, you definitely want to pick up this overlooked album.

8.  On A Search in America – Dizmas (2005) 
Top Tracks – Let This One Stay, Redemption, Passion, Glory, Saturday

Dizmas had a very short career.  They were first signed to Credential Recordings in 2005.  After three years, an amazing debut, a sophomore album flop, and a greatest hits album, Dizmas’ short career was over.  Between their short career and their awful second album, Dizmas’ debut has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle.  On A Search in America is definitely a rock record.  The beginning of the album features blazing guitars and heavy metal screams.  By the end of the record, Dizmas has completely changed gears to punk and a brief stint of pop rock.  Dizmas repeatedly jumps around in different genres on this record, and by the end it proves to be a strong suit of the group. 

7.  Vices – Dead Poetic (2006)
Top Tracks – Narcotic, Paralytic, Vices

I had been a huge fan of Dead Poetic up until their hiatus in 2008.  For Vices, the group ditched their hardcore sound and transitioned into a newer, fast paced rock and roll style.  The transition could have been filled with misses and bumps in the road, but Dead Poetic pulled it off flawlessly.  Brandon Rike’s flawless vocals blended together perfectly with the group’s newfound rock style.  Shortly after the release of this album, Dead Poetic disbanded, and fans were never really given a chance to latch on to Vices.  

6.  Supernatural – DC Talk (1998) 
Top Tracks – Into Jesus, Supernatural, Consume Me

Even though Supernatural went platinum in 2002, I still think this is an underrated album.  I contribute most of Supernatural’s success to its predecessor Jesus FreakJesus Freak is easily in the top five most important Christian albums of all time.  If Supernatural had been a total flop from DC Talk, I still think the album would’ve received record sales numbers because of the popularity of Jesus Freak.  On that note, I actually think Supernatural is DC Talk’s best album of their career.  Jesus Freak definitely had the hits, but DC Talk was flawless on this record.  Supernatural completely erased DC Talk’s old sound and ushered in their very short era of rock music.  This was also the last album from DC Talk before they separated.  When people think of the career of DC Talk, most of them instantly think of Jesus Freak.  But, I truly believe Supernatural should be in the conversation of DC Talk’s greatest albums. 

5.  Say It Loud – Sanctus Real (2002)
Top Tracks – Say It Loud, All I Want, Nothing to Lose

With their contemporary pop sound, Sanctus Real has become a major success on Christian radio.  However, few know or recognize them for their early rock roots.  Their first two albums and especially their debut album, Say It Loud, are fun, infectious rock records.  For any fan of rock music, Sanctus Real’s debut is a must have.  Sanctus Real has not received the recognition they deserve for their widely overlooked rock roots.  I am still hoping that they will one day return to the sound of Say It Loud.

4.  The End is Not the End – House of Heroes (2008)
Top Tracks – Lose Control, In the Valley of the Dying Sun, Sooner or Later

I believe House of Heroes’ third album, The End is Not the End, was largely overlooked because of distribution issues.  House of Heroes finished the album in 2008, but it wasn’t released to stores until 2009.  A loose concept album, The End is Not the End is based around World War II themes.  From killing another soldier to marrying a Communist woman, this is definitely one of the most unique albums in the last ten years.  In between the numerous World War themes, the music of each song compliments the lyrics and vocals, without overpowering or becoming lost in the background.  House of Heroes is a very special and talented group, and this underrated album is by far their best release.   

3.  Love Liberty Disco – Newsboys (1999)
Top Tracks – Beautiful Sound, Love Liberty Disco, Everyone’s Someone

The success of the Newsboys speaks for itself.  Since their formation, the Newsboys have sold over seven million records, released 15 full length albums, performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received four Grammy nominations, and they have been inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame.  With all their success, you might be surprised that the Newsboys have an underrated album.  This record is the only one in their career that deviates from their normal, pop rock sound.  Love Liberty Disco features multiple ballads, while throwing in some upbeat, almost disco sounding tunes.  In the late 90s, the Newsboys dominated Christian music.  They were at the height of their career.  This album was a huge leap of faith for the Newsboys.   To release an album drastically different from their normal pop was definitely risky.  Neither the Newsboys nor the Christian music community knew what to do with this record.

2.  The Everglow – Mae (2005)
Top Tracks – Someone Else’s Arms, Suspension, The Everglow

This alternative group sadly broke up in 2011 after a ten year career.  Throughout their time as a band, Mae released three full length albums alongside numerous EPs, but none of them compared to the greatness of The Everglow.  While listening to the album and reading through the accompanying lyric book, the listener is instantly thrust into a music experience.  To fully embrace The Everglow, one must listen from track one all the way to track 15.  From fast tempo rock songs to the piano driven ballads, this album has it all.  

1.  Children 18:3 – Children 18:3 (2008)
Top Tracks – LCM, Search Warrant, Homemade Valentine

Fueled by goth make-up, dual vocals and raucous punk rock, this debut from the Hostetter siblings blew me away.  By playing together for nine years before they released this debut album, these three siblings have the maturity level and sound of seasoned music veterans, not of a debut band. This record took me completely by surprise, and it could even be labeled as perfection.  To this day, I am still shocked at how many people have not heard the music of Children 18:3.  They are quietly taking the Christian punk world by storm and definitely deserve more attention.

I hope you enjoyed this look at ten albums that I think deserve more recognition.  

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