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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.