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.

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