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 14, 2013

Top Christian Rock Songs of 2013

If you missed my previous post on the top ten albums of the year, you can check it out here.  Below, I have featured my favorite songs that were released in 2013.

10.  Kings and Queens – Audio Adrenaline

Being very inspirational, the video for “Kings and Queens” showcases the beauty and wonder of the Haitian orphans, who are a part of the Hands and Feet Project.  Just as Kevin Max sings, in the eyes of Christ, every child is a king or queen.

9.  Criminals and Kings – Stellar Kart

On this song, Stellar Kart highlights the dichotomy and contrast within the heart of every follower of Christ.  As Adam Agee says, there is a daily struggle of recognizing that we are sinners and have a criminal nature inside of us, while at the same time also being considered royal kings, welcomed into the family of God.

8.  The Only One – The Letter Black

Strangely enough, The Letter Black decided to exclude this excellent single from their latest full length release.  To me, “The Only One” is by far the best song that the group put together this year.  This piece of melodic rock showcases The Letter Black’s true talent for creating memorable ballads.

7.  Sick of It – Skillet

Brutally honest, “Sick of It” is a jarring statement about being tired of the current state of our world.  Add in their usual hard hitting melodies and polished rock sound, and Skillet has created another headbanging hit.  Here is the official music video for “Sick of It.”

6.  Just Say Jesus – 7eventh Time Down

In recording this video, I commend the guys from 7eventh Time Down for using their music as a platform to play a role in freeing Saeed Abedini from an Iranian prison.  If you want more information on how you can help this American pastor be released from an eight year prison sentence, please visit the Be Heard Project.

5.  Take the Bullets Away – We As Human.

According to vocalist, Justin Cordle, the lyrics for “Take The Bullets Away” were inspired by a very emotional time in the life of his sister-in-law.  Through this heartbreaking period, she was tormented by the decisions and actions of very wicked men.  Dedicated to her, this song is filled with gut-wrenching moments of despair and honesty.  But, to their credit, We As Human also find room to include beautiful glimpses of hope.

4.  Fight the Silence – For Today

As the title suggests, “Fight the Silence” is all about attacking apathy.  Specifically, For Today urges the world to take a stand and radically fight against the evils of sex trafficking and slavery.

3.  Words – Hawk Nelson

Coming in at number three is “Words” by Hawk Nelson.  Featuring Bart Millard of MercyMe, this song accurately describes the power of our words.  As Jonathan Steingard sings, “Words can build you up. Words can break you down.  Start a fire in your heart or put it out.”

2.  Sooner or Later – Confide

Being filled with everything from metal riffs to hip hop beats, this song requires the listener to turn up the volume and blast the speakers away.  Frenzied, loud, and wildly entertaining, “Sooner or Later” will have you pushing the repeat button over and over.

1.  Not Gonna Die – Skillet

Inspired by the album artwork, this lyric video expertly highlights the themes of determination and perseverance.  By depicting a small girl standing alongside her protector and friend, “Not Gonna Die” encourages all of us to courageously face our fears and inner demons.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at my top ten songs of 2013.  As with every list, this blog post would not be complete without my honorable mentions.  All of these songs are very solid, and would easily serve as worthy additions to any Christian rock playlist.

Searchlight – Thousand Foot Krutch
Noise – Colton Dixon
Sailor’s Prayer – The Devil Wears Prada
Rock and Roll Thugs – Icon For Hire
Calm the Storm – Spoken
Into the Veins – Five Iron Frenzy
Death From Above – Oh, Sleeper
Sing – I Am Empire
Glass House – Red
It’s Not Enough – Dustin Kensrue

Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Top Ten Christian Rock Albums of 2013

10.  Anchors – I Am Empire
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Gasoline, Sing, The Mastermind Is Me

On their sophomore release, I Am Empire features no gimmicks, no flashy tricks, or auto tuned vocals.  But, instead, Anchors is filled with unpolished rock and roll.  Yet, even though this is a raw and organic record, this does not mean that the music of I Am Empire is lacking in any way.  Actually, on the contrary, their passion and energy is able to come out even more because of the stripped down nature of Anchors.  Add to their straightforward sound the powerful themes of freedom and shaking off past regrets, and I Am Empire has put together a thoughtful release that harkens back to the glory days of primal rock and roll.

9.  Kings and Queens – Audio Adrenaline
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – He Moves You Move, Kings & Queens, Change My Name  

After hearing the news that Kevin Max was joining Audio Adrenaline, I have to admit, I was highly skeptical.  I consider AA to be one of the greatest and most important bands in the history of Christian rock; and, personally, I felt as if their signature, pop formula should be left alone and unchanged.  But, as a music reviewer, I wanted to be fair and give their reunion a chance.  In listening to their latest release, I have to say, Kings and Queens definitely shocked me.  Musically, the group throws in an addicting mix of pop anthems, funk melodies and electronic beats.  On top of their refreshing style, Kevin Max’s voice has never sounded better and his unique vibrato fits perfectly with the 90s pop style of Audio Adrenaline.  For long time fans, the new sound on Kings and Queens is definitely a departure from the glory days of “Big House” and “Mighty Good Leader.”  But, the end result is still a well-crafted release from these seasoned rockers.

8.  Rebuild – The Letter Black
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Found, Up From the Ashes, Shattered

I have been a fan of The Letter Black since the very beginning of their career.  I was even listening to them before the Tooth and Nail days, back when they were known as Breaking the Silence.  Thus, I was extremely excited to hear the news that they would be releasing music this year.  On Rebuild, the foursome finds themselves embracing standard hard rock, while throwing in sporadic moments of industrial and metal sounds.  Vocally, Sarah Anthony really pushes her voice to a new limit, especially with her guttural growls. Anthony not only screams on over half the songs, but she even includes extended moments of screams on “Smothering Walls” and “Devil On Your Back.”  Truly, the only negative for Rebuild was the exclusion of the song, “The Only One.”  The group released this very good single to YouTube earlier this year.  For whatever reason, The Letter Black decided to leave it off this excellent release.   

7.  Just Say Jesus – 7eventh Time Down
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Wait For You, Just Say Jesus, Free

If I could describe this album in one word, it would be hope.  Almost every song on Just Say Jesus speaks about the beautiful redemption and power of God, even in the midst of broken situations.  As lead vocalist, Mikey Howard says, “We serve a huge God that is way more powerful and bigger than any junk that we can bring to the table.  Even in the thick of it, when life stinks, we still have a peace and hope that surpasses anything we are capable of on our own.”  From their interviews to music videos to album releases, it’s obvious that the members of 7eventh Time Down wear their faith on their sleeves.  For Just Say Jesus, the southern riffs and Third Day-esque lyrics prove to be the perfect way for them to spread the hope and name of Jesus to the masses.  

6.  Illusion – Spoken
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks –Through It All, Take Everything, Calm the Storm

After successfully completing their Kickstarter campaign, Spoken finally decided to put out their first record in six years.  With such a long break in-between releases, many fans were left wondering about the sound and direction of the group.  However, within the first, few seconds of Illusion, Spoken immediately erases all doubt and the listener is instantly thrust back into a world of mosh pit jams and high pitched screams.  Yet, even though Spoken has largely mastered their hard rock sound, the true highlights come through their slower moments of worship and intimacy.  In “Take Everything,” Matt Baird personally cries out for God to seize control of his life.  By far the best song on the album, “Calm The Storm” is about praying for the Lord to end spiritual storms, and “Remember the Day” is a brilliant tune that urges people to always cherish life.  With a steady mixture of honest worship and aggressive screamo, Illusion, at times, feels a little schizophrenic and disjointed.  But, after six years and seven full length albums, it’s obvious that Spoken still has the hunger and drive for producing quality music. 

5. 8:18 – The Devil Wears Prada
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Rumors, Sailor’s Prayer, Black and Blue   

The main highlight on 8:18 comes through the blistering sound.  In the past, the music of The Devil Wears Prada has sometimes seemed like an afterthought, especially with their occasional overuse of breakdowns.  But now, as they have aged and matured, the guys from The Devil Wears Prada have not only solidified their brutal metalcore style, but 8:18 actually proves to be a stretch for the group.  In the writing process, they definitely decided to throw in the kitchen sink on this record.  8:18 features everything from eerie, electronic rhythms to haunting, metal ballads to even a fictional story or two.  This album will probably not go down as the best of their career, but 8:18 does serve as another notch in their already impressive arsenal.

4.  All In – Stellar Kart
Rating - 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Criminals and Kings, All In (Apologize), Before and After

Three years after their previous full length release, Stellar Kart returns with arguably their best album to date.  Even though Adam Agee is the only remaining original member, the group still holds true to their usual pop punk; but this time, they have added a touch of maturity.  Gone are their simple riffs and high school lyrics of procrastination and student driving, and instead, Stellar Kart has created an album filled with stirring melodies that scream the love of Christ.  Plus, with the foursome sprinkling in acoustic guitars, Aliegh Shields’ underrated backup vocals, and the occasional power ballad, Stellar Kart has definitely created one of the surprise albums of the year.  

3.  Made – Hawk Nelson
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Words, Faithful, Fighting For

Since the beginning of their career, in the early 2000s, Hawk Nelson has been a major player in the Christian punk scene.  However, in just this past year alone, the group has also been forced to make many serious decisions.  Not only did lead vocalist, Jason Dunn, step down to pursue a solo career, but the remaining members of Hawk Nelson also found themselves leaving their long time label of Tooth and Nail.  In light of these major moments, instead of calling it quits, Daniel Biro, Jonathan Steingard, and Justin Benner decided to view these changes as a fresh start in the history of Hawk Nelson.  As a result, the group released their sixth album and latest pop gem in April of this year.  On Made, Hawk Nelson completely sheds their punk past and instead, embraces a newfound, contemporary pop style.  The catchy melodies and gang vocals are still there, but, for this album, they are layered on top of a gentler and calmer side of pop rock.  With worship hits like “Faithful,” “Words,” and “Every Beat of My Broken Heart,” the future of Hawk Nelson is going to look much different.  But, buried beneath the style shifts, member changes, and contemporary Christian direction, the true Hawk Nelson is still to be found. 

2.  We As Human – We As Human
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Strike Back, We Fall Apart, Take the Bullets Away, Sever

Whether it’s the guest appearances from Christian megastars John Cooper (Skillet) and Lacey Sturm (former vocalist of Flyleaf) or the unashamed statements of faith, there just seems to be something special and unique about this debut album.  With the support of famed producer, Howard Benson, We As Human oozes a deep passion and confidence that so many young bands lack.  From the first chords of “Strike Back” to the final, bold moments of “I Stand,” the guys from We As Human are out to prove that they are more than just your average modern rock group.  This 30 minute ride of explosive power anthems and aggressive lyrics is a must buy for any hard rock fan.


1.  Rise – Skillet 
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Sick of It, Not Gonna Die, Circus For A Psycho, Salvation

Coming off their most successful album to date, panheads across the world had large expectations for this latest release by Skillet.  For some, they absolutely loved the new record, while others seemed a bit disappointed.  In listening to Rise, I found myself on the pleasantly surprised side of reactions.  Yes, Skillet includes their usual combination of hard rock, strings, and John Cooper’s raspy voice.  But, with Rise, the group also finds themselves slowly progressing into new territory.  By singing on over half the record, drummer, Jen Ledger, is quickly becoming a powerful member of the group.  Musically, Skillet also throws in some new elements of timely intros, realistic sound clips, and even quotes of Scripture.  After the huge explosion of popularity for Comatose and Awake, to me, Rise was the perfect release for Skillet.  Not only did they continue their successful rock formula, but they threw in just enough new components to surge themselves into the future. 

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.

1.  Engine of a Million Plots – Five Iron Frenzy
2.  Fear Inside Our Bones – The Almost
3.  A Messenger – Colton Dixon
4.  Release the Panic - Red 

Also, here are my Top EPs of the year.
1.  The Titan – Oh Sleeper
2.  Back to School – Wolves at the Gate
3.  Good Spells – Eleventyseven
4.  Embellish – The Jellyrox