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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Top Christian Rock Songs of 2014

If you missed my previous post on my top ten albums of the year, you can check it out here.  Below, I have featured my favorite songs that were released in 2014.

10.  More of You – Matty Mullins

After enjoying a large amount of success with Memphis May Fire, lead vocalist, Matty Mullins, decided to branch out into solo territory.  Earlier this year, Mullins released his self-titled debut album, which featured a string of pop worship anthems.  “More of You” is by far the strongest song on the record, as Mullins boldly declares his allegiance to the one, true Lord.

9.  Molotov – For Today

A rock and roll onslaught, “Molotov” is all about ridding your life of sinful deceptions.  The members of For Today use the violent imagery of riots, burning structures, and sending things back to hell, in order to show the radical nature of standing up for Christ and fleeing from the temptations of this world.

8.  BZRK – Family Force 5

Being filled with everything from hip hop beats to electronic rhythms, this song requires the listener to turn up the volume and blast the speakers away.  “BZRK” is a frenzied, loud, and wildly entertaining ride.

7.  Hearing Voices – Anberlin

Within “Hearing Voices,” Stephen Christian openly sings about his personal faith in the Lord.  As he says, “This song is about…the humbling experience that a God powerful enough to create the universe still has time to communicate to me through others, his Word, and (for me) signs & wonders.”

6.  No Ordinary Love – Memphis May Fire

This is by far my favorite song on the new Memphis May Fire record.  Told as a modern day story of the Prodigal Son, “No Ordinary Love” serves a powerful reminder of God’s unconditional love.

5.  Dust to Dust – Wolves at the Gate

A swift punch to the gut, “Dust to Dust” is a jarring and honest look at how we should flee the selfish desires of the world.  In the end, gold, fame, power, and wealth will only leave us empty and wanting more.  The only true treasure is found in the life and death of Jesus Christ.  As always, Wolves at the Gate do a masterful job of combining essential truths of Scripture with the energy of hardcore screamo.

4.  Born This Way – Thousand Foot Krutch  

Featuring aggressive vocals and a mixture of southern riffs, “Born This Way” is another huge hit from Thousand Foot Krutch.  A powerful, rallying cry, Trevor McNevan urges people to be proud of who they are and to always be comfortable in their own skin.

3.  My Allegiance – Ilia  

At least to me, Ilia was probably the biggest surprise of 2014.  Their Reborn EP was intensely catchy, and I still have every track from that release on continual repeat. However, the song, “My Allegiance,” has stuck out to me the most.  From start to finish, Suzy Martinez’s wide vocal range is put on full display.  Not only does she sing clean vocals, but “My Allegiance” also features her signature screams.

2.  Unbroken – Disciple 

What can I say; I’m a sucker for power ballads.  In today’s music world, no one creates more memorable anthems than the guys of Disciple.

 1.  Relief – Wolves at the Gate

“Relief” includes my favorite lyrics of the year.  Proudly declaring the mercy and grace of Christ, Stephen Cobucci passionately sings, “All who are burdened and seeking respite.  All of the hopeless, wretched, and desperate.  All who are worn out and feeling oppressed, come in and find your rest.” A forceful burst of screamo, “Relief” will have you pushing the repeat button over and over again. 

I hope you have enjoyed this look at my top 10 songs of 2014.  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.   

Thread – Flyleaf
The Structure/The Foundation – The Overseer
We Are the Brave – Veridia
Ambigram – Project 86 
The High Road – Peter Furler Band
Satisfied – House of Heroes
Holding On – Seventh Day Slumber
Paradise – Manafest 
It – Number One Gun
The Last One Alive – Demon Hunter

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Top Ten Christian Rock Albums of 2014

10.  Between the Stars – Flyleaf 
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Set Me On Fire, Thread, City Kids, Home

Between the Stars is easily the most polarizing release of the year.  On one hand, there is a select group of people who are still desperately hoping for the return of Lacey Sturm.  On the other side, numerous people are trying to give new vocalist, Kristen May, a fighting chance.  With Flyleaf’s latest record, one’s enjoyment of it will largely be impacted by how he/she views the new dynamic of the group.  If you are looking for an album that’s similar to the old days of Lacey Sturm, then, you will be sorely disappointed.  But, if you listen to this release with an open mind, then, there are actually quite a few good things to be found.  Yes, Kristen May doesn’t even come close to the vocal range or power of Lacey Sturm.  But, May can still sing really well.  Plus, the supporting cast of Flyleaf are all incredibly talented musicians.  Even though there are a few missteps along the way (“Platonic,” “Head Under Water,” and “Blue Roses”), Between the Stars is still a prime example of how Flyleaf is one of the best bands in the hard rock industry.  Ultimately, if you just give Kristen and the guys from Flyleaf a chance, then, you may just find yourself enjoying what they have to offer.

9.  We Are the Broken – Seventh Day Slumber
Rating – 3 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – We Are the Broken, Nothing to Lose, Comatose State, Holding On

With their latest release, Seventh Day Slumber has fully returned to their early hard rock roots.  As lead vocalist, Joseph Rojas says, “To put it simply, it's a completely honest album that takes us back to where we started.  When you hear these songs there's no doubt; this is Seventh Day Slumber.  We couldn't be prouder of the music.”  Not only is their high energy rock and roll on full display, but Seventh Day Slumber also continues in their usual themes of brokenness, grace, and redemption.  Truly, the only downside to We Are the Broken is the inclusion of Demi Lovato’s song, “Skyscraper.”  Their rendition isn’t terrible, but it is oddly placed and simply doesn’t fit with the flow of the record. 

8.  Sun and Shield – Peter Furler Band
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Dare I Say, Shame, Yeshua, The High Road

For his latest album, Peter Furler has chosen to completely reinvent himself.  Not only has he welcomed two new members to the group, but Furler has also embraced a different side of rock and roll.  On Sun and Shield, his older style of electronic pop has been completely replaced by a new form of unpolished, acoustic-driven rock.  As usual, Furler does not disappoint, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this group.  Will they continue down this same road or will Furler steer them back to the old school “Breakfast” days?  I guess only time will tell which genre of music the Peter Furler Band picks next.

7.  Time Stands Still – Family Force 5
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – BZRK, Walk on Water, Glow In the Dark, Let It Be Love 

Family Force 5 burst onto the Christian rock scene in 2006 with their widely acclaimed debut, Business Up Front, Party in the Back.  With huge hits like “Love Addict” and “Kountry Gentleman” these crunk rockers exploded in popularity with Christian rock fans. Fast forward eight years later and Family Force 5 has returned with their latest album, Time Stands Still.  Dominated by pop rhythms and fast-paced melodies, this release features 15 dance-driven rock songs.  With their undeniable energy, frenetic beats, and quirky lyrics, Family Force 5 has created another fun record that will have you dancing for days.  

6.  Lowborn – Anberlin
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – We Are Destroyer, Stranger Ways, Losing It All, Hearing Voices

Earlier this year, when I heard the news that Lowborn was going to be Anberlin’s final record, I was immediately struck with mixed feelings.  Yes, I was excited about the release of some new music, and yet, I was also sad to hear about the end of their career. On their final record, Anberlin masterfully blends together multiple styles and genres.  It almost seems as if they wanted to try a little bit of everything.  Both “We Are the Destroyer” and “Dissenter” feature driving rhythms and even some hardcore screams. “Harbinger” includes some unique, musical sounds, and “Armageddon” has a solid indie rock feel.  However, the true gems are found in their softer material.  “Hearing Voices” is one of their deepest songs theologically, while “Stranger Ways” has an emotional and stirring quality to it.  In being a band for 12 years, Lowborn won’t go down as the best album of their career. But, it still serves as a fitting and celebratory end.  As fans, all we can say is thank you.

5. Fight the Silence – For Today
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Molotov, Fight the Silence, For the Fallen, Fatherless   

As the title alludes to, the majority of this record was created to give a voice to the voiceless.  The title track brings to light the suffering of slaves and those who are trapped in the sex industry; “Pariah” deals with the final moments of a Christian martyr, “Fatherless” details the confusion and anger of living without a father, and “Hated by the World” speaks of being cast aside and completely abandoned.  Wild and thematically intense, the lyrical subjects prove that this is more than just another heavy metal record. It’s about something much bigger.  Fight the Silence is truly a powerful offering that serves to wake up the masses and urge people to stand up for what they believe in. 

4.  Unconditional – Memphis May Fire
Rating - 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Ordinary Love, The Answer, Speechless, Divinity

Even though the majority of their fan base is outside of the Christian circle, Memphis May Fire is still very open about their faith.  On their latest album, Matty Mullins and the guys from MMF continue in their same style of Gospel-driven metalcore.  According to Mullins, one of the purposes of Unconditional is to let people know, “about the unconditional love of Christ.”  From the story of the prodigal son (“No Ordinary Love”) to battling with loneliness (“Beneath the Skin”) to even finding your purpose in life (“Divinity”), this whole album speaks of our personal struggles and how the Lord still loves us unconditionally.

3.  Oxygen: Inhale – Thousand Foot Krutch
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Untraveled Road, Born This Way, I See Red, In My Room, Oxygen

To many, this review might come as a little bit of a shock.  Earlier this year, many critics published some pretty harsh reviews of Thousand Foot Krutch’s latest album.  Most reviewers were upset because of the toned-down approach of Oxygen:Inhale.  On their latest record, less than half of the tracks are true, hard rock tunes, while the rest are either ballads or made for radio pop songs. However, even though quite a few fans and critics were disappointed, I, on the other hand, truly loved this record.  It was very refreshing to hear the members of Thousand Foot Krutch stretch themselves musically.  Instead of just going with their usual hard rock route, they chose to throw in a number of different styles. “Born this Way” and “Give It to Me” have an old school, southern rock and roll feel.  “In My Room” and “Oxygen” are both heartfelt, piano ballads, while the album’s closer, “Glow,” throws in some country melodies.  Ultimately, because of their longtime career, this mellow album doesn’t even come close to some of Thousand Foot Krutch’s best work (Phenomenon, Welcome to the Masquerade).  But, with all its surprises and twists, Oxygen:Inhale is still another impressive release.  

2.  Attack – Disciple
Rating – 4 ½ Stars
Top Tracks – Radical, Scarlet, Unbroken, The Name, Angels & Demons 

If I could describe this album in one word, it would be passion.  Almost every song on Attack speaks about what it means to passionately follow Jesus Christ.  “Radical” could easily serve as this generation’s “Jesus Freak.”  By far the best song on the album, “Unbroken” is a masterful power ballad that highlights the importance of persevering in Christ.  The lyrics of “Angels and Demons” are directly pulled from Romans 8:38-39, while “Scarlet” describes the freeing power of Jesus' grace. With Disciple’s signature mix of honest worship and aggressive rock, Attack is definitely one of the best albums of their career.  After being a band for over twenty years, it’s obvious that Kevin Young and Disciple still have the hunger and drive for producing quality music that seeks to glorify the Lord.

1.  VxV – Wolves at the Gate 
Rating – 5 Stars
Top Tracks – Wake Up, Dust to Dust, Return, Relief, The Convicted

If you have read my blog extensively, then, you probably know by now that I am a huge fan of this group.  After giving their debut album 5 stars, I was highly anticipating this new record.  Thankfully, Wolves at the Gate did not disappoint, and, once again, they have released another memorable album filled with their unique style of faith-based metalcore. On VxV (Five by Five), Wolves at the Gate have also taken their overt Christian beliefs to another level, by choosing to include numerous audio clips of pastors.  At least to me, nothing sounds better than the preaching of John Piper mixed with metal breakdowns and screams. 

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.  This is All We Know – Number One Gun
2.  Rest and Let Go – The Overseer
3.  Extremist – Demon Hunter
4.  From Water to War – Nine Lashes  
5.  The Moment – Manafest

Also, here are my Top EPs of the year.

1.  Reborn – Ilia 
2.  Smoke – House of Heroes
3.  Inseparable - Veridia