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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Top Ten Christian Rock Albums of 2015

10.  Diamonds – Hawk Nelson
Rating – 3 1/2 Stars
Top Tracks – Drops in the Ocean, Count On You, Only You

According to bassist, Daniel Biro, Hawk Nelson’s latest release was created to inspire and spread joy.  “With Diamonds, we decided to just thank God for something. If we start by encouraging others to be grateful for what we do have in life, it’s a gateway to joy for everyone.”  With an emergence in radio play over the last few years, it’s no surprise that Hawk Nelson intentionally recorded numerous upbeat, positive, and joyful singles.  “Drops in the Ocean” reminds the listener of the depth and breadth of Christ’s love, “Thank God for Something” recognizes our daily blessings, while the title track focuses on God’s continued work in our lives.  Being a band for over a decade, Diamonds won’t go down as the best album of their career.  But, it’s another solid and enjoyable release from these pop veterans.  Hawk Nelson has definitely fulfilled their goal of spreading joy.

9.  One Love Revolution – Pillar
Rating – 3 1/2 Stars 
Top Tracks – One Love Revolution, Disconnect, Shooting Star, Unafraid

After successfully completing their Kickstarter campaign, Pillar finally decided to record their first album in six years.  With this latest release, the guys of Pillar stay true to their established style of radio rock mixed with a slight tinge of hip hop.  “One Love Revolution,” “Paratrooper,” and “We Ride,” instantly take the listener back to the glory days of Fireproof and Where Do We Go From Here.  Pillar also includes numerous radio ballads, reminiscent of their previous hits, “Rewind” and “Smiling Down.”  From start to finish, One Love Revolution serves as a 40 minute ride of Christian rock nostalgia.  

8.  Surrender – Kutless 
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Tear It Up, Not Too Far, My Heart is a Ghost

I can still remember listening to and loving many of Kutless’ early singles such as “Run,” “Not What You See,” and “Hearts of the Innocent.”  Since those days, I have been eagerly waiting for the members of Kutless to return to their early rock roots.  Even though Surrender is not nearly as hard as their debut album, it still features all of the makings for a solid radio rock record. “Tear It Up,” is a driving rock anthem that includes some brief screams.  “Not Too Far” features upbeat rhythms and guitar riffs that are similar to Number One Gun.  “My Heart is a Ghost” is by far the strongest and most interesting rock song that they have written since “Let You In.”  Granted, in between these rock hits, the album does slow down quite a bit in the middle.  But, as a longtime fan, it is refreshing to hear Kutless making great rock music once again.

7.  Wake – For Today
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Broken Lens, Bitter Roots, Flooded Earth, Time and Tide

The main highlight of Wake comes through the blistering and energetic sound.  In the past, the music of For Today has sometimes seemed like an afterthought, especially with their occasional overuse of breakdowns.  But now, as they have aged and matured, the guys from For Today have not only solidified their brutal metalcore style, but Wake 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.  Wake features everything from death metal screams (“Broken Lens”), to slow building metal ballads (“Bitter Roots”) to even an added emphasis on clean vocals.  Wake serves as another notch in For Today’s already impressive arsenal. 

6.  Come In – Children 18:3
Rating – 4 Stars
Top Tracks – Bethlehem, Because of You, Let There Be Light, Watch Over Me

For longtime fans of Children 18:3, Come In marks the end of an era.  As announced on their official Kickstarter page, this will be their final album.  Because of their upcoming breakup, the Hostetter siblings took some liberties and included a few new elements, alongside their gritty punk rock style.  Come In features everything from their usual high energy rock and roll (“Bethlehem,” “Because of You,” and “Watch Over Me”) to a touch of southern rock (“For This We Ride”) to even their softest song to date (“Long Ride Home”). Even though this album is not perfect and can seem disjointed at times, Come In still serves as a fitting and celebratory end.  As fans, let’s hope that the members of Children 18:3 change their minds and continue making music for years to come.

5.  Metanoia – For All Eternity
Rating – 4 1/2 Stars
Top Tracks – The Divide, Metanoia, Stitched the Same, White Flame

In the past, I have not been a huge fan of groups signed to Facedown Records, and so I was skeptical of For All Eternity’s debut.  But, as a music reviewer, I wanted to be fair and give their album an even chance.  In listening to this release, I have to say, Metanoia is definitely the surprise of the year.  Granted, the members of For All Eternity do not bring anything new to the table.  Their album is filled with a steady mix of heavy breakdowns, screamed verses, and clean choruses that can be found on almost any metalcore record. However, what sets this album apart is the professional nature of it.  The members of For All Eternity have set the bar high.  The instruments, vocals, and lyrics blend together flawlessly, and they create an enjoyable and moving metal experience.  Metanoia is a must have for 2015. 

4.  Pretty Lies – Veridia
Rating – 4 1/2 Stars
Top Tracks – Crazy In A Good Way, At the End of the World, Say A Prayer

Within my yearly top ten lists, I usually don’t include EPs.  But, this release was too good to ignore.  Even though all the members of Veridia are talented and tight musicians, Deena Jakoub’s vocal ability is still the strongest part of the band.  Throughout Pretty Lies, Jakoub’s voice is absolutely breathtaking.  From orchestral strings (“Crazy In A Good Way”), to hints of industrial rock (“At the End of the World”) to even a soaring pop ballad (“Say A Prayer”), Jakoub’s voice perfectly balances and complements every new step and musical direction.

3.  Breathe Again – Spoken 
Rating – 4 1/2 Stars
Top Tracks – Walking in My Dreams, Surrender, All I Wanted, Falling Apart

At least for me, it is hard to believe that Spoken has been pumping out albums for nearly two decades.  In being a band for so long, many would wonder if the guys still had the drive and passion to make great rock music.  After listening to their latest release, the answer is a resounding yes.  Even though it is a little cliché to say, Breathe Again is by far Spoken’s strongest record to date.  Matt Baird’s unique, high pitched vocals have never sounded clearer, and the other members of Spoken masterfully continue their same style of fast paced hard rock.

2.  Inside Out – XXI 
Rating – 4 1/2 Stars  
Top Tracks – Say It Again, Counting Me Out, Wasn’t Enough, Way You Love Me

Coming in at number two is the debut album by XXI (21).  Before being signed to Tooth and Nail records, XXI was a metalcore group known as a Feast for Kings.  When they released a stand-alone single earlier this year, the band still had a few traces of metalcore. But, it was clear that the guys were moving in a new musical direction.  Fast forward a few months later, and the members of XXI have shed their metal past and completely embraced a new side of rock and roll.  The end result is a well-crafted and catchy hard rock record, with some well-placed screams thrown in for good measure. 

1.  Of Beauty and Rage – Red 
Rating – 4 1/2 Stars
Top Tracks – Darkest Part, Shadow and Soul, Yours Again, Gravity Lies, The Ever

Ever since the release of their debut record, End of Silence, I have been a fan of Red. However, though, their past two albums have been disappointing and, at certain points, lackluster. Because of this, I didn’t have high expectations for Of Beauty and Rage.  I was expecting a few solid tracks, and then an album with 6 or 7 fillers.  But, much to my surprise, I was blown away by this record and was reminded why I loved their early work so much.  “Darkest Part” is easily one of the best songs of the year.  “Gravity Lies” masterfully pairs together catchy hard rock and gut-wrenching screams. “The Ever” is a hook driven anthem (similar to “Start Again” from Innocence and Instinct), while “Shadow and Soul” features five minutes of slow building energy and emotion.  With this latest release, Red has crafted what is arguably the best album of their career.

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.  You Were Never Alone – Emery 
2.  Coward – Haste the Day
3.  God is On the Move – 7eventh Time Down
4.  Mobile Orchestra – Owl City
5.  Found In Far Away Places – August Burns Red

Also, here are my Top EPs of the year.

1.  Pretty Lies – Veridia
2.  Redline EP – Seventh Day Slumber 
3.  Vultures – Disciple   
4.  Space EP – Devil Wears Prada
5.  Reprise EP – Wolves at the Gate 

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