The Christmas Project
John Christmas is the time for year for being with the ones you love, and also for listening to your favorite artists try their hands at Christmas music. It's one of the few times where songs covered...
No More Hell To Pay
Just about anybody who knows even a little about the history of Christian Rock music probably at least knows the name Stryper. Along with other bands like Petra, they were one of the forefathers of...
Hope Will Rise
Warr Acres A project which started as a worship team of highschoolers has now become one of the stronger worship talents on the music scene. Warr Acres describes their musical offerings as eclectic and their new...
Offering an Alternative | Posted July-19-2013
I won't profess to be an expert on the current mainstream pop market, but what I do hear is awfully discouraging. There seems to be an overabundance of both musical and lyrical garbage. That makes it exceptionally refreshing when a Christian artist offers a sound that is accessible to young people who may be drawn to secular pop while also being able to garner parental approval and offer some more healthy messages. Former Superchick singer Tricia is here with her first solo pop effort to give young girls just such a record.
Radiate hits all the right notes and has songs that can bring some fresh tunes to Christian pop radio, and even a few with crossover potential. Opening track "Everything As Loss" has "radio hit" written all over it. The song is a strong introduction to the record musically and lyrically it's got some draw also, as evidenced in the chorus: "What could hold a candle / what could come close / what could overshadow all you are? / Let my life prove that compared to what you finished on that cross / I count everything as loss."
The first half of the record continues the streak of positive electronic-beat pop hits. "Enough" and the title track are fast-paced standouts that could definitely give Tricia quite the launching pad for building up a following. "Good to be a Girl" and "Daughter of the King" are "girl" songs offering encouragement to young ladies. Ultimately, while the first half of the record is pretty safe and accessible, it's still solid and arguably does everything that it needs to.
"Love Will Not Let Go" slows things down (in a positive way) with a powerful and moving ballad. The piano-driven song reminds us of the endurance of love and is a definite album highlight. "Different" continues the pop trend of the first half of the record. In the standout lyric "you can't make a difference without being different" it offers an important truth for modern youth to learn.
"Adding Up To A Miracle" is one of the album's catchiest numbers, offering a terrific chorus with enormous hit potential. "Without You" is a strong ballad speaking of how aimless life is without Christ. There's no potential "Jesus or my significant other" interpretation to this one as the chorus turns this into an unashamed praise song.
"What I Know" is a worthy follow-up, offering a strong and emotional ballad. "Little Rose" is a touching bonus track, a loving lullaby to Tricia's young daughter.
Lyrically, the album treads territory covered by many before, but it still feels fresh and relevant to the issues that young girls face every day. It should definitely meet with the Christian parental "seal of approval" while still being relevant and catchy enough to appeal to its target audience.
With techno-pop beats that could rival anything on mainstream radio and solid, Christ-centered, encouraging messages relatable to the youth of today, Radiate is a worthy late-summer release that should meet with family-wide approval. While it's not offering anything that will shake up the state of the genre, it holds its own and presents well what is expected from a pop album. The album is overall a solid entry with several potential hits that could help establish Tricia's solo career as one to watch in the CCM scene.
Song to Download Now:
"Enough" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Michael W. Smith is arguably one of the faces of CCM from its early years straight through to today. His name is well known in both the mainstream and Christian markets. He's got enough chart-topping hits to fill several compilations and still have some hits left over.
It all started with his first CD, The Michael W. Smith Project, in 1983. The album produced some of Smitty’s classic hits in "Great is the Lord" and "Friends." It was the start of what would be a long and exciting career in music that is still going strong today. However, there was an album that came about a year after his debut that is often overlooked.
Michael W. Smith 2 has a simple title and is arguably a sequel to his successful debut. Perhaps it being viewed as a bit of a sequel is partly to blame for its lack of recognition, as well as the success of hits that came from the next album. But whatever the reason, the songs on this album are likely to be the least known to the more casual Smitty fans, for the most part.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hits in here. "A Way" is a strong enough opener that likely has some name recognition. "I Am Sure" is arguably the biggest hit from the record, if only for its inclusion on his hits compilation from his first decade of music. The song is definitely among the better tracks on the album, boasting a memorable chorus: "I am sure there will be a day/But it will not be like the nations say/The Lord will come when this life is through/And His deep desire is to be with you/Hearts will fly when the new world starts/And joy will rise like the morning star/God will meet every cry of the heart/And it's my prayer/I want you to be there." The song, as a whole, has one of the more classic melodies heard on the album.
"Hosanna" is another well-known classic from this release, arguably a worthy successor to the aforementioned "Great is the Lord" from his debut. Both songs are very choir-driven worship anthems closing an album, and both have that classic Smitty feel to them.
A collaborative ballad with Amy Grant comes in "Restless Heart." Needless to say, this would hardly be the last time these two CCM legends would collaborate. Two instrumental tracks, "Musical Instruments" and "Wings of the Wind," offer some interesting moments, but on an already slim 10-track listing they make the record feel a tad too short.
There's still everything you love about Smitty here. For diehard fans, this is definitely one to check out.
How Has It Held Up?
The album definitely comes with a dated feel. The guitars, the production, the synths, all of it carries a definite 80s feel. Especially compared with Smitty's later hits, this one shows its age a bit more, even on the hits, than most of his other releases.
What is Smitty doing now?
Check out the interview he did for NewReleaseTuesday to see what Smitty’s been up to as of late (find it on YouTube here).
There's a good deal of worthy material here that is at least worth a listen. While Smitty’s best work was obviously ahead of him and his debut project was arguably stronger, this is a satisfactory sophomore release. Perhaps it deserves a little more love and a more recognized place on your Smitty playlist.
Trust Meece to Provide a Dynamic Experience | Posted July-19-2013
David Meece was one of the greats in early CCM, having some notable success from the 70s through the early 2000s. He's still playing music, although he hasn't had a new studio release in over a decade and he seems to have been largely forgotten by the CCM crowd. Which is a real shame, because his music, while obviously quite dated now, is still one of the most intense listening experiences early CCM ever gave us.
David was trained in classical music from a young age and was performing in symphonies as a teenager. As a result, his music is an unmatched fusion of an 80s pop/rock sound and classical pieces.
Learning To Trust was released right at the end of the 80s, when CCM/Rock was just beginning to come into its own as a serious music genre. The album starts with a brief prelude that leads into the 80s rocker "When I Was Seventeen." The song is a good opener and helps get the listener used to Meece's voice before throwing them full fledged into Meece's signature sound. The title track is next and is a classic Meece ballad, not surprisingly about learning to give up the need to control things and trust in God.
"To Know Him" gives us the first taste of what Meece can really do. The song is a rousing anthem about knowing Christ with a memorable chorus. "The Man With The Nail Scars" is a passionate and emotional ballad, with simple lyrics about following Christ.
Meece's true musical power is best displayed on 3 tracks that are definite classics. "To The Glory of God" has Meece at the top of his game vocally. "The Rest of My Life" comes with a children's choir that helps add even more power to what was already a fantastic song to close out the album. But Meece's talents are best displayed in the musical masterpiece "This Time." Meece's classical training is on full display in the song that blends classical piano melodies against a passionate rock song.
An interlude of Chopin's "Etude in C Minor Op. 10 No. 12" proves that this guy can really play. Meece has told about how this piece always used to trip him up as a student, but it's flawless on the album and helps make this song one of the best of his career. The theme about not living in the past but living for Christ in the present is a timely theme that still rings true today: "And when regret closes in / I don't see what might have been / I see grace and I know whatever comes, He'll make a way / This time / this is what counts / this is what our life is about." If you check out no other songs from this album, give this one a listen.
Several songs from this album are definite Meece classics. While the tracklist comes up a bit short with two of them being interludes, there's definitely enough here to enjoy and make this one worthy of a listen.
David Meece was already pretty established when he made this album. But I think it marked a definite progression of his sound that helped him make the jump to a whole new level of musical greatness. This album has several of Meece's strongest cuts, which stand among the better contributions to classic CCM. If you're looking for a throwback listen that goes beyond what you'd expect for the genre, or if you're just curious to see how the fusion of 80s pop/rock and classical music sounds, definitely give David Meece a listen. And if you decide to check him out, Learning To Trust is a great place to start.
David Meece's 1993 follow-up to Learning To Trust offered another helping of Meece's signature brand of classically inspired pop/rock. Sometimes considered the lesser younger brother of the aforementioned album, Once In A Lifetime has enough merit to stand on its own two legs as a worthy entry into Meece's catalog.
The album opens up with a pair of quintessential Meece songs in "Inside Out" and "Over You." These songs are exactly what you'd expect from Meece given his previous discography. "Going Home" is musically reminiscent of "The Man With The Nail Scared Hands" from Meece's previous album, but it's different enough to merit its inclusion here.
The album kicks up quite a bit in the second half. "Early in the Morning" is an exciting and energetic anthem celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. It's an Easter classic that can appeal to all ages with a passionate and rocking delivery but faithful and praising lyrics glorifying the risen King. It's one of the finer songs of Meece's career and is an immediate highlight of the album.
Next up is what is perhaps Meece's most personal and vulnerable song ever, "My Father's Chair." Meece often gives an extended testimony about his troubled relationship with his father in concert before this song. He has the testimony on CD and on his website, I believe. It's truly an amazing and riveting story, delivered intensely by Meece. While it's not short on humor, the monologue is as intense a spoken word delivery as I've ever heard. I first heard it when I was probably not much younger than Meece was when his father told him that he was worthless, and that moment in the speech has stayed in my mind ever since. Meece's journey to forgiveness is a powerful testament to what Christ's presence in our lives can do.
The song uses the image of a chair to discuss three kinds of fathers in Meece's life: his earthly father, the kind of father he hopes his children will see him as, and his heavenly Father. The brilliant and touching comparisons combined with the emotional piano-driven melody help to make this ballad one of the most memorable songs Meece has done yet. The paralleling lyrics are haunting, so much so that I cannot possibly include any of them here without using them all. The lyrics form such a powerful story that you simply have to sit, listen, and be amazed at what Meece has accomplished.
The title track follows and is a classic Meece hit, standing up well next to other hits such as "The Rest of My Life" from previous releases. The album closes strong with "Living in the Shadows." After the 3 previous masterpieces, this one feels a bit of a letdown, but it's definitely a strong track and a good way to close out a fine album.
Like with his last release, the 9-song track list makes for a fairly short album, leaving the listener wanting a lot more. Still, the quality of the music is top-notch. There's very little to not be happy with.
Meece has crafted another fine album of personal and memorable tunes. While the album's highlights shine so bright that some of the other songs may get overlooked, this is from start to finish a solid release well worth digging up for a few listens.
Song to Download Now:
"Early in the Morning" (get it on iTunes here) and "My Father's Chair" (get it on iTunes here).
David Meece Takes Us On His Odyssey | Posted July-19-2013
With the exception of a release in 2002 and another compilation a few years later, this was the final official release from David Meece. It’s a "hits" compilation of sorts, but it misses a little too much to be considered a "greatest" hits collection. Indeed, with the exception of 1 radio edit from each of his previous 2 albums, they aren't represented here at all. Instead, this collection seems to toss a bunch of Meece's older hits into one collection. While this might make the flow a lot more jarring, it's a definite comprehensive collection of the best Meece had to offer prior to Learning to Trust.
The album's hits include the Mozart-inspired "Falling Down," the Bach-inspired "You Can Go," the passionate "Higher Ground," and the Good Friday ballad "Forgiven." All of these are fine examples of Meece's fine songwriting. The Christmas classic "One Small Child" finally gets an official release on a Meece album. Meece wrote this song when he was a teenager, I believe, and it became a classic covered by many other artists. It's almost ironic that Meece's recording of his own song isn't better known. The classical influence is on powerful display here, and despite it being a Christmas tune, it fits right in thematically and musically is a treasure of an inclusion.
The classic rock "Tumblin' Down" provides a higher-energy moment on the album and is an excellent example of Meece’s ability to shake things up. "His Love Was Reaching" is another classic Meece ballad. But Meece's signature ballad that has been covered many, many times and is arguably his most well known song is the powerful declaration of Christ's love for us "We Are The Reason." This one can also double as a Christmas song, and often does in many covers. With its profound chorus, it's truly a lyrical gem: "We are the reason that He gave his life / we are the reason that He suffered and died / to a world that was lost, He gave all He could give / to show us the reason to live."
The new song from Meece’s previous compilation returns here and is a great inclusion. Truly "Seventy Times Seven" is probably one of Meece's better-known songs. Rightfully so due to its intense, rocking delivery and timeless theme of Christ's famous teaching on how often we are to forgive, and how we need Christ to forgive us. With a piano-driven melody with a splash of Latin flare, the song is one of Meece's most unique, but the pre-chorus establishes the song as a Meece classic. Lyrically, it’s also one of the stronger offerings on an already deep album, with profound and personal words such as "This prison has no walls / This bondage has no chains / My memories have no mercy / There's no one left to blame/Wish I could force back / The hands of time / And right every wrong / Grant me just this one last chance / Before it's gone, gone, gone."
As great as all of these hits are, the greatest inclusion on this album is arguably the album's sole original cut, the opening track "God’s Promise/Rainbows in the Night." Following in the tradition of Meece songs being inspired by a classical piece, this song is built around what is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of classical music today, Pachelbel's Canon.
The song is a dynamic and breathtaking roller coaster ride, balancing the soft and loud to perfection. The chorus singing of God's promises to us is one of the most memorable in Christian music history: "God's promises are rainbows in the night / Shining hope inside when shadows cloud my eyes / His promises are rainbows in the night / Guiding through the darkest times / God's promises are rainbows in the night." If you listen to nothing else in Meece's catalogue, check this one out. That will be harder as this is one album of his that isn't available for download, to my knowledge. But this song is a true underrated treasure of Christian music.
How Does The Music Hold Up?
All of Meece's music is arguably quite dated, taking many influences from the times it was released in. Yet, it also speaks to timely themes and thus should have lots of relevance to us today. The classical elements likely make the music more "timeless" than dated, as they’d always sound a tad out-of-place. Some of the ballads still hold up terrifically as well. So it's a bit of a mixed bag. Many of these songs could definitely still fit in with today's music, many are pleasant throwbacks, and many are just grand pieces of music that transcend musical trends. Meece is a fine musician and his music still offers much for us today.
What's Meece Up To Since?
Meece still writes and plays a decent amount of shows. He hasn't released an album since 2002, but I’ve heard he's hoping to release more music with the songs he's written lately. He might not be on the frontlines of CCM anymore, but he's still there on the outskirts of the industry poised to hopefully deliver more classic tunes.
As greatest hits albums go, this is a worthy collection. While it misses most of the previous two albums (which should be bought on their own anyway), it covers most of Meece's biggest hits and its new song is one of the best Meece ever penned. Odyssey is one hits collection worth checking out.
Song to Download Now:
I don't believe this is available for download but if you can somehow find it one day: "God's Promises/Rainbows in the Night"
Skillet Rises Higher than Ever with the Best Rock Music of the Year | Posted July-16-2013
There aren't many bands left that can be called true powerhouse headliners, but Skillet is one of the few and by far one of the most memorable. Their signature symphonic rock sound is arguably one of the most defining and legendary sounds of this Christian rock era. Furthermore, their live show is increasingly stronger with every passing year. Their sound has been one of the driving influences of the Christian rock genre.
With a growing rabid fanbase of "panheads," Skillet, coming off their first platinum album with Awake, is finally ready to release another genre-defining album in Rise.
It's been almost four years since Awake graced our ears and met with a fairly mixed response. While it was by far Skillet's most successful endeavor ever (solidified by the aforementioned Platinum status, plus a slew of smash hit singles on mainstream rock radio), it was also the one that met with the most backlash from critics and some longtime fans for sounding too generic and too much like a Comatose sequel.
While I never subscribed to those views, I did have high hopes that Skillet would alleviate any worries with their follow-up record. And now that it's finally with us, I can breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that not only does Skillet still have it, but they're bigger and better than ever.
The album opens with the gritty and powerful title track, "Rise," which is a call to action for us today as we struggle to survive "in a world gone mad." The song sets the tone perfectly for the theme that permeates the entire album. Rise stands as Skillet's first concept album about a teen growing up in our modern, troubled world. This title track perfectly sets up the conflict and gives hope that we can fight back against it.
It's almost spooky knowing that this song, and the others, were largely written before the tragedies in Sandy Hook and Boston reminded us that evil is alive in our culture. It's so easy to take tomorrow for granted, but so often "yesterday is gone, faster than the blast of a car bomb." The lyrics have proven themselves very relevant for our time given the events that have unfolded in recent years, or even since the song was initially written.
Musically, the song is a great balance between the orchestral rock and edgy rock sounds the band is known for, and an appearance of a children's choir really makes it impossible to define the song as anything but epic. The song ends in a transitional track consisting of audio snippets of a 9-1-1 call, news of economic decline, and a parent verbally abusing their child.
This leads perfectly into lead single, "Sick of It." The song is a great rocker about standing up to all the negative influences in our lives. With the return of Cooper's screams and Skillet's old industrial influences, this track should be pleasing to longtime fans.
Crossover anthem "Good To Be Alive" follows next and is another fine track that reminded me a bit of previous hits "The Older I Get" and "One Day Too Late." There are some pop melodies that really helped make the song a standout for me.
A haunting interlude with a girl singing quickly escalates into a full-on adult operatic choir. (Yeah, you read that right: Skillet's gone opera on us.) After what is an awesome kind of over-the-top intro, "Not Gonna Die" bursts forth in all of its orchestral rock glory. This song is essentially the picture of the kind of music Skillet has made its signature, with dual male/female vocals, strings, and a wicked guitar solo. The emotional chorus is also one of the strongest on the album. All of this makes this song an instant Skillet classic.
The edgy "Circus for a Psycho" is next and proves to be another hit for the band. With gritty vocals, excellent guitar work throughout by Skillet's newest member—Seth Morrison—and a soaring chorus, this is another great cut on the album. If you haven't figured it out by now, there are a lot of those. This song transitions into the power anthem and CHR single, "American Noise," which would feel right at home at any patriotic outdoor concert.
"Madness in Me" brings back the rock for what could be the most intense rocker on the album, complete with some throwback electro-industrial flare (which hasn't been seen much since Alien Youth, but which is subtly there on several tracks here).
Following is the album's final interlude, the Coopers' daughter, Alex, provides a powerful reading from Isaiah, leading into what is being defined as the climax of the album's story, "Salvation." The song is when the main protagonist finally discovers Christ. It starts off dark, haunting and subdued, but unexpectedly escalates into a powerful rocker. This song also marks the first time in Skillet history that Jen Ledger takes the lead on a song. John's still a big presence on the song, particularly on the chorus, but Jen takes the verses and pulls this off like a champ. There is actually quite a bit of Ledger vocals on a good half of the album's cuts. They fit in perfectly.
"Fire and Fury" follows in what could open up a new kind of classification for Skillet, an epic ballad of sorts. This song starts off fairly restrained but you can tell that it's just begging to burst forth, and in the second half, it does. John and Jen's vocals are intense and passionate and help make this a standout cut. Lyrically, it feels like the natural follow-up to "Salvation," with both songs confessing a burning passion for Christ.
"My Religion" is probably one of my most frustrating songs in the history of my music listening experience. Stuck between two highly emotional songs, this quirky attempt at a Southern sound is quite the 180 for the musical momentum. Lyrically, I have some issues with it, which is rare for a Skillet song. And while I can't deny its catchiness, I can't help but think that it'd have been much better served as a bonus track, perhaps swapped with one of the songs that ultimately did get the cut. (More on those later.) Still, this song will undeniably have a lot of fans too, and so I can forgive it and understand why they went with it.
"Hard to Find" has an emotional piano opener (with stringed backing) that sounds ripped from a dramatic movie trailer. Again, the emotional relevance is undeniable as Cooper sings "turned on the TV yesterday, so much pain bleeding through, I had to look away." But the chorus proudly declares that Christ gives us faith, even "when faith is hard to find." There aren't many genuine power ballads on Rise, but this one is so strong that it alone can fill the entire emotional quota of several.
"What I Believe" closes out the "regular edition" in grand fashion. While you might expect another slow song based on the title, the classic epic strings of Jonathan Chu and Tate Olsen promise one more trip down the rock-and-roll road on Rise, and that's exactly what we get. While the chorus is the most pop-driven of the rockers, it's still rock. The song proudly concludes the journey through the album as Christ is declared to be what the protagonist of the story believes, and that he or she will live and die for Him. And this is a declaration all Christians can join in singing. He's our light in the darkness; our hope in a hopeless world. The music conveys this upbeat tone so well while still keeping the rock coming. The strings are a fantastic way to send the album off and truly leave you wanting more. And it just so happens, Skillet's prepared for that.
If Skillet had just given us the songs featured on the regular edition, it'd be a stellar album by any standards. But, as they did with Awake, there's also a Deluxe Edition of the album releasing the same day. (It also comes with a live DVD of their 2012 Winter Jam set that isn't reviewed here.) And this one comes jam-packed with three additional songs.
While some B-sides in general are treats that understandably didn't make the cut, every so often a B-side will be so good that you wonder how it could possibly be banished to a lesser-known deluxe edition. And to no surprise, Skillet's B-sides fall into the latter category.
"Battle Cry" is the first of these. It opens up with a brief harp-intro that is almost heavenly. Then the bass picks up and the verse builds to a powerful rock chorus. The song stands as one of the best crossover songs Skillet's ever done, perfectly balancing an energetic rock sound with accessible pop melodies and "ohs" that will make this song destined to be a fan-favorite, despite not being on the regular album. Thematically, it fits right into the story, as it sings standing strong against the world and all it can throw at you, because the world "can't take us down, if we stand our ground. If we live, if we die, we will shout out, our battle cry." It's truly a standout on what was already an album of epic proportions. And as the song fades out, there are still two more bonuses to go.
"Everything Goes Black" might make you think of a head-banging rocker from the title, but it's actually quite a lot more restrained. In fact, the song starts with soft strings and keys and softer, melancholy vocals from John that are a lot quieter than just about anything we've seen from Skillet in several albums.
The song picks up a bit after the first chorus and ends up being a dark and emotional rock ballad. The song's lyrics are among the darkest and most personal on the album, speaking of how empty and painful life is when Christ, the Light of the world, isn't in our lives. John and Jen's dueling vocals return and complement each other to perfection. When John sings, "Whenever you're gone away, the darkness hides the day / whenever you're gone, the bleeding won't stop / it hurts 'til you come back / everything goes black," you can feel the honesty and emotion. The song's softness and simple melody allow the lyrics to truly resonate. One can easily see this being played acoustically and I hope its status as a bonus track doesn't cause it to get overlooked.
The bonus tracks come to a close in the unique rocker, "Freak Show." Opening with an announcer welcoming a crowd to the "freak show," this rocker proves to be an album highlight. The electronic influences are on full display here but there's still Skillet's fierce edge and guitar goodness driving the song.
Thematically, the song plays on the classic "not of this world" theme (literally quoted in the intro) and harkens back memories of Alien Youth both in theme and sound. "Welcome to the freak show / this is where the freaks go / this is the place that they can never take away," might come off as a tad cheesy, but I bet you'll find yourself singing along to it all day long.
When Cooper sings "I'm a freak naturally, it's how I wanna be / you're a freak, just like me," it's a truly relevant and rousing moment and a great thought to leave us with as Rise (Deluxe Edition) comes to a close. It's an overall satisfying entry and completes the trio of delectable bonus offerings that each could've felt right at home on the album.
Those who miss Skillet's lyrically bolder days should find this album refreshing. While the lyrics are still largely what we've come to expect since Collide, this is arguably their boldest faith-based release since Alien Youth, with everything from "Salvation" on being undeniably Christ-centric, and even outright worship. Any basis for Skillet selling out that there was (which wasn't really strong to begin with) is totally washed away with this release.
Deluxe Edition DVD:
In addition to the bonus tracks, the Deluxe Edition of the album comes with a DVD full of goodies. While many might expect some of the behind-the-scenes featurettes that are here, the Awake and Live DVD is actually focused on a live concert captured from a Michigan stop of the 2012 Winter Jam that Skillet headlined.
The set list is only 9 songs, making it noticeably shorter than previous live album, Comatose Comes Alive. Yet that was to be expected, as this is just a bonus on a regular CD release. The Winter Jam set was an ideal one to pick though, as it hits what are arguably the strongest and most memorable cuts from Comatose and Awake. Also included are John Cooper's powerful speeches leading into "Awake and Alive" and "The Last Night." It's great to finally have a professional quality "war for your soul" monologue. My only regret is that Skillet didn't give the powerful story behind "Lucy" during this tour, as it would've been a timely inclusion. But what's here is sufficient.
Finally having professional video of the revamped set intro to "Whispers in the Dark" and the intro/outro to "Rebirthing" alone made this a winner for me. For just nine songs, this one is one of the tightest set lists Skillet's ever had. (Pre-Rise, at least.)
The sound and video quality are more than satisfactory. There are times when the sound feels a bit overproduced and the audience's responses aren't always audible. The video gets up close and personal with the band's performance, which helps you get a much closer view of what's going on than you otherwise would in a sold-out stadium. Perhaps there'd be reason to expect more if this was a full-length live release, but for a Deluxe bonus, this live DVD is exceptional and quite the enjoyable treat. It definitely elevates this Deluxe Edition worlds above Awake's. For once, it doesn't just feel like a cheap gimmick to get you to spend extra money for bonus songs. This one actually feels deluxe.
There are three behind-the-scenes featurettes scattered throughout the concert showing things such as backstage and photo shoots for Rise. These are all very interesting but would've probably been better in the bonus material to avoid interrupting the flow of the concert. There's also a "Making of Rise" featurette. It's more of what you'd expect from such a DVD, but it's still a worthy inclusion. It's always interesting to see the process of what goes into the making of an album and there are several little nuggets of info that are interesting. (There also are glimpses of artwork Jen drew that had previously not been released.) It's a great way to top off a fine Deluxe package.
Rise is the picture of a legendary album. The music is epic and memorable, with every song a classic in the making. It's a thematic renaissance for Skillet as well as a musical one. There's the best of everything Skillet here: the strings, the rock focus, the gritty and dueling rock vocals, the industrial influence and lots of new surprises.
Even in all of these, I can't accurately describe how great this album is. There are so many layers and intricate details that you will discover upon subsequent listens—even after many listens. Add to that a fine Deluxe package, and you have one magnificent album. (The Deluxe looks amazing in it's Digipak packaging, by the way. It felt really good to go and buy it. Just from how cool it looked, I knew I was holding something special. The lyric booklet with poster on back, the artwork, it all contributes to the amped up look.)
The Skillet gold standard has been met, and raised once more. Rise is the quintessential album of the year and one destined to go down in the history books. In short, Skillet is back, better than ever, and ready to send shockwaves through the rock world yet again.
Jen Ledger did the artwork for the album and the album cover. While John Cooper wrote the songs thinking about a boy, Jen drew a collection of artwork inspired by the songs featuring a young girl. The artwork on this record is actually very creative and memorable. Major props to Jen for a job well done.
A few months back, Thousand Foot Krutch showed off how well some of their songs from The End Is Where We Begin translated to a remix with their Metamorphosiz EP, The End Remixes Vol. 1. In an age where remix albums seem to be growing ever more popular, TFK showed that their music could hang with the best of the techno and dubstep kings.
It was pretty clear by the "Volume I" designation that a follow-up wouldn't be too far off, and that bring us to Metamorphosiz II - The End Remixes, Vol. 2, featuring more hits from their most recent studio album making the jump to remix.
"Fly On The Wall (The Robbie Bronnimann Mix)" opens up the EP and is an exciting transformation from the original. While the original was an emotional mid-level rock number, the remix version sounds great as an electro-dance number. The song's emotional depth remains and McNevan's vocals gain even more nuances set to this electro beat.
The theme of speaking to our vices through the context of a dream and declaring that we're ready to move on remains solid and perhaps takes on new meaning in the new setting.
"The End Is Where We Begin (Solomon Olds Remix)" is Family Force 5 frontman Soul Glow Activatur's faster-paced take on the title track. It's a clever transition and helps to add a new layer of excitement to the song.
"Courtesy Call (Rui Da Silva Remix)" is next and opens with the strings similar to the album version plus some of the album's memorable creepy voice introduction. The song was always perhaps a logical candidate to be remixed as it sounded much like a club song the first time around. And a lot of rock elements are still present, with electronic elements added in between and over these elements.
Unsurprisingly, this one turns out really well and feels like one of the more natural remixes on the collection. "The mark you make is up to you" is also a great message to bookend the song. Of all the songs, this one feels the most like it could've passed as the original.
"Down (Andy Hunter Remix)" is an appealing take on the rap number and the electronic beats actually work out pretty well, perhaps better than the original. The song about standing up to critics who put you down offers a positive message and the new coating of paint makes it a positive club-ready tune.
"Be Somebody (The Robbie Bronnimann Mix)" offers a bit of a slower electro beat, appropriate for a slower song. The original album version was one of TFK's most emotional singles yet. The beat adds some welcome eeriness and tension to the chorus, and some delectable piano hooks add an intriguing kick to the track that I really like. The emotional power of the original is mostly present here. While this isn't likely to replace the original on TFK playlists, it's good enough to merit it's own space there.
"So Far Gone (Joshua Silverberg Remix)" has a more ambient take on the track than the stripped-down original. This approach offers a different angle on the intimacy of the song. Some of the electro elements, restrained though they are compared to the others, could use to be dialed back even more. The piano and synth backing was enough to add a different take to the song—although the electro beat does make for a fun bridge. Still, the track is a definite success as a remix and is a great way to close out the album.
As a rock fan, I'll still probably always prefer the originals for the large majority of these remixes, as I do with most remixes. But as one who isn't generally a fan of remix projects, this EP was a pleasant surprise and offered some fun and memorable takes on the originals. Whether they are an improvement or not will depend on individual tastes, but I'll at least be giving these some playback in the future.
This is a great second half to TFK's remix EPs. There are new facets of depth revealed through these remixes. It's a satisfactory holdover until the next full-length TFK project. Whether you like remixes projects or not, it's definitely worth your time at least giving a few listens to.
Song to Download Now:
"Courtesy Call (Rui Da Silva Remix)" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Folk Flair For Your Sunday Morning Worship | Posted June-17-2013
Ghost Ship might be a band name that suggests some dark, alternative rock act. But in actuality, this is a worship band who adds a good deal of unexpected flare to praise music.
While the song selection is definitely in line with an extended Sunday Morning worship set list, the sound is definitely not your typical Church music. Thematically, the album has an especially deep layer that goes beyond any individual songs that is best seen when the songs stand together as a cohesive collection.
The Good King opens with the peppy "Mediator," which sets the tone for much of the album. The lyrically simple songs makes catchy use of Christ's being our mediator to God. The song's "Mumford"-like folk sensibilities are enhanced with some well-placed banjos. The cheering vocals help to make it a good song to sing along to. "Lion Man" carries the stripped-down folk feel even further and ends up being unexpectedly catchy in the process. You can definitely picture this one being played live and up close, acoustically.
"The Truth" is a soaring praise anthem that stands as an album highlight. With one of the most energetic choruses on the album breaking forth, right from the get go, it's easy to get into this one. It praises what Jesus has done for us and who He is as sovereign king.
Next is "Holy, Holy, Holy," which is a rousing cover of the classic hymn praising the Triune God. It fits in well and keeps the flow of good music going. "Behold the Lamb of God" and "Son of David" are examples of slower, more reflective fare done well on the album.
Lyrically, the album is pretty straightforward in its use of popular Christian truths, stated simply and delivered in a heartfelt way (for example, "Jesus Christ is King / he will reign forever").
The power of the driving music propels tried-and-true (and in some cases, ancient) lyrics into worshipful freshness and relevance. The message is solid and the music complements it to form an uplifting worship experience.
It all builds on the theme of who the "good King" is and what He has done for us through His death on the cross and ministry. The collection of praise anthems work together to paint a greater picture of Jesus. The different titles used on the album—such as Son of David, The Truth, The Good King, Mediator—help reveal different facets that even then can just barely scratch the surface of who He is. He's a mediator, a savior, part of the sacred mystery of the Trinity, and so much more.
Each song builds on the previous to add another layer to Christ and culminates in recognizing that Jesus wants to be there for us as a friend and guide so that we can be with Him, eternally. And through life, the ultimate goal is to draw us into a deeper relationship with Him. Whereas some albums are a collection of stories, or even one big story, this album is like one big picture, which each song being a different coat of paint that makes the image clearer.
Ghost Ship successfully infuse fairly traditional worship music with a fun and upbeat sound that makes for an overall fresher and more dynamic listening and worshiping experience than you might be used to.
Hour6 may not be a band on your radar, but a quick listen to their latest offering, This is Life, will give you a pretty good idea of why they should be. They do a great job at balancing an edgy, exciting, driving rock sound with accessible melodies. They definitely can stand toe to toe with many of the acts populating Christian Rock radio.
After a brief intro track, "Inside Out" kicks in and starts the album off with a strong rock entry full of catchy hooks and a head-banging beat. "Right Now" is a radio-ready ballad about devoting ourselves to Christ now and not waiting. The passionate chorus, "Right now I'm grabbing on / I'm holding on to You / Right now I'm giving all of me / I'll never let You go," makes this one a real standout.
"Fists on Fire" amps up the rock to its hardest level yet and produces an edgy guitar-driven burst of energy that is a true high point on the album. It's also a lyrical highlight with some honest portrayal of our need of God: "We're losing ground but gaining speed / we're tryin' to find out what we need / We're looking for you, we're tryin' to see / the truth is what will set us free / When all it takes is for one to fall / to set the chain that starts so small / Let's stand up tall with fists on fire come one come all."
Other highlights include the energetic "Where It Starts," the edgy "Lesser Man," and the anthematic "Back From the Dead." The latter has another standout lyrical moment in the intensely delivered: "Bang, Bang, Bang / Nails in my coffin, holes in my soul / In the light slowly fades / It's a shipwreck rising / a return like none before." The cheers in the chorus help to lift this one to one of the more memorable tracks as well as one that utilizes the best of both the rock and pop sides of the band.
The album is start to finish a solid pop/rock release with enough crunch guitars and rock melodies to make it appealing to rock fans while more than accessible to those who prefer the softer side of music. Hour6 blends these two sounds nicely and the result is a very compelling release that could position them to take a hold of Christian rock.
These guys know how to rock and they know how to rock in a way that can satisfy both rock and pop fans. The music manages to feel fresh and relevant, making this a standout release. I'm curious to see where Hour6 will go next as this album is overflowing with potential and is on the cusp of something really good. Keep an eye on these guys. I think they're ones to watch.
Nathan Jess Fits Well Into The CCM Scene | Posted June-07-2013
Nathan Jess isn't (yet) a name that will likely ring many bells when discussing contemporary Christian music. But he has a couple of albums out and brings a familiar, yet intimate, sound to the table. Now with sophomore effort Love Stands Forever, he offers several chances for some potential hits.
Opening track "No Limit To Your Love" will probably resonate quickly with listeners of CCM. It's an upbeat track that still stays soft and soothing throughout. And to some slightly varying degrees, this is Nathan Jess' sound throughout the album.
With God always kept front and center and familiar phrases of praise, Nathan Jess produces very accessible music that's beautiful and simple. There seems to be a lot of influences in this album at various times, but none of them really stand out and thus it feels sort of like a fusion of a lot influences. I heard a bit that reminded me of Crowder, Tomlin, and other lesser-known worship artists at times. And this helps Jess keep a bit of his own musical identity.
There are fine moments throughout in songs like "Burning Heart" and "My Jesus." Jess' music remains constantly prayerful throughout and the melodies and music don't try to get in the way of the heart behind the music. "I Am Redeemed" proclaims: "So I will sing of how your love has washed me clean / I am redeemed / to which I'll sing / for you're my kind." And songs like "No Limit To Your Love" sings out, "There is no limit to your love and grace / greater than we'll ever know / you showed it on the cross." The album pretty much follows the same lyrical trends, praising God. It's all fairly familiar but it's still done in a heartfelt way to make it a very personal and intimate worship experience.
Nathan Jess fits comfortably in the soft AC radio sound and will undoubtedly be very appealing to fans of the genre. With Christ-centric lyrics and calming music to go with it, Nathan Jess offers a quiet worship experience that draws one's mind to Christ. With just enough influence from a myriad of popular artists, Nathan Jess has an inviting sound that should help to win him many fans.
Song to Download Now:
"No Limit To Your Love" (Get it on iTunes here.)