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...In Shallow Seas We Sail by Emery ...In Shallow Seas We Sail by Emery
with selfish hearts that hide our sin Out of the fourteen songs on In Shallow Seas We Sail, there are only two that are not filled with teen-like angst over relationships in some form or another. Bare...
Crash by Decyfer Down Crash by Decyfer Down
Ah, the classic sophomore slump. In this case, aided by (but not necessarily due to) a lead vocalist change up. Crash is one of the better songs on the record, ruined only by the repeating of "Feel...
Skillet by Skillet Skillet by Skillet
...that's when I run to You and I nail Your feet and Your wrists I imagine legions of new Skillet fans will be running to check out their older albums. If you are one of them, you will be pleased to...

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Decyfer Down - Crash | Posted September-04-2009
Ah, the classic sophomore slump. In this case, aided by (but not necessarily due to) a lead vocalist change up.

Crash is one of the better songs on the record, ruined only by the repeating of "Feel the pressure / Let it go" at the beginning and the end. Desperate has TJ annoyingly whine "I desperately want You / I desperately need You" in a style that does not fit his vocals well at all.

I think Fading gives you an idea of what Crash (album, not song) should have sounded like all the way through. The lyrics are solid, the verses sound more like Decyfer Down's first album, while the chorus stretches their sound into new territory. It is not their best sound, but it is something new that they genuinely sound sort of good at. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the album.

The best track on the album, from a musical standpoint only, is Ride With Me, but the lyrics break down into ridiculous cliches without any real meaning... quite a disappointment as they are strong in other songs on the record. "If you're sick and tired of all you've swallowed / Ride with me and never look back is just not doing it for me.

Caleb's vocals did not sound good on songs like Burn Back the Sun and No Longer, and TJ's vocals do not sound good on songs like Desperate and Wasting Away here. TJ's vocals simply are not strong enough to carry the slower songs like Best I Can or Moving On.

I liked Decyfer Down as a band turning out rock songs that sounded decent, if a bit generic. I really do not think they did well in the areas where they attempted to reach for new sounds, and the majority of Crash slips further into the murky depths of bland.

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Sometimes I drop my cross, deserve a little rest... | Posted August-29-2009
...that's when I run to You and I nail Your feet and Your wrists

I imagine legions of new Skillet fans will be running to check out their older albums. If you are one of them, you will be pleased to know that the inclusion of ballads and the mixture of different orchestral instruments in the background is a part of even the earliest Skillet release. However, before diving all the way back to their roots, you will want to note a few changes in the thirteen years since their self-titled record was released. The style of music is drastically different as a whole and from song-to-song takes several different forms. The lyrics are hard-hitting and honest, though they do come across as a bit trite and corny in a couple instances.

The first few songs are as solid as any group of songs in Skillet's discography and contain some of the best lyrics they have ever written.

The opening track, I Can, perhaps single-handedly defined Skillet as the Christian alternative to popular 90's grunge bands. The song looks at the times where we've betrayed Christ, and whether or not we can come to God amidst our guilt and shame. The song's title proclaims the answer to that question as it comes to the conclusion that we can, even when the rooster crows, portraying our denials of Christ in the same light as Peter's.

Gasoline sees the band continue their grunge sound while spinning this tale about literally having your heart out on a table in front of God. John sings of wanting God to take his heart and put it in a box (Heart-Shaped Box reference anyone?) for fear of other people hurting him. In this song, God responds that He wants instead to set it on fire for Him. Jesus' sacrifice is also directly mentioned in the bridge.

This is followed up by Saturn, a surreal acoustic turn from the previous two songs. The lyrics, while nothing terribly profound, offer a softer message with "Heaven has a ring around you / The angels sing a song over you / If you don't see it, know that it's true".

The hard hitters come right back, along with brutally honest lyrics, in My Beautiful Robe. This is one of the deeper songs in Skillet's repertoire, so let's take a closer look at it. John's lines speaking out against hypocrisy here fall right in line with scripture.

I want pleasure in Your sight
I want to subscribe to Your delight
So hold on and see what I do for You
Oh by the way...
Did You see me dressed in my beautiful robe?

Here we have the image of a person who says and does all of the right things in public, but is not necessarily as close to God as they would like to have everyone think. To me, it clearly draws a picture of the Pharisees during Jesus' time, however you can also see the parallels with several passages in Isaiah and God's comments about the Israelites.

"These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."
-Isaiah 29:13

God gave me a cross, but I made my own instead
My beautiful cross carries on, I'll carry on

I cut down a tree
Said "Man, would you look at me?"
I stuck my head in a thorn bush
Man, I was deceived

I fell to my knees and I remembered
The words of God pierced so hard
"Your righteousness is like filthy rags"
And I fell to my knees and said, "My filthy robe"

"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags."
-Isaiah 64:6

If you look through the rest of Isaiah, you'll see that during that period, God's people were sinful and rebellious and even likened to Sodom and Gomorah at one point. Yet, they continued to offer God sacrifices and prayers. They were hypocritical and insincere, worshipping while they also continued to do evil, and so the Lord repudiated their false righteousness for it was like filthy rags to him.

That is not even the first half of the album. Though not as strong as the earlier songs, the latter portion is still highlighted by Promise Blender, one of the hardest songs on the record, as well as Safe With You, a slow worship song.

The raw, gritty rock sound and John's raspy vocals may win over old grunge fans, but will certainly scare off more than a few of the most recent set of Skillet listeners. Make all of the comments you will about their unpolished sound here, but you cannot deny the message... or, unfortunately, the watering down of it since.

My Highlights: My Beautiful Robe, I Can, Gasoline

Soak my heart in gasoline
Light a match and consume me
Soak my pride in gasoline
All of You and none of me

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Insanity is just a thought away... | Posted August-28-2009
Marcos' return to the band inspired many fans to anticipate a return to a style more similar to that of their Satellite release, well that certainly did not turn out to be the case. The album falls somewhere in between the styles of their self-titled record Payable on Death and Testify, with Marcos' noteworthy guitar licks added in, yet somehow When Angels and Serpents Dance manages to turn out weaker than both. It is certainly unique, but to me it just ends up feeling like a sloppy mess.

The lyrics are downright cringe-worthy throughout the entire record. Intricate lines like "I'm addicted to all the colors that I see that you hold in front of me" and "So come on and shine with me like the beautiful star that you are highlight the first two songs on the album. There's also a pointless obscenity thrown in from Suicidal Tendencies' vocalist on Kaliforn-Eye-A.

I am hard-pressed to find anything good to highlight about the album. God Forbid is the only song that I enjoyed, and even it falls well short of the better songs from Payable on Death and Testify. I do not see how any fan (be they from the Southtown and Satellite era, even earlier, or more recently) can find anything except disappointment here. When Angels and Serpents Dance is creative and different, but not good by any definition of mine.

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We all feel real inside our skin... | Posted August-21-2010
with selfish hearts that hide our sin

Out of the fourteen songs on In Shallow Seas We Sail, there are only two that are not filled with teen-like angst over relationships in some form or another. Bare with me, I am going to go horribly off topic for a second. I have been out of my teens for a few years, I have never had a dating relationship go terribly wrong, and I am engaged to be married shortly. Needless to say, I find it difficult to personally relate with most of the lyrics here. Yet, in spite of not having any direct application towards my life. I still cannot stop listening to this album.

Without a doubt in my mind, this is Emery's best record musically. They take the very best aspects of every album to date and compile them into one smooth-flowing collection here. The screams most identifiable with The Weak's End are back in full force here, even introducing multiple layers of screaming for the first time on an album (something that has always been present during their live shows with three different band members screaming different lines). The polish and stylings of the album are most similar to The Question, while also maintaining the best parts of Toby and Devin's vocal work from I'm Only a Man. Perhaps the greatest feat is how seamlessly it all fits together. Songs like Cutthroat Collapse, Curbside Goodbye, The Smile, The Face gracefully tread back and forth through beautiful melodies and fits of screaming, and it all works amazingly well.

Lyrically, as well as musically, a lot of the songs tie together and compliment each other. Although the content it self is nothing terribly profound, you can sense the band's intricate craftsmanship at work here in the background with the same themes and similar phrases running through each song. Following along with the album title, themes incorporating seas, ships, sailing, floating, and drowning cross through several different songs, often with multiple references in each song. Even the smile and the face of a deceptive significant other garners repeated mentions in The Smile, The Face, Edge of the World, and The Butcher's Mouth.

Even with the focus on relationships, In Shallow Seas We Sail is not totally devoid of lyrics without significant meaning for all. A Sin to Hold Onto speaks of lust and not giving into temptation... granted, it is not as clear-cut as in The Question. Emery has never been one to shy away from questionable content in their lyrics when targetting specific subjects. I think the best examples for how to appropriately handle this was shown in previous songs such as So Cold I Could See My Breath and Don't Bore Us, Get to the Chorus. On the other hand, I think they crossed the line with their depictions in Can't Stop the Killer and Story about a Man with a Bad Heart. I don't think making your audience cringe due to lyrical content is necessary to accomplish getting a hard-lined message across. All of that to say, I feel that A Sin to Hold Onto is entirely appropriate and delivers a poignant message.

Still, the lyrical highlight of the album has to be Inside Our Skin. In many ways it serves as a literary sequel to Listening to Freddie Mercury, whose message included the statement that our sinning hearts make us equal. The message here is that in spite of our best intentions, we all hide sin under the surface and pretend to be something that we're not. Emery calls on us to be who we were meant to be through a term that is itself used throughout the Bible (Jeremiah 6:29, Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:2-3), which delivers a strong inspiring message.

Wisdom light my way into the dark
Your words are the melody that carries me
We can't make a change until we know who we are
What burns? The fire refining me

While not Emery's pinnacle for lyrics and message, I believe that In Shallow Seas We Sail far surpasses each of their previous records with the music here. If you liked the screams from The Weak's End and the vocal highlights of I'm Only a Man then look no further, you need to pick this album up now.

My Highlights: The Butcher's Mouth, In Shallow Seas We Sail, The Smile The Face

If God is good, then what are we?
There is no plant without a seed
When morning comes, will we believe
All that was lost can be retrieved?

You say you're good, then let me see
A faith is dead without the deed
How can we fall if we believe?
Let's be who we were meant to be

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People want the truth... | Posted August-24-2009
...but never want the scars

Let's get the obvious out of the way up front. This is a very different album from anything else that Emery has done to date. Most of my friends went into this album with high expectations along the lines of Emery's other albums and were bitterly disappointed. The screamo edge is gone, however in its place is a more mature and thoughtful Emery than perhaps expected. I think this is a very important work in the band's discography that should not be missed by fans.

That said, I do not believe that Emery is at their best here. This album does a spectacular job of showcasing the vocal talent of Toby and Devin, but the music lacks the same finesse. The musical highlights of the album only leave you wanting more of what could have been. World Away is a beautiful song with a catchy chorus and soothing vocals throughout, with loud guitars and distortion crashing in towards the end. The bizarre mixture works amazingly well and in my opinion shows that Emery does good working within each style, but is at their best when they bring the two together. The vocals are pleading and passionate throughout, shown best in the bridge of After the Devil Beats His Wife ("People want the truth / But never want the scars... And you say it's going to be okay / Over and over again"), yet they are also weirdly flawed and seem off key and out of pitch in songs like Can't Stop The Killer ("Well go ahead and run / Run from the man with the gun in his hand") and The Movie Song ("It's true, I would do anything for you / She asked if this was cool / I played it like a fool / It's like I've said before / I could die tonight for just one kiss more").

For the most part, the lyrics come across as a confusing mess for me personally. I do believe that they matured a lot from the mostly relationship-based content of The Question (which was itself not without its spiritual highlights) and the themes running through songs like Rock-n-Rule display that the best. Yet in spite of the highlights, just like with the vocal work, the low points drag the rest of the album down with it on songs like Can't Stop the Killer ("Run from the man with the gun in his hand / Darling I would shoot you before I would ever let you leave") and Story About a Man With a Bad Heart ("I bought her several drinks / And slipped the ring into my hand / We drove to her place / And let the good times roll again / Suddenly everything shakes as my protection breaks / And now I'm on my knees and I scream this was wrong").

In the end, I think you'll find that with tempered expectations and appropriate taste in this style of music, this is a decent album that you'll find pleasing to listen to. I still listen to my favorites from I'm Only a Man quite often, but I feel the latter songs on the album are less cohesive and drag the rest of it down.

My Highlights: After the Devil Beats His Wife, Rock-n-Rule, World Away

Lying there with a broken heart on bedroom floors
And finally I realize that I am only a man
If I were the maker, I would fashion out a blade
To cut out every inch of dead heart I've made

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Enemy, familiar friend... | Posted August-24-2009 beginning and my end

There is something lacking here that I just cannot put my finger on. The initial draw for me to Red was their versatility on End of Silence. They had exemplary rock hits in songs like Breathe Into Me, yet also produced excellent slower songs in the vein of Already Over, Pt. 2. Innocence & Instinct feels like a regression on both fronts and does not appeal to me in either regard. The harder portions of songs often seem passionless or whiny, much as the screams on Fight Inside of "It's nothing / It's everything" seem redundant and pointless. For the most part, the slower songs just don't seem to carry any weight. The only two tracks that improve on the previous album are Death of Me and Take It All Away. Death of Me is solid throughout, while Take It All Away offers the touch that is missing from the other softer songs on this record.

I will say that, while obviously nothing groundbreaking, I really do like the concept for this album and I consider the lyrics stronger here than on their last album. I just think the music behind the message feels emotionless and stale on this go around. Even at a recent concert I saw, older songs like Lost and Gave It All Away outshone the newer hits. Almost everywhere, I have read of the numerous improvements that were made by the band since the previous record, but I just do not hear it myself. To me, Innocence & Instinct is an average run-of-the-mill album with a few standout tracks. While the album is certainly worth a few listens, I cannot heartily recommend it as a whole.

My Highlights: Death of Me, Take It All Away, Confession (What's Inside My Head)

You've stripped me down, the layers fall like rain
It's over now, just innocence & instinct remain
You watched me while I slowly disappeared
I reached for you to save me, you were frozen in fear

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The devil is not the nature that is around us... | Posted August-23-2009
...but the nature that is within us all

I am going to kick start this review on more of an administrative note. As a reviewer, I personally feel that it is not my job in my reviews to share my personal opinion on whether the band is right or wrong in their perspective of making music. I am responsible for pointing out the different aspects of the album's lyrics and message, but I should not be using a music review as a pulpit to preach for or against a band's standards or beliefs. My job and responsibility to you, the reader, is to present the facts undistorted and unfiltered so that you may make an informed decision on whether or not this is something that you would like to listen to. Obviously, my opinion will somewhat carry over into my rating and review of the music, but I plan to save the soapboxes and debates for the forums. If anyone wishes my personal perspective of any band's views, feel free to drop me a comment or message.

Most of the band members of Mute Math were introduced through the Christian music industry years ago when they came up through the band Earthsuit. When Earthsuit disbanded and they formed the band Mute Math, they were very clear that they did not want to be restricted to a Christian audience.

If you feel convicted that you should only listen to music specifically labelled and sold as "Christian"... If you feel that a band's lyrics and message must consistently speak of Jesus Christ and promote God's work in their lives... This is not an album that you want to pick up. Mute Math's purpose as a band is not to minister towards Christians and as such their songs and lyrics were not designed to enhance the listener's relationship with Christ. They have also chosen not to use their musical career as a platform for bringing others to Christ directly through their music.

If on the other hand, you can accept that some people choose writing and playing music as a career choice, much akin to writing for a newspaper or joining the military or being a doctor... If you accept that some people choose to inspire and influence others through the way that they live their day-to-day lives, not through choosing a ministry position as a career choice... You'll find that you may be able to enjoy one of the most musically unique albums released this year.

This album is without a doubt in my mind the definitive opposite of a sophomore slump. The progression and growth in songwriting is astonishing, particularly considering how impressive the self-titled album already was. Armistice strays far from being formulaic and nearly every song has its own significant sound, unique from other tracks on the album. Paul's vocals are impressive as ever and Darren's drumwork will have you picking your jaw up off the floor at times. Beyond that, you notice more subtle little things with each listen, from background vocal choruses to string arrangements to Roy's superb bass lines. I thought they had already nailed musical excellence with the self-titled album, but I could not be more pleased with the musical growth and maturity here.

On the other hand now. The lyrics, simple and poignant in the self-titled album, have taken quite a different turn here. As a "secular" band, their positive lyrics made it easy to recommend their self-titled debut. Although never specific, their beliefs subtly shined through in their lyrics and always revealed hope through the darkness. The content here is much more obscure than previously and conveys a sense of hopelessness and despair throughout the album. My favorite song off the previous record, Stall Out, is perhaps a good example... the song speaks of racing along a fault line, bracing for a landslide, and worrying about stalling out and not being good enough. Yet, the final line of the song brings hope with "You keep coming around to convince me / It's still far from over". Many of the songs on Armistice are similar to Stall Out in their lyrical content... but that telling final line never comes. Mute Math seems to only write questions with no answers on this go around. You see this constantly in the first half of the album in Backfire "Please tell me, why are we trying so hard? / We always fall right back to where we start", Clipping "I've been drowning all along... and I give up... I don't know who to fight anymore / I don't know what is right anymore", and No Response "If it all is black and white / Then tell me what is wrong and right / I don't suppose that anybody knows.

The lyrical low point and my only true point of objection with the entire album comes with the song Electrify. "I'm in love with this girl / And it's got my head electrified / And I hope that someday she might go too far, go too far / Cause all I can think about is me and her electrified / I hope that someday she might take me home and lose control". I've seen some early discussion on the song relating it to a Song of Solomon-esque parallel, but... well, I suggest you use your own judgment. In my opinion, it sounds to me to be promoting a physical relationsip outside the context of marriage, so I have an issue with this song.

Moving along now, for all of the unique and one-of-a-kind music presented here, my favorite song (No Response) sounds as though it came right off of The Listening's LP that was released a few years ago. From the style of music to the lyrical style of lines in the verses, I couldn't help but to compare the two bands on this song. That's not a bad thing, I love the The Listening and Paul is one of very few vocalists who can top Gabriel's voice. On a disconcerting note however, as noted earlier, this song presents another hopeless set of lyrics with the perspective of not having any sense of absolute truth. The song continues with "And maybe when we reach the end / We'll ask imaginary friends 'Why no response?'", which, on the surface, certainly seems to suggest the possibility of reaching the end of life on this earth to find that there's no God. While lyrical content of this nature is expected from typical "secular" artists, it is very disappointing when compared to the subtle beliefs that Mute Math once presented in their self-titled album throughout songs like Stall Out, Control, and Chaos.

Musically, this record has to be near the top of my recommendations for albums released this year. However, if you listen to this album expecting a positive or inspirational message, Armistice will leave you staring at the sun and stalling out.

(Heh... sorry, I couldn't resist)

My Highlights: No Response, Burden, Goodbye

Sometimes I get tired of pins and needles
Facades are a fire on the skin
And I'm growing fond of broken people
As I find that I am one of them

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There's no compromise, so remember this... | Posted August-22-2009
...Your hands are lies, there's no more if's

I love this album. The style of music is one of my favorites now, and the entire cd is rather diverse. Musically, I think Emery surpassed this album with their latest effort, but the message here may trump all of them to date. Not enough Christian bands write openly enough to engage in lyrics that discuss how Christians approach and deal with issues like lust and temptation, or the regrets that follows after giving in to those temptations.

I find myself remembering...
How quickly lust can pretend it's love, designing words to help us believe
It's so much more than just tonight, so we have got to get this right
How quickly words can become our hands, resigning everything we believe

When I first heard Emery, it was not a style of music that I listened to at the time, but I was struck right off the bat by how honest and straight-forward they are in their writing. Of course, the music itself didn't take long to sink in and take a hold either. It's a shame that some Christians may consider Emery in the wrong for writing about certain topics or some Christians demonize the music for not suiting their traditional tastes.

Ironically enough, Emery has their own song with their take on whether or not people think their music is right or wrong. Listening to Freddie Mercury builds up the entire song to a few last words (quoted at the bottom of this review) and then just stops. It's the definition of short and sweet. They make their point and then move right into the next song, and I love it. The world would be a better place if Christians knew, acknowledged, and lived by the message here. We're not perfect, we don't claim to be, but we stand up for what we believe in. We're not going to force it down your throats, but this is who we are.

The icing on the cake, they stand behind what they write: Several years and two albums later (as of June 2009), they still (even while playing in a club with local secular bands) play this song in concert and take time beforehand to specifically address the message behind the song and their belief in Jesus Christ.

We are all the same...
People with sinning hearts that make us equal
Here's my hand, not words said desperately
It's not our job to make anyone believe

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I know you stay true when my world is false... | Posted August-19-2009
...I always see you when my sight is lost

The variety here is plentiful, ranging from short infectious soft rock anthems to long soothing electronica pop epics. This is most certainly not the type of music that I generally listen to in my spare time, but I could not help but be drawn in by this album. The lyrics are very simple throughout, yet they still have a poignant kick to them and flow well with the music. The intricate rhythms, drum patterns, and distinct vocals all come together to form a diverse sound that is completely theirs. There is no doubt in my mind that these are some of the most talented musicians I have ever heard and this is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and unique albums that I have ever enjoyed.

My Highlights: Stall Out, Noticed, Plan B

Racing on a fault line, bracing for a landslide
Conscious of every move getting harder
Has the race gone underwater?

I keep stalling out, I just can't keep up
There's alarming doubt, am I good enough?
But you keep coming around to convince me
It's still far from over

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I know 'cause my feet have the scars to show... | Posted August-19-2009
...I was lost with vague direction and no place to call home

Underoath went deeper and darker with Define the Great Line, and to me it feels like a step down from They're Only Chasing Safety. The style of singing/screaming from TOCS is almost completely gone from this album. I like the band because of their ability to mix melodic singing with screaming in their aggressive style of music... and unfortunately, with this album the aggressiveness takes far more precedence over the singing/screaming hybrid that I enjoy so much. Lost in the Sound of Seperation proves they can be even more dark and aggressive without forgoing their mix of singing and screaming, it's a shame they didn't have a better mix with this album.

Spencer's screams are much lower here, which I actually prefer over the high-pitched screams on TOCS. Still, I think Aaron's singing is a much-needed balance which is almost completely missing from this album. When he does sing here, his voice isn't near as good as in TOCS or LITSOS. I know, I'm doing a lot of comparing to other recent albums here, but bear with me. With only a few exceptions, there is really not that much of a difference from one song to another... to me, most of them sound roughly the same and tend to run together. While the lyrics and the message are still here, in my opinion they're not nearly as moving or powerful as in other Underoath albums. Disappointing to me was that this is the only Underoath album that forces you to read between the lines to find references towards God, something that the band has blatantly included on every other release.

My Highlights: Casting Such a Thin Shadow, To Whom It May Concern, A Moment Suspended in Time

Not too much to overcome
With enough time to turn it all around
In a picture perfect scenery
I've become a stick figure illustration

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