Songs from the Edge, and All Over | Posted April 16, 2012 Staff Reviewer
Over the past decade, the growth of Christian rock, hard rock and hip-hop has become significant enough to demand attention. There are a lot of strong artists in these fields who are considered too edgy for the major Christian compilations, although they still have an increasing following. Hence the birth of the X compilation album in 2003, a yearly collection of some of the strongest tracks from the harder fringes of Christian music.
The compilation can feel a little like a collection of misfits at times, pulling from every part of the rock landscape, as well as hip-hop and rap recordings, but that is a part of the album’s draw-- there is a variety represented here, and it’s much more than just a hard rock compilation.
The album starts strong with Switchfoot’s "Dark Horses." The anthem was the lead single from last year’s Vice Verses, and it has steadily continued to gain momentum. As one of the best-known alternative rock tracks of 2011, its inclusion here as the first track is appropriate and gets the album off to a strong start.
The next track is also incredibly strong, although perhaps a little more surprising. TobyMac’s "Tonight" was released on his 2010 album by that same name, so it would have seemed better placed last year. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful and well-known song, and Skillet fans will be glad to hear that the version here is the original including John Cooper’s powerhouse vocals rather than the radio edit.
"Need" by Kutless is one of the most recently released offerings on this compilation. Kutless’s latest studio album Believer is several weeks old now, but it has yet to fully take its place in Kutless’s discography. Given Kutless’s recent worship focus, it’s almost surprising to find them included here, but the track definitely includes a driving rhythm and a raw guitar solo fit for any rock track.
"Awake and Alive" by Skillet has become one of the best-known and most widely accepted rock anthems of the past three years, so in that sense its presence is fitting. I do find it odd that a song initially released in 2009 would only now be finding its way into this collection. Even just going off its release as a single, the song has been making the radio rounds since early 2010. Regardless, the track’s strength and success are undeniable, and the only real question here is why it wasn’t on an X album sooner.
Our first hip hop sampling is Lecrae’s "Children of the Light" from 2010’s Rehab, featuring P.O.D. rocker Sonny Sandoval. Although it surprised me to see this included rather than one of his more popular tracks (such as “Background”), this is definitely a solid hip hop track that nicely holds its own amidst the rock.
"Not Alone" by Family Force 5 follows, the lead Christian radio single from last year’s III. Although this was definitely their most successful song in that market, its inclusion on this album doesn’t seem entirely fair to Family Force 5, as it is not the best representation of their overall style. However, the album needs some quieter moments to keep the mix strong, and Family Force 5’s heartfelt ballad fills that role nicely.
"Your Love is a Mystery" by Hawk Nelson brings both a punk flavor and a worship vibe to the table, pulling from Hawk Nelson’s worship-centered Crazy Love. The song’s inclusion is a fitting final recognition of the era of Hawk Nelson as fronted by Jason Dunn. The song selection continues to diversify with the title track of Manafest’s very recent release, Fighter. Manafest continues to ride the line between hip hop and rock with in-your-face but tasteful anthems, and "Fighter" fits that description well.
The next offering proves again that this collection has a few twists. Drawing on the deluxe re-release of Welcome to the Masquerade, Thousand Foot Krutch’s song "Shook" takes its place as one of the darker, harder-edged moments on the compilation. Although it’s unusual to adopt a song only present on a re-released extended addition, the icy, cathartic track is more than welcome.
"Ignite" by Fireflight is another one of the more recent songs included. The strong guitar line and dramatic feel make this a good choice. Surprisingly, one of the quieter moments on the album comes from Demon Hunter with their song "Dead Flowers." Lead singer Ryan Clark’s vocals are rich and haunting, proving yet again that sometimes the hardest bands have the most impact on stripped down tracks.
Christian music fans from the 90s will be glad to see "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" by reborn ska outfit Five Iron Frenzy. This again broadens the scope of the compilation; Five Iron Frenzy may have updated their sound a little, but they are still unapologetically ska, brass section included. This track from a Christian rock legend is followed by one of the newest faces on the scene, female-fronted Tooth & Nail group Icon for Hire. "Make a Move" made waves last year along with the rest of Icon for Hire’s Scripted, so it’s fitting to see it included. This is one of the tracks that gives listeners a glimpse into the modern face of rock and roll, with urgent, driving guitars smoothed over by a dance-styled electronic element.
One of the strongest rock releases of last year, Red’s Until We Have Faces, is represented by "Faceless." It’s a good selection for this album as it is well-known and also a solid representation of the album as a whole. "Anthem of the Lonely" by another new Tooth & Nail band follows. Nine Lashes just released their label debut in February, though this single has been getting attention since last year. This track is another well-deserved inclusion.
The final stretch of the collection takes on a few surprising twists. "Feel it In Your Heart" by Abandon draws on some pop conventions, although the electronic vibe more reminiscent of the 80s than the contemporary dance floor definitely makes this track stand out. "Last Train Home" by FM Static shows us the other side of a voice we heard earlier on the album from Thousand Foot Krutch. Trevor McNevan’s more pop focused side project offered up this song last year, and though it’s from a side project, the song holds its own.
"Make Me New" by Rhett Walker Band presents a Southern rock flair not present on any of the other tracks. This is also one of the more worship-oriented songs present. "Full Court Mess" by Pro brings back a final hip-hop moment. The track is strong, although it seems almost like an afterthought; it might be better for hip-hop to be separated into its own compilation to give it more room, particularly since the Christian hip-hop genre continues to expand. The compilation wraps up with a very solid rock track "We’re All Liars" from the Sent By Ravens’ recent Mean What You Say. The song is the perfect closing for this collection.
Overall, this is one of the strongest showings yet on an X album. Although inclusion of truly hard tracks is still kept at a minimum, there is a refreshing degree of diversity here. The compilation showcases a solid sampling of some of the best Christian rock has had to offer over the past year. Although hip-hop is included almost more as an afterthought, the songs there are well-chosen also, making this a fairly well rounded mix for anyone wanting to catch up on the latest harder Christian artists.