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To be honest, I was not impressed with the music of 2007 and 2008. With some obvious exceptions (Such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows) I just didn’t get into current releases. Mostly, I collected the catalogues of classic bands and avoided new music.

But seriously what is it with 2009?! There is so much good music coming out this year that there has been at least one record per month that I have greatly anticipated. My year end top ten will turn into a top twenty this year, I can almost guarantee it.

For the record here are my current favs from this year along with briefer than brief commentary (Currently not ordered, but at the end of the year my list will be):

  • Derek Webb- Stockholm Syndrome [Derek goes electronica but holds onto the biting lyrics. His best musically, and lyrically too. If the only word you hear on this album is four letters long you aren’t listening…]
  • Thrice- Beggars [Easily their best album, and that’s just from the initial listen.]
  • House of Heroes- The End Is Not The End [How many Christian artists release concept records? How many artists release concept records about World War II? How many Christian artists release concept records about World War II? How many do you think could pull it off? I can think of one.]
  • Project 86- Picket Fence Cartel [improvement over the past two releases, still figuring out how it holds up to the “classics”]
  • Joy Electric- Curiosities and Such [honestly why didn’t Ronnie go mono years ago?]
  • Sleeping Giant- Sons of Thunder [phenomenal Spirit-filled hardcore… which reminds me, isn’t there  a series I should be completing…?]
  • As Cities Burn- Hell or High Water [good record to go out on…. -10,000,000 points to T&N for making “Gates” a download only bonus track… shouldn’t the PHYSICAL releases be the ones with bonuses? Sigh.]
  • Boarders- The World Hates Me [very fun metal with obvious but divergent influences… dig the Megadeth cover]
  • Ultimatum- Lex Metalis [as cover albums go, this is among the best]
  • For Today- Portraits [10 musical “portraits” of biblical characters. A Spirit-filled hardcore concept record? Never thought I’d hear that, glad I did]

I like Sundays and I like church, here is a random list of things that happened today:

  • got up at 6:00am so I could make it to the 9am bible study. Resolutely decide to maintain my new Vegetarian diet at the breakfast….
  • My headphones break on the bus- right side completely dies. Silently decide that every pair of headphones I ever own will last no longer than six months. Realize that every pair I’ve had in the past three years, from no name $10 earbuds to $150 Shure canalphones have all broken within six months. At least they’re still under warranty.
  • Arrive at bible study 1/2 hr early. Actually meet people. Some may one day be my friends(!) Fancy that, actually knowing people in this city.
  • Notice the Continental Breakfast. No meat to tempt me.
  • Arrive at church. Actually sing out loud. Have my face literally preached off. Greek verb tenses are fun.
  • Pick up DVD series that Pastor Shawn left for me, titled “Sex and the City of God” (clever)- Series was an afternoon topical study on… well the title kinda gives it away. Looking forward to watching (getting face preached off more)
  • Realize there is a Future shop that is a 20 min walk from church- hopefully they will give me an exchange even if I don’t have my receipt…
  • …GREAT SUCCESS! To the woman at the service desk, Future Shop on Upper James: You are awesome. Seriously the best service I’ve ever received at a Future Shop. If I remembered your name I’d write an e-mail to FS headquarters commending you.
  • Hey look, it’s The Beat Goes On– right across the street from Future Shop. Sackcloth Fashion is pulling a fast one on my stereo. Whoo.
  • Really hungry now. Look Quiznos. Grudgingly eat chicken. Need to last longer than two days next time! (LOL)
  • Realize Hamilton Bus service on Sundays is bad.
  • Finally get home at 6 pm…. might as well have stayed on the Mountain for the evening service. Oh well.
  • Decide to watch live broadcast of evening service

Unfortunately due to a stressful weekend I have not had the time to complete the second section of my series on The “New Wave” of Spirit-filled Hardcore. I apologize for this delay- it will be posted next week

Thanks.

On Hardcore:

“I’m gonna say whatever is on my mind, and I’m gonna say it in thirty-two seconds.”- Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat

Hardcore is a form of punk rock that emphasizes fast beats, heavy guitars and often has mid-ranged shouted vocals. It was started in the 80s by bands such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Bad Brains. Hardcore has had a familial atmosphere since its foundation, with many fans and bands forming “crews” of like-minded individuals and sticking together, often for years. Ideologically hardcore is often leftist, and fairly political in nature. One of the main tenets of the hardcore lifestyle is an outspoken attitude- speaking and defending one’s own beliefs. Initially those beliefs were little more than angst and rage directed at everyone in “normal” society. Since its inception the hardcore has been home to various social movements, most notably “Straight Edge,” a lifestyle which rejects drugs, drinking and often promiscuous sex, which was popularized and named by the band Minor Threat. Of all the social movements within hardcore it has had the most influence and staying power, with many people still living a Straight Edge lifestyle to this day. For more information on Hardcore music and the formation of the scene I recommend documentary film American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1080-1986 directed by Paul Rachman and written by Steven Blush.

The Foundation of Spirit-Filled Hardcore:

By the early 90s the church had, in general, grown to accept or at least tolerate the concept of “extreme” Christian music. There had already been successful Heavy Metal, Punk, and Hip-hop in the Christian Music Industry. Hardcore had not yet been attempted. The primary reason for this is that hardcore was still a relatively new genre of music, and it had not become popular enough for there to be much of a demand for it in the Christian scene. However, by the mid-nineties Christian music was ripe for an explosion of hardcore- and explode it did. By 1997, hardcore had all but taken over the heavy Christian music scene, with metal labels such as Intense Records folding andup-start punk label Tooth & Nail quickly becoming the biggest independent Christian record label.

The massive success of Christian (or as the bands and fans prefer, “Spirit-filled”) hardcore can be traced right back to the ideologies of hardcore music itself. Unlike metal, which is notoriously anti-Christian, and rock which is mostly fun loving, the hardcore scene was quite compatible with Christianity from the beginning, even though many hardcore bands themselves had anti-Christian stances. Hardcore’s focus on brotherhood and open-minded camaraderie mirrors the early church. It’s outspokenness, and passion create a natural environment for evangelism (passionately preaching the gospel to non-Christians) and worship (praise directed towards God). Also, the Straight Edge movement’s focus on clean living is quite compatible with Christian moral codes. On top of all of this, hardcore bands were used to being heckled by the audience, and as much as there was a sense of brotherhood, there was also, paradoxically,  a violent disregard for others. Essentially it was a scene in which you could say or do anything you wanted so long as you were prepared to deal with the reaction.  All of this creates a natural environment for Christianity to flourish in the hardcore scene, without the oppression Christians had dealt with in their adoption of rock, and primarily metal.

Spirit-filled Hardcore (SFH) remained underground in the early nineties. But that would all change when a fledgling Seattle record label embraced the movement with their second release…

Tooth & Nail Records:

If it wasn’t for Tooth & Nail, SFH would not have gained the popularity that it did. And if it wasn’t for SFH, Tooth & Nail would not have grown to be the biggest label in underground Christian music. Their relationship is that symbiotic.

Tooth & Nail records (T&N) opened its doors in 1993, releasing the grunge record Pet the Fish by the band Wish For Eden. That album was frankly unspectacular, however it proved that their were culture-savvy young Christians who wanted to listen to music that was “with it.” Every other Christian label at the time was releasing adult contemporary or metal, which was quickly fading in popularity. From the get-go, T&N made it apparent that they were going to release music that was relevant to the emerging youth cultures of the day. The second T&N release was far more influential, and even prophetic- setting the foundation for the label’s early success. In 1993 T&N signed the band Focused and released their debut, simply titled Bow, which is the first example of SFH that received any sort of label backing.

The release of this record was a huge gamble for T&N. Situated in Seattle, with grunge being the big deal, there simply wasn’t a market for SFH, fortunately for T&N the scene exploded and T&N was in the perfect position lead the way. Soon the label was home to many more bands in the quickly developing scene, including: Unashamed, Zao, Strongarm, and Overcome. Some other labels such as R.E.X. and Rescue also got into the movement with the signing of such bands as Six Feet Deep and the seminal No Innocent Victim. The popularity of these bands ensured that T&N became the biggest indie Christian record label. Their success with their early experiments led T&N to sign many more unique and challenging bands. Their success eventually led to a distribution deal with EMI- and an even larger audience for their records.

The End of the First Era of Spirit-filled Hardcore:

Strangely the scene fell almost as fast as it began. Most of these bands released no more than two records, and by the end of the decade Spirit-filled hardcore was essentially no more. The reason for this is that the initial excitement and outspokenness of SFH fell out of favor for a more subtle approach. T&N was making an impact in the mainstream- and in the mainstream it was uncool to be labeled as a Christian. So if Christians intended to break into the mainstream at all, it was necessary to play down their ties to the Christian scene. The term “Christian band” became a naughty word- bands would instead say they were “Christians in a band,” or simply a “band.” Lyrics became more allegorical and less outspoken. This continued on for over five years to the point that by 2005, most heavy Christian bands were almost indistinguishable from mainstream bands- except that they didn’t swear and were, generally “positive.”

Whether or not this was a positive development is up to debate. Surely the hardline stance of the early SFH bands was confrontational, evangelistic, and all-or-nothing. At the same time it was divisive and offensive. However in 2005, it was no longer uncool to be a heavy Christian band. In fact, many of the bands on T&N and other labels that had roots in the Christian scene were as successful, and often more innovative than the mainstream bands. However some mourned the loss of the direct messages and intense worship. There was a growing amount of Christian kids disillusioned with artists playing down their faith- and very soon a voice from the past would call for a reformation of the Spirit-filled hardcore scene…

Next Wednesday: The “New Wave” begins

I will soon be starting a three (or more) part series on what I like to call the “New Wave” of Spirit-filled hardcore. Some people will remember bands such as Focused, Unashamed, Overcome, No Innocent Victim, etc. who were part of a short lived yet powerful movement in Christian music that placed evangelistic/worshipful lyrics to the sounds of hardcore music, combining the militant self-expression of the hardcore medium with equally passionate declarations of the gospel. This movement died sometime in the late-nineties, and since then heavy Christian music has become more and more indistinguishable from mainstream music.

However, there is a growing number of new bands that have taken hold of the spirit (Spirit?) that permeated that time and music, infusing it with a focus on charismatic expressions of faith. This new movement can be traced back to 2005 but has just recently begun to make significant waves in the scene.

In Part 1, I will discuss the history of the original Spirit-filled hardcore movement, its connections to hardcore as a genre, its ties to Tooth & Nail Records (and later its subsidiary Solid State), the reasons why it flourished and why it eventually fell out of fashion. This article will lay a foundation to help readers not familiar with the initial movement understand the new one.

Part 2 will discuss the first rumblings of the “New Wave,” the reasons why bands embraced this music again, its connection to Facedown Records, as well as its tendency towards charismatic doctrine.

Part 3 will profile some important bands in the “New Wave” and include a list of recommended listening. If this becomes too lengthy I will split it up.

I will be posting one article per week, every Wednesday starting next Wednesday. Make sure to add me to your rss feeds, and get ready to scream!

1. Murray G. Brett- Growing Up in Grace [This book discusses how God gives us grace post-salvation, and how we can cultivate his grace through bible study, prayer, etc. There are some great “scenarios” at the end of each chapter. Brett writes a story about a hypothetical person’s spiritual life and asks how you would apply the chapter to that person. He gives no answers, so it is up to you to seriously consider the person’s options. Best part of the book by far. This guy is a hardcore Reformer. When he gets going he sounds like the KJV. That makes him more spiritual right? Any takers? Didn’t think so! Joking aside, good book.]

2. Pat Gilbert- Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash [Probably the best Clash bio available in book form. Other than watching the Westway to the World documentary this is the place to go for all that Clash info that you never knew you wanted to know. Even though Gilbert is obviously a huge fan he treats some of the more controversial issues objectively. Excellent.]

3. R. Kent Hughes- Disciplines of a Godly Man [Been sloggin’ through this one for a while now. Good book, practical but hard to get into. Some of the examples are laughably dated, but the spiritual principles will always be valid and applicable. The book’s title says it all]

4. Mark A. Noll- The New Shape of World Christianity [Just started this so not much to say. An academic text that objectively discusses the how the North American church effects world Christianity. Should be interesting. This is a review copy.]

5. Pauline Rivelli & Robert Levin, Eds.- Giants of Black Music [A book about Avant-Garde Jazz written contemporaneously with the movement?! More, please! This book is made of articles from the long defunct Jazz & Pop magazine, it was published in 1970. Gotta love the old school politically incorrect title…]

6. Alyn Shipton- A New History of Jazz: Revised Edition [Holy crap this is a mammoth tome. Not only is it a giant book, it is also over 700 pages long! Then again he is covering 100 years of music in one book. One of the better Jazz histories out there as it doesn’t short-shift Free Jazz and more modern stuff. Beats the hell outta that Ken Burns guy!]

Lex Metalis
Artist: Ultimatum
Label: Retroactive Records
Time: 13 tracks/50:32 minutes

Cover albums- like live albums and b-side albums- are a hit and miss affair. Their quality boils down to three things: who a band covers, which songs they choose to cover, and how they play those songs. The truth is most cover albums are banal because bands will choose to cover the same predictable hits by the same old bands, offering little of their own attitude and style in the proceedings.

Ultimatum have proven in the past that they can overcome these problems. In the past they have covered bands as disparate as Vengeance Rising and Iron Maiden, and have made excellent song choices and made the songs sound like their own. Of course, that is while including one cover song on an album of otherwise all original material. Can Ultimatum keep it up on a whole CD of cover tunes? With Lex Metalis the answer is a resounding “yes!”

With each band member picking a couple favorite songs from both Christian and non-Christian metal acts, and also opening up voting to their fans, Ultimatum narrowed the list of tunes to thirteen from over sixty. Many metal genres are mixed together- from thrash (Metallica’s “Creeping Death”), glam (Twisted Sister’s “Sin After Sin”) to power metal (Metal Church’s “Ton of Bricks”). However Ultimatum filters each track through their hardcore/thrash sensibilities, making each their own. Vengeance Rising’s “Can’t Get Out” is turned into a punky stomper, while Mortification’s “Gut Wrench” is turned from hardcore to technical thrash. Always present are Scott Waters’ unique vocals adding a new spin to the songs, and Robert Gutierrez throws down some choice leads. The whole band is on fire, paying tribute to their heroes.

Addressing the three aforementioned issues- Ultimatum doesn’t fall into ay of the traps. They cover popular bands like Megadeth and obscure bands like The Moshketeers. They choose unique tracks, and don’t rely on popular tunes, but there are a few of those as well. Ultimatum reinterprets each track to fit their style but also doesn’t modify anything to the point that it is unrecognizable to fans of the original. One thing that impressed me is how much they paid attention to the lyrics of the songs they chose. Even though most of the songs are not Christian, the lyrics tend to either focus on metal as a genre (“Denim & Leather”) or are compatible with the band’s faith, or can be interpreted from a Christian viewpoint. For example, “Creeping Death” is entirely biblical history, and Scott adds the words “Jesus saves!” to the chorus of “Sin After Sin” changing its tone from focusing on darkness to being evangelical.

There is not much to complain about with this disc, it has great songs, great playing, great production, and a great booklet featuring the band members reminiscing about the songs and bands they have loved for years. For many bands a cover record is a stop gap effort, but with Ultimatum it is a labor of love. One minor quibble is that I wish they had chosen a different track instead of Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild” which was already featured on 2007’s “Into the Pit.” This is a great album for any metalhead- the band has no agenda except having fun here. It begs to be cranked up loud for your headbanging pleasure. Or, to quote their Quiet Riot cover: “Bang your head! Metal Health will drive you mad!”

4/5

Listening to: John Davis Former (and I believe, now current again) singer of the retro-power pop band Superdrag. Converted to Christianity and made this record, it’s quite phenomenal.

Wow. I am keeping myself busy. Lots of reading and listening and reviewing…. How about some lists(!!!!!!) As much for my use as yours, I swear.

Current Book Reading List:

  • R. Kent Hughes- The Disciplines of a Godly Man
  • C.J. Mahaney, Ed.- Worldliness (This book will DESTROY you)
  • Soong-Chan Rah- The Next Evangelicalism* (This is a real challenge to my individualistic, materialistic, and Western, White world view. And Thank God for that!)
  • Peter B. Holmes & Susan B. Williams- Church as a Safe Place*
  • Dave Harvey- When Sinners Say ‘I Do’
  • John Piper- Don’t Waste Your Life
  • Mark Driscoll- Death By Love
  • G. K. Beale- We Become What We Worship
  • R. Albert Mohler Jr.- He Is Not Silent

This is the relative order I intend to finish them in. Books with * are ones that I am reviewing.

And now the Frequent Listeners List, AKA What is gracing my CD player and my iPod as of late:

  • Demon Hunter- Storm The Gates Of Hell & 45 Days (Can’t get any more bold than STGOH, and the soundtrack is rad too).
  • The Chariot- Wars and Rumors of Wars* (Still melting my face three albums later).
  • House of Heroes- The End is Not the End (truly a perfect classic pop record. Everyone should own it. I’m not kidding, go buy it right now).
  • Emery- I’m Only a Man & When Broken Hearts Prevail (I am really enjoying their recent material, far superior to their first couple records).
  • John Coltrane- A Love Supreme (John called it his “gift to God.” I believe him).
  • Joy Electric- Curiosities & Such* (Great little EP, mixed in mono, gives it some character).
  • Ronald of Orange- Brush Away the Cobwebs* (alternately catchy and hilariously kitschy pop from Ronnie Martin of Joy E).
  • HB- Frozen Inside* (Swedish symphonic metal with female vocals. Very worshipful lyrics).
  • Zao- AWAKE?* (their best album on Ferret. Great design too).
  • In Grief- Deserted Soul* (Sweet progressive black metal).

Again, * are ones that I’ll be reviewing.

So essentially, I am reading, listening, and reviewing. Oh, and working, rock climbing, and hanging with Rach, of course. What are you reading and listening to lately?

Listening to: Becoming the Archetype- How Great Thou Art The latest BTA record is seriously awesome. It is essentially worship death metal. I would love to see BTA do a whole project of Puritan hymns death metal style. It would easily be the best “Worship Project” by a non-worship band ever. Forever and ever. Amen

 

So I guess it is time for some updates on life with the Salos. We now live in Dundas, Ontario. This is where Rachel is from. It is a gorgeous town near Hamilton. It is located in a valley and surrounded by conservation area. Tons of greenery, tons of trails, and even waterfalls are within a fifteen minute walk from my front door. One of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever been to. The first time I visited I told Rach that I wanted to live here, and now we do!

I did not get the OIP position. This is frustrating and also sad, but it leaves me in a position where I am required to trust God for provision. I am quite frustrated with my university degree that has given me a lot of head knowledge but no directly applicable job skills, leaving me essentially unemployable. I am considering college, or making ads for  tutoring and pasting them all over town. I am currently a baker at Tim Horton’s, and it gives us the cash we need at the moment but I do want a better job someday!

 

At the end of April I went to the Gospel Coalition Conference with Jer, Todd, Ben Inglis, and Alex Kloosterman. It was a great experience. I have never sat under such phenomenal preaching before. I also met Mark Driscoll. From what I remember I said “hi” before peeing my pants and waking up six hours later in a strange padded room. (Some parts of this story may be fictional in nature).

I have been reading like a fiend lately and it is awesome. I have also been twittering up a storm all you micro-blog heads! Books are great, especially the Bible and books written to edify us and make us holy. Got lots of books at the GCA (including free ones, like an ESV study bible…. oh yeah!) And also bought some. More reading than time allows!

Still searching for a great church. Keyword great. Rach and I will not compromise. We will find the best church in the Hamilton area and it will be our family. Fo Sho!

There is more I would like to say but time grows late and I must go to bed soon, for work. I will continue the update later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of the most polarizing albums in Christian music, and for once, it’s not because of lyrical content. Embodyment started out as a full-on death metal band, releasing three demo tapes and developing a small but militant following. Their demos were successful enough to draw the attention of Solid State Records, for whom they released their debut Embrace the Eternal. That record was a departure: rather than death metal they played in the popular metalcore style of bands like Zao and Training for Utopia. This upset some of their old fans who wanted more death metal, however the album was successful enough for Embodyment to become a popular band on the Solid State label.

Following Embrace the Eternal vocalist Kris McCaddon left the band. His replacement was Sean Corbray, who admittedly was not a hardcore singer, though he does scream on Narrow Scope. Corbray is instead a singer in the truest sense, he actually sings. He does it quite well too. Herein lies the polarizing problem: within two records Embodyment went from a death metal band, to a hardcore band, to a moody alternative band with occasional screaming (which, the band later confirmed, was included mostly to placate the band’s early fans).

Of course, longtime fans were outraged, labeling them sellouts and feeling betrayed that their band would (gasp) change! One particularly hilarious claim, a bit of historical revisionism from recently penned reviews, is to say that this album is “emo-core.” This is ridiculous for a few reasons. Notably, Corbray’s soulful vocals don’t sound like Emo at all. Also, in 2000 it had yet become popular for hard bands to incorporate singing, and the idea of an “Emo-core” genre did not exist, thus the criticism that the band had “gone emo” is a pathetic attempt to slag Embodyment into a much-loathed genre by fans who still feel betrayed and really need to get over it! In hindsight, however, I will concede that with a change this drastic the band probably should have changed their name.

Those who give this album a chance on its own without prejudice are in for a treat, as this is one of the most unique and innovative records to come out of  the Christian hard music scene. Most of the songs on this record incorporate Sean’s gorgeous singing. It is rather mellow, and emotive but not particularly emotional. His voice has an eerie quality to it, which suits the often concise and thoughtful lyrics, which primarily discuss personal failure and sinful tendencies. The album’s best songs incorporate Sean’s singing with creepy atmospheric guitar playing and slow buildups. Take for example, the album’s standout track “One Less Addiction:” quiet percussion fades in to a mellow guitar line, followed by Sean’s almost whispered vocals. Later the distortion chimes in and Corbray sings a slightly cryptic chorus, presumably about growing older:

I confess the changes
Maybe I’m growing up
From the shoes on my feet
To the stench in my mouth

I’ll remain transparent
And while you speak in codes
I’ll speak in spirit

The record also includes some excellent hardcore songs, such as “Assembly Line Humans” (about the slave trade) and the ironically titled “Ballad,” a proposition to Sean’s then-girlfriend (now wife) sung in blood-curdling screams.

Narrow Scope falters where the band attempts to combine the two styles onto one song. Notably on the song “Pendulum.” It sounds forced and falls particularly flat. Frankly Sean in just not a screamer. On future albums the band moved completely into alternative territory, completely dispensing with the screaming vocals and I believe the band became better for it. Some of the screaming does work on this record, and it helps make Narrow Scope the most varied and interesting of Embodyment’s records, though the band was wise to axe it after this one. (It was obviously killing Sean’s throat anyway).

Regardless of what the detractors say, Embodyment was much better as an alternative band than as a death metal band. Sean Corbray is one of my favorite singers, and I’d love to hear him again. I certainly hope he finds his way into another band now that Embodyment has been disbanded for a few years. The Narrow Scope of Things stands as Embodyment’s greatest and most daring record. They risked a lot hiring a singer rather than a screamer, and though they clearly lost some fans they gained new ones. And what’s more: they had a grand vision and created mature artistic statement. That’s what’s important, regardless of success and what anyone says. Narrow Scope still stands as one of the most unique records on the Solid State label, and no other Christian heavy band has sounded like this before or since. If you missed it back then, pick it up. If you hated it back then, listen with fresh ears.

4.5/5

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