The year is 2017, and rock and roll has evolved to exist in a unique space outside of the usual music industry arena. Although the traditional label structures and radio airwaves have largely been scrubbed of rock's influence, Christian rock is very much alive and well where it has always operated best: outside of the system, thriving in its age-old counter-authority approach.
Although label services are still often employed at some level for distribution, many rock bands now are leaning directly on the fans who share their passion and mission to fund and spread the word on new releases. The result is creative fusions of crowdfunding, label support and independent management approaches to get the music to the masses. Here's a summary of some of the underground, grassroots-fueled releases coming your way from both veterans and newcomers who are using new methods to keep rocking the airwaves.
1. As We Ascend: Farewell to Midnight As We Ascend, formed by guitarists Justin Forshaw and Jake Jones (formerly of We As Human) and producer and drummer Robert Venable, proves the incredible quality that can be achieved by passion and DIY work ethic. Farewell to Midnight dropped March 17, the result of a fan funding campaign that allowed backers an unprecedented amount of insight and input into the album's creation at every step of the way. As We Ascend is now also backed by Daywind/Vital Records as they distribute their debut project.
2. Random Hero: The Covering Random Hero funded The Covering, a release encapsulating two EPs into one full length album, through a successful Pledgemusic campaign. The independent Colorado-based rock group released The Covering on March 3, preceded by strong lead single "Mirror Mirror." The new project is the latest entry in a resume marked by the classic grassroots rock and roll approach, as Random Hero's momentum is fueled by connection first and foremost.
3. The Letter Black: Pain The Letter Black built momentum and a fan base through a couple records released with Tooth & Nail. They ventured into the independent realm late last year to crowdfund a brand new album, Pain (due for release May 29). Fans fully funded the album through kickstarter and have already been enjoying preview clips of songs posted to facebook. Now a couple months from release, news has broken that the buzz caught the ear of Megadeth bassist David Ellefson's EMP Label Group, leading to a new label agreement.
4. Scarlet White: Lost in the Smoke
Michigan-based independent rock group Scarlet White has built a strong fanbase throughout the midwest with their strong live shows, two studio albums and some radio chart activity. Their third full length album Lost in the Smoke is due this summer, and fans have already had a taste of it through the single "One Less," which released on Valentine's Day. The band has also spent the last month bringing their songs to new audiences with the opening slot on this year's City Rockfest tour.
5. Righteous Vendetta: Cursed Righteous Vendetta dropped Cursed on March 17, their first album in almost four years. They've taken that time to craft their most tight and focused album yet, a project they're distributing in partnership with independent hard rock/metal label Century Media. The partnership is a fitting one, as Cursed proves to be grounded in metal sensibilities more than perhaps any other Righteous Vendetta release so far.
6. The Protest The Protest has built a fiercely loyal fanbase throughout Indiana and the neighboring states with their infectiously energetic live show. This year the band is in the process of funding their third studio release through an indiegogo campaign. Foregoing contemporary conventions in favor of a glam metal-influenced sound that reminds of acts like Stryper and Whitecross, The Protest brings something unique to the current Christian rock scene.
7. Death Therapy: The Storm Before the Calm
Although Death Therapy is one of the few bands on this list with true major label support (they're signed to Tooth & Nail's heavy music imprint Solid State), they were still a name not many had heard yet outside of a dedicated fanbase propelling them forward when their outstanding debut project The Storm Before the Calm dropped on February 24. Death Therapy was formed by Jason Wisdom, who fans might recognize as the original voice of Becoming the Archetype. The band is already establishing themselves with a unique, experimental sound--and with tour dates opening for the West Coast leg of RED's End of Silence Anniversary tour.
8. Spoken Spoken has epitomized every modern rock band's need to evolve in order to survive in a constantly changing landscape. Shifting their footing from a variety of substrains of rock and moving between label support and independence throughout the two decades Matt Baird's crew has been making music, Spoken has currently landed on an independent model that has resulted in a PledgeMusic campaign to back their 9th studio album. The album, with lyrics and signature vocals by Matt and music largely completed by former guitarist Matthew "Scoop" Roberts right before he left the band, focuses on "songs about grace, forgiveness, confusion, struggle, and unconditional love." The project will be dropping later this year.
9. Project 86 Project 86 is another veteran that has taken the independent, fan-focused route two decades into their career. Their pledge campaign has been running since late last year, building towards a set of ten new songs and five covers celebrating their 20th anniversary as a band. Songs have been made available to pledgers one at a time as they are completed rather than waiting for a complete, traditional album. The unique method is fitting for a band who has traditionally gone against the grain with imaginative, strongly visual lyrics and crushing musical style.
10: Kids in the Way/KIDS: Side A Kids in the Way formed a following for themselves in the mid-2000s with hits like "Fiction." 2017 has seen their return, rebranded as KIDS, with crowd-funded EPs. The first EP, Side A, dropped March 31, and the second is due out later this year. The new material sees a slightly more mellow, matured incarnation of the KIDS crew as they offer the most new music they've released in 10 years-- illustrating that new business models make comebacks possible.
Associate Editor Mary Nikkel’s love for writing, photography, videography and rock and roll have all been bound together by her love for Jesus, leading to her role with NRT. Her favorite things include theology and Greek language studies, her math grad student husband, obscure Nashville coffee shops, all things related to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and pushing the boundaries enacted by societal norms. She blogs at Threads of Stars.
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