On hiatus since 2008, the band re-formed following the enthusiastic reception received at a series of reunion events last year in South Africa. Inspired again by fans that participated in a successful Kickstarter campaign for the album earlier this year, Tree63's new 12-song recording reflects the natural evolution and progression of the original trio consisting of John Ellis (vocals and guitar), Darryl Swart (drums) and Daniel Ornellas (bass).
Revealing a mature, sonically powerful and lyrically complex album with Land, Ellis suggests that what listeners can expect is what the band has always delivered: "I hope they feel relieved that a band they once trusted can still be trusted, trusted with one vital thing that Tree63 always gave listeners: honesty. Every lyric, every sonic structure, every melody, every song is sheer heart-on-the-sleeve honesty."
The anthemic first single released earlier this year to Kickstarter supporters and as a Youtube lyric video, "The Storm," propels that honesty as the intense imagery in the song is of a man being swept overboard, treading water and crying out to God.
"I hope listeners can take away that sense of 'thank God, I'm not alone, somebody else feels this lonely and forgotten and hopeful and bewildered and resolved to carry on the journey'," says Ellis. "My own recent experience leads me to the realization that even though we believe we will reach our destination across the hazardous sea God asks us to cross, it won't be an easy voyage, and often we arrive shipwrecked and battered. The guarantee, however, is that we at least arrive."
Other stand out tracks featured on Land include "Hard To Believe," a beautiful and brutally honest confession about dark days and silence that ultimately ends with hope. "Lyrically, it's so honest and real," Swart says. "It really encourages those of us who find the going tough at times."
The songs "Ship" and "Standing On It" continue the theme in what begins to feel like a single story, stretched out over the length of the album, of a man struggling with doubt and fear, beaten down by the storms of life, and yet remarkably hopeful.
"When I typed up all the lyrics before the vocal sessions, I realized this theme of some kind of 'hazardous sea voyage,' a kind of Jonah-like deliverance tale, was emerging," says Ellis about all the songs on Land. "I thought about Jonah and the various perils of promising to journey with God and the reticence that comes with facing some of the realities of that journey."
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Emerging from the Storm| Posted September 07, 2015
South African rock group Tree63 had a significant impact in the first decade of the 2000s. Their music gained momentum on their home soil, eventually crossing the ocean to win a Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year in 2001. The next nine years would see the band's consistent influence, including a standout recording of Matt Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name" which helped push the song to prominence. The group eventually disbanded in 2009, with lead singer John Ellis returning to South Africa to create solo tunes. They weren't done yet however, with a few reunion gigs in 2014 resparking musical chemistry. The result of that rediscovered potential was a kickstarter campaign and, ultimately, their most recent release, titled Land.
Listeners will instantly notice that the sound of this album harkens back to the early 2000s with its bright yet slightly fuzzy electric guitar tone and rhythmic melodies. Celebratory "Alive" showcases this sound wrapped around lyrics that praise God for rescuing us from deep waters. "The Greatest Story Ever Told," a song of reassurance and hope, has a quirky intro and consistent energy reminiscent of 90s cornerstone acts like Newsboys.
This is not to say however that the album feels dated. The production is slick, and tracks like "Standing On It" bring fresh musical swagger and just a touch of folk influence. Throbbing, mysterious "Whisper" promises to turn heads with its ethereal sound and breathless contemplations about the Spirit and Kingdom of God.
Throughout the album, that is an element that sets Land apart from most of its contemporaries: the lyrics are more complex, the theology less cut and dried, the musings more honest. This does mean that its accessibility to broad audiences is reduced, but the trade-off result is refreshingly rich and unabashed reflections on what it's like to walk in relationship with God.
Much of these reflections come from life's storms, with the overarching metaphor for the faith journey being that of a ship striving to reach the shore-- an arrival that is promised even though we may get there somewhat world-worn, as "The Storm" beautifully portrays. "Hard to Believe," which comes from a place where the grace of Jesus Christ seems difficult to believe in the face of times of His silence, is another track which beautifully represents the raw core of this album.
Ultimately however, even the darkest songs are sung in awareness of the promise of rescue. "Ship" captures this tension through praising God for His redemptive intervention. Album closer "Never Had a Winter" completes the album on a note of gratitude for God's unrelenting faithfulness despite life's hardships.
This album brings some of the best elements of the last era of Christian rock into the present day, providing a welcome breath of air in a genre where many albums have toned back both the sonic and lyrical edge for the sake of accessibility. This is what it looks like when worship is written from the heart of the soul's storms, honest and raw and incredibly powerful. The guitar grit married to some melodic whimsy creates a perfect backdrop for those themes. Although this album may largely appeal to a particular niche, for any who choose to sail into its rich waters, it is a voyage well worth the taking.
Song to Download Now:
"Hard to Believe" (Get it on iTunes here.)