Theocracy is the self-titled debut album by the Christian Progressive Power metal band Theocracy. It was released in 2003 on MetalAges Records. The album was a one man project created by musician Matt Smith.
Matt Smith - vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, and drum programming
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Incredible One-Man project| Posted January 15, 2011
"When you're dealing with the most serious and powerful subject matter in existence, you can’t back it up with weak music, it just doesn’t work" – Matt Smith, founder of Theocracy
Too often in any market of music, Christian or Secular, the airwaves and even the underground scene are oversaturated, polluted even, with uncreative dribble that sounds exactly like the other 99 bands from the top 100. Matt Smith, who does all Lead, Choir, Backing, and Gang Vocals, all Lead, Rhythm, Acoustic, and Bass Guitars, all Keys, Piano, and Orchestration, as well as the drum programming and production of the entire album, aims to break that mold.
Plenty of people have tried, though, so what makes Theocracy great? Smith succeeds. The 26-year-old from Athens, Georgia, crafts a masterpiece for the ages with his unique Power Metal. What makes it unique? Outside of the combination of the Progressive styling, Smith combines American Power Metal (more riffs and demanding guitar work, truer to original speed metal) with the more popular, iconic European Power Metal (keyboards, long solos, basically what you think of when you hear Power Metal) as well as undeniable classic metal influences that sound like they could fit in with Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album.
The album kicks off with "Prelude" an instrumental bit that shares melodies with the first real track, "Ichthus." Remember what I said about Iron Maiden? That’s this song, in a nutshell. It contains some keyboards under the guitars, but other than that, it’s clear Smith is a fan of Maiden. The song talks about the immortality of the Truth of the Gospel of Christ, and even being willing to die for it, knowing “this will live on without me.” However, don’t get too complacent, thinking this album is a Maiden rip-off. The 12-minute epic “The Serpent’s Kiss” follows, beginning with a slow, piano led intro which builds up to fast paced verses, epic choruses, and lengthy, twiddly musical interludes. This song is everything that is right with Euro-PM in a nutshell. It speaks of how the lies of the world may seem appealing to us, but in the end, they will be the death of us.
“Mountain” begins with some organs before going to riffland and obtaining citizenship. It speaks of drawing on God’s strength when we are at our weakest and realizing “when You’re all I have, I find You’re all I need to help me rise, taking flight, to the zenith of life…” The title track follows with some more Maiden-esque progressions, and a schizophrenic sounding bridge. For those of you unaware, a Theocracy is a government controlled by God. The song speaks of being “Flesh and blood theocracy(s)” – that is, dethroning all the secular pleasures we allow to control our lies, and instead putting God at the helm. It’s such a freeing concept – we don’t have to be slaves to our parents, spouses, friends, or bosses. We don’t have to be slaves to Washington, London, Moscow, or the Vatican. We were bought by God for the Kingdom of Heaven. We owe our allegiance to Him, no one else. Furthermore, the bridge in the song is a prayer - “Father, use me to be Your hands down here; a mirror to reflect Your glory into hurting eyes. And let me see the world with vision clear, and not through selfishness and lies. For, if I am consumed with my own cares, what right have I to speak the words ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ and if I am consumed with my own will, what right to pray ‘Thy Will Be Done’? As all around me I see bleeding souls, please give me strength to never pass them idly by, and as the angry storm clouds start to roll, may they see comfort in my eyes. For just as You are full of mercy and love, the same to others You have called me to be. By the covenant of grace above and below, within our souls – Theocracy”
“The Healing Hand” is an 11-and-a-half minute epic that tells the tale of Christ. I won’t spoil the poetry of the lyrics with quotes, for those of you who want to listen themselves, but it’s horrifying and beautiful. It opens with “The Gift” – Christ’s coming. “Restoration” and “Adulation” are of His works and the praises He was given. “Betrayal” describes the scene of His crucifixion. “Eternity” describes His reign in Heaven, which will last forever. It’s another riff heavy song, and it seems that Maiden wasn’t the only influence on this record – I’m also hearing some Blind Guardian and Iced Earth. “Sinner” is the ballad on this record, and it reeks of filler. It’s the only song on the record that is lyrically simplistic. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just lacks the profoundness that permeates the rest of Smith’s songs.
“New Jerusalem” also seems to have been a last minute addition, lyrically. It’s about Heaven, which I’m all for since Heaven is a reality we need to embrace, and be striving for, even longing for, on Earth, but it’s not very descriptive. Musically, it’s decent up until the bridge, where the orchestration gets epic, and gives way to the most creative solo on the album. “The Victory Dance” features heavy Celtic influences, and has some cryptic lyrics that, once deciphered to essentially translate to being a good friend to someone who’s hurting and pointing them toward God, make the song more enjoyable.
“Twist of Fate” sums up what Theocracy is all about, and is a fitting closer. Long, heavy, epic. Centered around the theme of the man-made concept of Fate not controlling you, but rather God controlling everything through a flawless master plan. The ending features counterpoint layers in not 2, not 3, but 4 different layers, one of which being a choir. The cohesiveness is astounding. I know I mentioned Smith did all the vocals, but did I mention that there were over 70 different vocal pieces on the record? 70! That’s more than the last 3 Skillet records combined, and they have more than 1 vocalist.
The only real drawbacks to the record are the production (which could have been better had the label not rushed the album out the door) and the drum machine, while normally doing its job well, gets stale in some parts (another problem that could have been addressed had the album been given more time).