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Album Review: Skillet - Victorious: The Aftermath | Posted September-09-2020
What You Need To Know

Deluxe Editions of Skillet albums have become par for the course. Dating all the way to Collide, every album has either been re-released as or co-released with a version featuring extra songs. When the very first song Skillet played live in advance of Victorious called "Dead Man Walking" ended up not making the final tracklisting, fans immediately knew we were in for another "Deluxe Edition" of some sort to come about a year after the new album released.



Sure enough, here we are about 13 months since Victorious blasted onto the scene and Victorious: The Aftermath is ready to keep the victory coming. (Which, if I may say, is the best name yet I've seen for a Deluxe Edition.) The album's 12-track listing is expanded to 20 with three new songs and five alternate versions of popular cuts from the standard listing. 



What It Sounds Like 

"Dead Man Walking" translates well to the studio. Those who've heard the live videos floating around YouTube likely know what to expect. The song is a classic Skillet amp-up rocker that will certainly become a workout jam for many. "Sick and Empty" is probably the standout of the new tracks, offering an electric number that juxtaposes laid back verses against a rocking chorus to rousing success. This definitely has fan favorite written all over it. It was already a favorite of Ledger's, who had expressed disappointment it wasn't included in the album's standard release. 



The previously released "Dreaming of Eden" is a terrific anthem that balances the ballad and rocker sensibilities into one of the band's catchiest songs to date. It also makes a great theme song to the band's graphic novel series. 



The reimagined songs that make up the other new inclusions will likely be more polarizing to fans. While "Legendary" gets a bit of a standard remix treatment, several of the album's rockers get turned into piano ballads. The title track gets a cinematic version that highlights its melodic strengths. The previously released "Save Me (Reimagined)" offers a slow-building epic ballad take on the piano rocker that highlights the song's emotive core. But, perhaps the standout of the bunch is the "Reach (Falling Deep Mix)." A stark departure from the original's aggressive rock structure, this version is pure haunting piano ballad, with Ledger taking over a whole verse of the song, adding in a whole new layer of meaning to the words. This was stated to be a favored arrangement of Korey Cooper's and one need not listen long to see why. It's quite refreshing to see a song that is billed as a reimagining actually come out drastically different than its original. While the original was a favorite of mine on Victorious, I cannot deny that this version is also one of my top picks of this whole collection. 



The single "Terrify The Dark (Reimagined)" closes out the project. And, while the song is still a strong ballad, one will need to listen closely to catch the subtle differences in the mixing between this and the original. In contrast to the drastic changes, some of the other remixes underwent, many listeners may come away a bit disappointed that there weren't a few more risks taken to differentiate this version from its original album arrangement. 



For those craving new Skillet, The Aftermath delivers in spades. 




 







Spiritual Highlights

Some of the new cuts on The Aftermath probe some meatier spiritual waters than the standard Skillet pump-up or "man versus society" anthem. While "Dead Man Walking" fits nicely into the themes blazed by "Reach" or "Back to Life," "Sick and Empty" digs deeper. Exploring themes of self-loathing over one's sinfulness, the song serves as one of the darker entries of Skillet's catalogue, while still offering hope. Standout lyrics include, "I don't deserve Your tears/Or to be happy here/This ended when You gave Yourself to me." 



"Dreaming of Eden" sings of the joy and reward we will find when we get to heaven and are free from our sinful state. 



Best Song

"Reach (Falling Deep Mix)" 


 







For Fans Of

Red, Thousand Foot Krutch, Seventh Day Slumber



Final Word

The new material on The Aftermath is mostly strong additions to the Skillet cannon. Fans would do well to add these new tracks to their streaming and download playlists. These new cuts will likely cement themselves as an integral part of the Victorious legacy. Those jaded by re-releases are unlikely to be moved by the bonus material, whereas those of us still clinging to the charm of physical copies will have to weigh whether or not the new inclusions merit a repurchase. Regardless of one's feelings on the idea of Deluxe Editions, The Aftermath offers enough new content to give Skillet fans something to ease the sting of a rough 2020 and hold us over until we can get another full-length project from one of the most iconic bands in the business. 








Check out Skillet on Apple Music and Spotify.


 

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Album Review: Graham Jones - The Story's Still Alive | Posted September-09-2020
What You Need To Know

With an aim to uncover the spiritual in the everyday, singer-songwriter Graham Jones puts thoughtful lyrics to gentle and memorable melodies in this worshipful offering.



What It Sounds Like

With an acoustic guitar driving the album coupled with Jones's soft vocals, the album takes a much more atmospheric approach to music than the trends of the genre currently allow. These are the kinds of songs that could easily be sonically placed in the background of a commercial or television drama. But, far from being sombre, there is a lot of joy to be had here, such is in the upbeat "I Am Here For You." "Carry Your Heart" brings in a faster pace to add variety to the album's approach, while still feeling right at home. 



Spiritual Highlights

Far from the easy worship of most in the genre, Graham Jones both encourages weary listeners ("Carry Your Heart," "The Story's Still Alive") and also challenges their preconceptions ("God Loves People Everywhere"). "I Am Here For You" and "Resurrection Song" offer examples of common themes of the genre, but done with a more thoughtful and personal execution. 



Best Song

"Resurrection Song"



For Fans Of

Jon Foreman, Andrew Peterson, Elliot



Final Word

Graham Jones is an excellent find for those looking for new acoustic/atmospheric pop the likes of Jon Foreman with the worshipful heart of Andrew Peterson. 




 



Check out Graham Jones on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Album Review: Kim Walker-Smith - Wildheart (Live) | Posted August-15-2020
What You Need To Know

Jesus Culture's Kim Walker-Smith has released her first solo project in three years. Her new worship album, Wild Heart, explores life, new beginnings, and returning to one's first love.



What It Sounds Like

Kim Walker-Smith has one of the biggest voices in Christian worship. Both powerful and soft, her voice carries these worship songs to new heights. Musically, each song takes the melodic, slow-build approach popularized in recent years by the Hillsongs and Jesus Cultures of the business. The title track is one of the best examples of this style working well, with a musically complex and dynamic chorus, culminating in a rousing finish. While some of the songs would benefit from being truncated some, songs like "Wild Heart" are stronger for their tighter runtime. 



Spiritual Highlights

Being a praise album, listeners would not be surprised by the fairly straightforward nature of the album's spiritual themes. In the title track, Kim sings of God's wild heart in pursuit of us. Others praise the wondrous works He's done for us. The themes should feel familiar to fans of the worship genre, carried to new depths on the strength of Walker-Smith's vocal delivery. 



For Fans Of

Darlene Zsechech, Hillsong Worship, Jesus Culture



Best Song

"Wild Heart"



Final Word

Kim Walker-Smith puts her powerful voice to the most worthy of causes in praising the Savior in this collection of moving worship music. 


 



Check out Kim Walker-Smith on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Seventh Day Slumer - Unseen: The Lion EP | Posted August-10-2020
What You Need To Know

Seventh Day Slumber has developed a reputation for producing both quality crunchy hard rock as well as passionately delivered rock worship. The band spent the better part of the last decade or so mixing these two styles. After a slew of rock-driven releases, the band's worship side is ready to roar back with a vengeance with a two-part rock worship release that hits many of the genre's biggest hits of the past decade.



What It Sounds Like

While these worship cuts don't dial up the energy quite as much as the originals, Seventh Day Slumber, nevertheless, injects some of their signature style of guitar-driven rock into these popular worship tunes. "Reckless Love," in particular, sounds great with its new amped-up makeover. The song's iconic hook translates very well into a rock setting. Francesca Battistelli's "Holy Spirit" also gets the rock treatment. Initially a slow-building worship epic, this cover features punchy guitars and edgy vocals. "Eternity" offers an original break amidst the popular worship tunes; the song is one of the more low-key of the tracks. Nevertheless, "Eternity" fits in fairly well with some of the biggest worship hits of the decade. 



Spiritual Highlights

"Eternity," being the song listeners are least familiar with, offers the most spiritual meat to chew on. Its chorus feels so relevant in what has been an unquestionably turbulent year, "Looking for flashing signs and wonders/Looking for saviors on our screen/But you are a God who speaks in whispers/Echoing through eternity/You echo through eternity." Whether it's the remarking on the depths of God's love for us or how God carries us when our feet won't, these songs touch on both our human experience and praise for the creator of it all. 



Best Song

"Eternity"



For Fans Of 

Skillet, Jeremy Camp, Kutless



Final Word

Seventh Day Slumber faithfully delivers a fine collection of some of the most popular current worship songs, using their signature brand of guitar-driven rock energy. Definitely, a must-listen.



Check out Seventh Day Slumber on Apple Music and Spotify.


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Single Review: Caleb Crino - Lord Jesus Come | Posted July-31-2020
What You Need To Know

For rising singer-songwriter Caleb Crino, music is a product of a life surrendered to God. His music is reflective of that surrender, full of pop-influenced gems delivered by smooth vocals that all reflect back on a trustworthy God.



What It Sounds Like

With a simple beat and a lush sound, "Lord Jesus Come" is a radio-ready hit that manages to sound at home with other hits of the day while also sounding more alive and less overproduced than other music that tops the charts. With a sound like this, expect to see Crino's songs spun with other A-listers.



Spiritual Highlights

Life has been difficult for everyone in 2020. And this song is a reflection of that. This song's plea for Lord Jesus to come and conquer our worldly troubles is one that I think most of us can relate to--even on a good year.



For Fans Of

Chris August, Josh Wilson, Brandon Heath



Final Word

Caleb Crino has a definite hit on his hands that should find a lot of fans.


 



Check out Caleb Crino on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Album Review: Sidewalk Prophets - The Things That Got Us Here | Posted June-30-2020
What You Need To Know

Almost five full years after the band's last release, Sidewalk Prophets is back with their 4th full length LP, The Things That Got Us Here. With a deliberate attempt to create a more organic and authentic sound, the band took a grassroots approach to crafting the songs on this album. 



What It Sounds Like

Sidewalk Prophets has always viewed their fans as part of their "great big family." This has developed their sound into one that is both energetic and intimate. If anything, this album finds the band fully comfortable with who they are and what works for them. Lead single "Smile" is the very burst of bubbly energy that has made the band a success. Others like "Where Forgiveness Is" or "You Were There" build to a soaring finish that flirt with terms like epic. Perhaps the band's most signature material is the borderline acoustic numbers in the tradition of "Help Me Find It" and "Come to the Table." "The Light" should be another fine entry in this category. David Frey's vocals have always had this genuine honest quality that makes you pay attention to everything he's singing, and he's at the top of his game once again here. 



Spiritual Highlights

Sidewalk Prophets once again have their finger on the pulse of their fans. Never one to shy away from the struggles their listeners are going through, we have another batch of songs speaking to the anxieties and fears listeners are facing. Songs like "The Comments Section" are so relevant, especially this year. These days, it seems like every social media page is just a post away from an online war. "You Were There" and "Real to Me" impart the wisdom of experience from seasoned veterans. "Smile" has become a very timely entry for a year where it's becoming harder and harder to smile. While nobody could have seen 2020's twists and turns coming, The Things That Got Us Here has managed to be just the album we needed, with the wisdom of good friends there to help encourage us and remind us of how grace has already taken us this far.



Best Song

"The Light"



For Fans Of

Josh Wilson, Mikeschair, Stars Go Dim



Final Word

Sidewalk Prophets bring perhaps the most concise example of their signature sound to date, with an intimate delivery of a timely message that is sure to resonate in these difficult times. 



Check out Sidewalk Prophets on Apple Music and Spotify






 

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Aaron Rios - Hiding Place | Posted June-25-2020
What You Need To Know

Aaron Rios is a musician, with a penchant for passionate, poetic, ambient worship with a pop-rock edge.



What It Sounds Like

With the worship genre drifting more and more into its own sound, it's refreshing to hear a worship releases that incorporates elements of pop and rock in an organic way. "You Alone" captures some groovy electronic hooks and also has rock elements that make the song energetic and exciting. The rest of the EP's songs take a bit more subdued approach, while still mixing in plenty of upbeat energy and slow-building musical goodness. Fans of worship music should still find these melodies more than accessible. But those who crave a bit more musical and vocal dynamics should also come away with more to love.



Spiritual Highlights

Thematically, the album covers familiar worship themes of Christ being our refuge and how we crave Him. With a bit more to say on the topic than the often repetitive choruses of the genre, the songs on this EP do the topics more justice and give the listener more to latch onto than is common in the worship space. 



Best Song

"You Alone Reign"



For Fans Of

Matthew West, Jeremy Camp, David Dunn



Final Word

Worship music fans looking for a little life amidst the genre's common trappings will find a kindred spirit in Aaron Rios and his music. 



Check Out Aaron Rios on Apple Music and Spotify.


 



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Album Review: Elevation Worship - Graves Into Gardens (Deluxe) | Posted May-14-2020
What You Need To Know

Elevation Worship has become one of the fastest-growing names in the growing genre of megachurch worship music. With several iconic hits under their belt, this latest release will most likely have a few more. 



What It Sounds Like

As worship music has evolved, so has its sound. With more and more megachurches starting bands that find great commercial success, this music space isn't just reserved for Hillsong anymore. These songs use the many sonic styles present in contemporary worship. The live setting gives the album's music an intimate feel. Most songs either stay soft and reflective or build to a crescendo of a finish that has the band firing on all cylinders. Some songs have memorable experimentation, like the energetic opener "RATTLE." At times, it feels like it takes inspiration from bands like NEEDTOBREATHE or We Are Messengers, with a chat-like structure and even a pleasing bass hook.



While I think the track could have probably been several minutes shorter and stronger for a more compact delivery, this was definitely an attention-grabbing way to kick off the album. If anything, I think the live setting may lead to a lot of the songs being a little too extended which, when translated to an at-home listening experience, doesn't quite have the same appeal as in a church setting. There is certainly strong musicianship backing these songs just waiting to breakthrough. 



Spiritual Highlights

Elevation Worship finds some unique topics to mix into the common worship themes, most notably a challenge to the listener for how they'd react if they encountered Christ in "What Would You Do." "RATTLE" highlights the joy of the resurrection, both of Christ's and the resurrection we are promised in Him. 



For Fans Of

Hillsong United, Bethel Music, Passion



Best Song

"RATTLE"



Final Word

As megachurch bands become an even more powerful force in contemporary Christian music than they were in the past, this latest release from Elevation Worship demands to make their name one of the most iconic and recognizable bands in the genre. 



Graves into Gardens is available on Apple Music and Spotify


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Album Review: Rhett Walker - Good To Me | Posted April-16-2020

What You Need To Know

With lead single “Believer” quickly becoming one of the most successful singles of Rhett Walker’s career, he rides this momentum to a third full length album, looking to shoot to the top tier of contemporary Christian music.



What It Sounds Like

Fans may remember Rhett Walker from past hits like “When Mercy Found Me.” Rhett has a powerful southern voice that adds an intensity to the contemporary offerings. Juggling a more blatant Southern style with more standard contemporary Christian radio songs, Good To Me, offers a positive and uplifting listening experience that should please both the Christian radio fans and those who enjoy a bit more country edge to their praise and worship. Lead single "Believer" is made for singing along to on the radio while songs like "Murderer" give more of that country rock edge that Walker excels in.



Spiritual Highlights

Walker sings of how Christ meets us in our darkest places in “You Met Me There.” He calls for “Peace in the Family” to quell the tide of turmoil in our families. “Believer” testifies to the effect of Christ’s work in our lives. All in all, these are typical themes for the average Christian to relate to in their walk with Christ. While the topics have been tackled by many an artist before, Walker’s interpretation should still resonate with his audience.



Best Song

“Believer”



For Fans Of

Third Day, Big Daddy Weave, Jordan Feliz



The Bottom Line

Rhett Walker boasts an impressive balance between Southern flare and contemporary accessibility that make it an essential release of the Spring. 



Good to Me is available on Apple Music and Spotify.



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Red Makes An Intense Declaration | Posted April-01-2020

What You Need To Know

Red burst onto the Christian rock scene in 2006 with End of Silence. With several No. 1 hits from that album alone, Red became an instant icon. 2017’s Gone was a polarizing release for fans, especially because it was to be their last album as a signed band. But as one season closes, another opens. 2019 found Red beginning their chapter as an independent band, releasing The Evening Hate EP. 2020 sees those new songs come to a culmination with their new full length album, Declaration.



What It Sounds Like

Red has always been defined by the juxtaposition of their two extremes: intense, scream-driven hard rock, and melodic and emotional numbers often driven by piano and orchestral backing. These styles would often duel within the same tracks, making for songs that could run the gamut of emotions. Some songs totally embraced one side or the other, making for some true headbangers and others accessible radio hits.



Freed from the influence of a label with demands for commercial viability, Red seems to have leaned all in on the edgier side of their sounds. For sure, the emotional orchestral elements still drive many a chorus on the album. But for the first time ever, Red have dropped an album completely devoid of a ballad. Every song throws in the band’s mix of screams and croons, with vocalist Mike Barnes flawlessly transitioning moment to moment. “The War We Made” serves as the most radio-ready of the bunch, sounding the most like a cut from one of Red’s previous entries. “Sever” also stands as a highlight with a passionate chorus that calls to mind several of the band’s classics. “The Evening Hate” and “From The Ashes” also return from their EP last year and mark noteworthy entries in this era for the band.



Fans of the band’s harder side disillusioned by their swings for accessibility over the years should come away pleased. Others may feel that the needle has swung a bit too far to the chaos side of things, at the expense of the band’s memorable melodies that have made even scream-filled past hits like their signature “Breathe Into Me” iconic.



Whatever one’s preferences for Red, the band seems to have made exactly the album they wanted to make with Declaration, freed from the expectations of anyone except their own and their fans’. The elements that made them a household name in Christian rock are all in place, and if you’ve enjoyed any of their past albums, you’d do well to give their latest a spin.



Spiritual Highlights

Red has always had their finger on the pulse of the internal struggles of their audience. The war with our sinful natures seems to be a constant theme of their music and this album is no different. These ten songs all speaks to our struggles with the darkness, and our fight to overcome them. Whether it’s acknowledging our role in our sins or choosing to sever our ties with them, these songs meet the listener where they are at in the darkness, but ultimately point to the way out “from the ashes.



Best Song

“The War We Made”



For Fans Of

Breaking Benjamin, Fight the Fury



Bottom Line

Red has come back unrestrained, touting perhaps their most aggressive blend of chaos and calm yet, with an album sure to win the attention of rock fans.




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