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Reinventing Rock
Posted December 17, 2013
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer

When Nine Lashes' Tooth & Nail debut, World We View, drew the attention and applause of critics and fans alike in early 2012, it was with good reason. The Alabama-based rockers had already spent nearly six years honing their sound as an indie band, crafting a brooding hard rock sound reminiscent of secular acts Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace. 

When a chance connection led to Thousand Foot Krutch's Trevor McNevan recommending the band to Tooth & Nail's Brandon Ebel, Nine Lashes didn't waste a moment of the opportunity they'd been given. In addition to their strong debut album, the band toured tirelessly with major acts in their field such as Skillet, Red, and Thousand Foot Krutch.

Early 2014 release From Water to War continues the trend of refusing to waste any time. Appearing just under two years after their debut project, the sophomore effort chooses to take the risk of sounding rushed—a step that absolutely pays off for the band, as the level of musical maturing evident on this album makes it seem like the band has had much more time between releases.

One of the stylistic developments that is most immediately clear is the introduction of some strong electronic elements, adding an icy veneer to the edgy rock grit. Although they are far from the first to employ this particular dynamic in their music, the result when combined with Jeremy Dunn's moody vocals is a sound instantly, hauntingly memorable. 

Lead single "Break the World" already has been giving listeners a taste of this, with grungy guitar and pulsing electronic elements carefully wrapped around a heavy beat provided by Noah Terrell's drumming. Songs like "Lights We Burn," which calls listeners out for the ones we forget to love, and dream-like album closer "Cover Your Own" carry a similar marriage of smooth synth patches and dark guitar tones. "Where I Belong" draws on a pop melody and an electronic beat so integral to the song's structure that it could almost be classified in the EDM genre.

Despite advances in the area of integrating electronic elements, rock and roll fans have nothing to fear: there is classic hard rock fare here as well. "Light it Up" is distorted and aggressive as it makes a statement about refusing to be walked on and oppressed. "Die in the Dark" features a scratched, eerie reading of Psalm 42:10 in the bridge in a moment reminiscent of Nine Lashes's independent releases.

Another advance that the band has made is in the field of songwriting, which is equally emotionally charged but more complex and layered than on the debut release. Lyrically, this album spins a consistent thread of finding your identity and where you stand through the hardening fire of internal turmoil. "Fear and Shadows" is one of the most introspective moments on the album, the second verse declaring in haunted tones "I feel the panic dividing me / the worry grows, nowhere to go / I hold my breath down inside of me / wish I could find this heart of mine." The introspection is not all negative however. "Never Back Down" makes the earnest declaration of identity "I'd rather die than believe a lie."

The album's pacing is strong throughout, interspersing slower moments to balance the driving rock beats. "Surrender" is a conversation between a lonely lost heart and its Creator, coming to a place of willingness to give everything to God—even if all that's left to give is brokenness. "Love Me Now" has a similar feel, and is also one of the strongest tracks on the album in the way it combines chilling piano, grinding guitar, and electronically distorted vocals to express a deep need for love despite the fear that maybe it's beyond reach. The bridge plainly offers the hope that the band has found with the words, "remember Jesus Christ / He felt your pain."

Closing Thoughts:
This album demonstrates a strong level of progression in the group's style without departing too far from the sound established in the past. The ability to produce material this strong in such a short time marks Nine Lashes with an unusually strong work ethic and the ability to successfully navigate a genre that is often either stagnant or inauthentic. The interplay between searing guitar work and chilling electronic influences make this an album to remember, setting the bar high for other rock releases as we head into a new year.

Song to Download:
"Break the World"

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