A Powerful Lyrical Engine
Posted October 15, 2015
By MarcusHathcock_NRT, Staff Reviewer
One of the great complaints I've heard about modern worship songs is that the lyrics don't hold a candle to the profound, poetic word pictures of the great hymn writers. Rather than telling us about Jesus, they showed us about Him through metaphors and flowery prose. In an age of relativism, it's completely understandable that worship music has become much more overt, much more pointed in its lyrical content. Still, the art of worship is something that has been lacking in Christendom as a whole.
That's why it really stands out when a worship movement takes strides in the more artful direction. And that's why The Church of Eleven22's third full-length offering, Before All Things, is a project you need to check out.
Born out of the worship ministry of Jacksonville, Florida's Church of Eleven22, Before All Things is a meditative, contemplative journey into the heart of God, and into our own hearts as well.
As is the style nowadays, Before All Things features a good blend of live guitars and drums with keyboards and various electronic elements.
Rather than take you through a tour of each song musically, you should know this: Each song is well produced, and features lots of 1980s sounding synths and noises that create an ethereal atmosphere throughout. Even the more upbeat songs on the album, such as "I'm Not Alone", "In You" and "Kingdom Come" carry that contemplative, reverent vibe.
Vocally, the various worship leaders featured throughout provide strong performances, and each offers a sound that's not exactly the "classic worship leader" vocals you've come to expect on most church-based worship albums. That said, one of the singers sounds like a mix between Brian Johnson of Bethel Music and Delirious's Martin Smith. And I'm not sure if it's the musical landscape or what, but the singer on "In You" could easily fill in for Hillsong UNITED's Matt Crocker.
There are some moments where Eleven22 shines on creating some modern-day hymns, such as "God Above" and album closer "What Grace Did for Me"--and many of the other songs have hymn-like choruses and structures. "God Above" in particular sounds strikingly similar at times to Hillsong's "Cornerstone," but for all the right reasons,
When evaluating a worship album, something that has to be taken into account is how universal these songs are--rather, how singable they are for Sunday mornings and how replicable they are in other church settings. Eleven22 is hit and miss in this aspect, with some phrasing feeling clunky and not instinctive. With a little refining, though, there are some powerhouse anthems for the church just waiting to be unleashed.
And the engine of those powerhouse songs is its lyrical diversity and poignancy. It would take too long to chronicle all of the profound phrases penned on this record, but I'll share a few. On "I'm Not Alone," Madaline Hill and Jonathan Berlin took a different take on the love of God: "Your love is stronger than diamonds and steel." On "What Grace Did For Me," we hear: "I fall apart, You pick me up / I pour out my heart, You fill my cup / I lose my mind, You put it as ease / I lock myself up, You set me free."
The congregational, ethereal "Kingdom Come" declares: "We will see the chance to break away / The chance to make a change from what we all have been / A rushing wave, the levy starts to break / To wash it all away, to lead us back to You."
Perhaps my favorite line is from "Locked Up Death," which reads: "Where can I run to escape a love that conquered the grave? / My soul no longer to hide / When You made a thief Your bride." In "Where The Spirit of the Lord Is," you typically expect that phrase to end with "there is freedom," but instead the songwriters talk expound upon what that freedom looks like: "I fear no pain / I fear no hurting"... "I fear no blame / I fear no suffering."
The Church of Eleven22 certainly deserves some more attention and credibility as a worship movement from Before All Things. The production value, vocal prowess and, most of all, lyrical depth set it apart in a crowded and growing crop of church-based worship albums. To take the next step, the songwriters have to smooth over some of the phrase clunkiness, allowing their songs to be received by countless churches on Sunday morning.
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