The North Star by Remedy Drive: Fiery-Eyed Redemption Songs

In 2014, Remedy Drive initiated a profound shift in their purpose. With the release of Commodity, the newly-independent band became a vehicle for justice in partnership with counter-trafficking organization The Exodus Road. Remedy Drive’s revenue became a fundraiser, their lead singer David Zach became a frontlines operative and the songs became the soundtrack for a movement.

The North Star is the second installment of this chapter of Remedy Drive’s legacy, with many of the songs conceived in the heart of the battle for justice in Southeast Asia. Over the three and a half years since the release of Commodity, Remedy Drive’s activism model and outlook have been refined through on-the-ground experience. The resulting collection of 12 songs could be summed up by the increasing realization that justice is always intersectional. Racism, sexism, violent nationalism and dangerous perversions of religion always walk hand in hand, and The North Star seeks to navigate these interconnected battlefields.

The scene is set with “You’ve Got Fire,” a song breathing on the sparks of hope, fanning them to flame: “you’ve got fire running through your veins / don’t let it die out, don’t let it die out.” The strong female vocal on the bridge is a new element for a Remedy Drive song, a very welcome addition given that many of the stories this album is telling are centered around women. “Polaris” is another example of a song carrying this thread of urgency, speaking specifically to everyday activists: “you use your pen when you don’t have a sword / you’ve got your fingertips on the keyboard / you’ve got the sphere of your influence / nobody else has got your fingerprints.

Those broader themes work themselves out in specifics. “Sanctuary” tells the stories of refugees caught in crisis, serving as a lament and a plea. Propaganda offers an exceptional challenge in the interlude, spitting “I just need Christ personified, not commodified / the one that died, the brown-eyed one that’s acquainted with my suffering.” “Warlike” challenges the norm of aggressive nationalism and trigger-happy Western culture with a beautifully gritty rock and roll texture that plays like a classic U2 tune. The searingly poignant “Sunlight On Her Face” is a self-proclaimed “love song for a prostitute,” telling the story of the countless girls trapped in the cycle of trafficking and abuse. A version of this song with the added voice of a cello closes the album.

Musically, this album continues the trend of being sonically influenced by the countries where the band’s activism is centered, but it also digs deep into an assertive individuality that is quintessentially rock and roll. David Zach drew on the talents of his brother and former Remedy Drive member Philip Zach to assist in producing the project, and the result feels handmade in the best way, as if every guitar riff and vocal run was the product of personal sweat and blood. Even the stunning synth line in anthemic “Endless” or the softer electronic bed supporting “Redemption Song” feel organic.

Many listeners will be eager to ask what exactly The North Star refers to. These songs echo the Old Testament prophets in their use of imagery and steadfast resolve to bring into focus the blinding light of a God in whom lies a fierce passion for justice for the downtrodden and redemption of the broken. The presence of God is portrayed as manifest in the actions of His people. “Disappear” hones in on a simple plea for both the oppressed and the rescuers, the freedom fighters on mission worldwide: “don’t hide Your face, I need to know You’re here, and all the rest can disappear / Now more than ever, I need to feel You near, and all the rest can disappear.”

With The North Star, Remedy Drive gives the concepts of redemption and justice skin and bones. The songs are sonically confident rock and roll tracks urging listeners on toward a gospel that moves, that takes the hand and meets the eyes of the oppressed without looking away.

Related Artists: Switchfoot, U2, CIVILIAN

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