For Disciple, Long Live The Rebels is more than just the title of their newest album: it’s a mission statement, a carefully encapsulated ideal, that has shaped and driven the band’s trajectory since Kevin Young formed it well over 20 years ago. Part of that ethos involves reinventing the norm–even when it means challenging their own internal status quo.
One of the things that made Disciple’s 2014 album Attack so strong was that, even following a massive lineup shift and a transition to independence, it was still exactly the kind of album that Disciple fans would hope for and expect. What makes Long Live the Rebels excel is in many ways the opposite: the band takes the listener off-roading into uncharted sonic territory, embracing the unexpected both musically and thematically without ever losing touch with their core identity. For the first time, Disciple turned to veteran producer Aaron Sprinkle to help hone that direction, and the result is one of the strongest rock outings of the year.
This is immediately evident on album opener “First Love,” which begins with an otherworldly, haunting intro before diving into a desperate plea: “take me back to the moment we were so close that our hearts would beat as one.” A cleanly executed solo also serves to introduce guitar textures that push the boundaries of past Disciple albums, proving guitarists Andrew Stanton and Josiah Prince have fully come into their own. Several other solos on the album reiterate this, with guitar tones ranging from full-bodied and gritty to soaring and sharp.
One of the most clear forays into new territory occurs on “Come My Way.” Disciple carefully layers guitars, a steady percussive bed from Joey West, electronic elements and Kevin Young’s signature unbridled vocals with some strong backing from Josiah Prince to create a textured, brooding musical masterpiece. The song is a conversation with the enemy of our souls, captured in lyrics that are equal parts beautiful and chilling: “There’s no hiding from the whispering that’s like screaming in my ears / there is no shelter from this offer when the only question I can hear is ‘are you gonna come my way?’ / Yesterday I might have said yes, but not today.”
“Secret Weapon” carries a similar dynamic to “Come My Way” with its diverse musical textures and hint of electronic programming, but with an extra dose of adrenaline. Album closer “Empty Grave” upends expectations all over again, serving as a hard-rock-meets-southern-gospel hymn. Backed by seamlessly interwoven guest vocals by Joyce Martin Sanders of The Martins, Kevin Young channels all of his southern roots into the gospel-centric chorus: “I was so empty the day that You found me / kneeling at Your cross I find a place that I can find new life / You resurrect me, leaving an empty grave.”
It’s noteworthy that Disciple has managed to explore new ground in a way that is such a graceful progression from their past work that it will still feel instantly familiar to fans. Title track “Long Live the Rebels” is firmly rooted stylistically in classic Disciple tones, as is the raucous anthem “Underdog Fight Song.” The passionate expression of the love of God, a hallmark for Disciple, is expressed in a new way on “Erase,” a tender promise from God to “erase your yesterday.” “Spirit Fire” is another song that pulls heavily from the sound of albums past while lyrically centering heavily on the Holy Spirit–a topic rarely addressed so frankly in Christian music.
Although Disciple’s signature absolute allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ remains integral, this album’s themes are more complex, subtler and often significantly darker than those on Attack or even O God Save Us All. “Spinning” captures the questions that arise from living in the tension of redemption and tragedy on both a personal and a global level, finally confessing “I don’t know if I can handle Your answers to the questions I have inside my heart.” Disciple has always soundtracked the road walked by those following Christ. Long Live the Rebels captures the full range of that experience better perhaps than any Disciple album yet, acknowledging that the life of a Christian choosing to step in the footsteps of Jesus rather than following the mass consensus of the world will frequently be lonely, difficult and painful–but ultimately, completely worth it. As “God Is With Us” summarizes beautifully, “the strongest darkness can’t contend with where my help comes from / Their words cannot stand against us / for God is with us, God is with us.”
Even beyond the context of Disciple’s broader discography and the reality that this could easily be named their strongest album yet, Long Live The Rebels features songs unlike anything any other band is currently creating. Their masterful use of an array of guitar sounds, subtle touches of electronic elements, unchecked vocal passion and raw, redemption-rooted lyrics prove Disciple is still one of the best in the hard rock business. Their songs continue to voice vital battle cries for their fellow spiritual rebels.
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