2020 brings a rare moment of clarity where we look both behind us and before us, reflecting not just on the year, but a whole decade. The 2010s were a decade of change in the music industry: the decade when streaming became king and the bottom fell out of music retail. The decade when social media went from a toy to one of the most powerful marketing tools in the world. The decade when crowdfunding and direct band-to-fan relationships became normal rather than outliers. The decade when the label system had to evolve.
What we find on the other end is a changed landscape full of bands who had the heart, passion, and musical skill to endure the seismic shifts in how music is made and shared. At the end of one decade and the beginning of the next, the Rock On Purpose staff took some time to reflect on the albums that shaped the musical (and personal) landscape for them over the past 10 years.
Life Screams by Lacey Sturm
There are so many influential albums that have been released in the last decade, making it a tall task to choose one to declare as king (or queen) of rock. I have to consider how the decade unfolded for me—from overcoming seasons of depression and family challenges, to celebrating incredible moments, to everything in between—and truly in those moments there was one voice whose wisdom I respect and heard more clearly than any other.
Lacey Sturm released some of the most influential music with Flyleaf, songs that will transcend generations. Her debut solo album has plenty of lyrical and musical depth to do the same. Life Screams dropped in February 2016 to critical acclaim and was among the best rock albums that year.
From hard rock songs featuring the famous Lacey Sturm screams like “The Soldier” and “I’m Not Laughing” to message-driven songs like “You’re Not Alone,” this project tells stories that speak life and light into deep and dark crevices by addressing themes of abuse, addiction and depression with a focus on bringing hope and love through eternal thoughts.
The album is so well done, from the first single “Impossible” to the closing “Run to You.” My favorite song on the album is a live recording of a cover of a 1978 song by The Police. “Roxanne” is an amped up and gritty reimagining of this song, performed with passion by the queen of rock, Lacey Sturm, in all her screaming glory.
Life Screams is in regular rotation and continues to be an uplifting force when I need to hear a message of hope and allow light to transcend darkness in my life.
Suburba by House of Heroes
by Jessi Zilka
Ohio natives House of Heroes may have made me a fan with The End is Not the End, but their fourth studio record Suburba is what roped me in for the long haul. This record boasts some of the most popular and well-produced songs in their discography, and it is easily one of the greatest albums to drop in the past decade. Released in August of 2010, its aesthetic feels inspired by hot summer days spent in the backyard beating the heat with water hoses, sprinklers, and popsicles. The band would go on to release two more albums before the end of the decade, but neither of them hold the same power and energy that Suburba contains. It moves fluidly from start to finish, with surprises and hidden themes around every corner.
What I’ve always loved in particular about House of Heroes is their knack for writing songs that hit you straight in the feels, and Suburba is a brilliant display of that talent. Songs like “Relentless,” “Salt in the Sea,” and “Burn Me Down” toy with spirituality and understanding eternity. Yet in the same breath, they are able to churn out songs that tell a unique, captivating story. “Independence Day for a Petty Thief,” “God Save the Foolish Kings,” and “Love Is For the Middle Class” bring a loose, open-for-interpretation plot line to the mix. They may claim to have not written a concept album until Colors in 2016, but arguments can be made every album they’ve written contain some form of concept work—Suburba is no exception.
An old friend from my college days once said that House of Heroes is the greatest band that no one knows about. While that breaks my heart because I want others to know and love them as I do, it’s a true statement. It’s my opinion that House of Heroes has never made a bad album and contains some of the most talented singers and musicians I’ve ever seen, yet they get overlooked time after time. Suburba is an album that could be placed in a similar league with some of the greats like Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown or Anberlin’s Never Take Friendship Personal. Its beautifully polished vocal harmonies paired with its full throttle instrumentation make it a powerhouse record, never giving a moment’s rest until the last second of the last song is done. Suburba’s quality and timeless nature stamps it in history as one of the best alternative albums of the 2010s. House of Heroes is a force to be reckoned with, and Suburba is a record to remember.
Victorious by Skillet
by Sharayah Franklin
It might seem odd to have such a current release on a list looking back at the past decade in music, but I think we’d be remiss to not have an album by Skillet on this list. I have been listening to Skillet since their Alien Youth days, and have been a fan ever since. Skillet has been a band for over 20 years, starting in 1996, and their sound has evolved through the decades. I remember listening to Alien Youth and loving this unique band that I had found as a 13 year old, then seeing them evolve even further with the next release Collide in 2003. Little did I know, this band would carry me through one of the hardest times of my life when my dad passed away in early 2004. My parents are the ones who introduced me to Christian Rock and really gave me my love of music and concerts. My dad was always right down there with me at concerts in the pit, and he loved Skillet. Each album has spoken to me lyrically and musically as I have worked through all the feelings of loss, and as I have grown through the trials and tribulations of life each album that has come from Skillet has spoken to me through all these stages of my life.
Victorious I would say is a culmination of Skillet’s work up to this point. Every album that preceded it told a story, and Victorious is the triumphal conclusion to that journey. Collide for me would be where I would start the musical journey. This album was filled with raw emotion, pain, and angst, with songs like “Savior,” “Obsession,” and “Fingernails,” where the lyrics speak of trials and tribulations of life. The story progressed into Comatose, where sometimes life’s troubles leave you feeling numb and dead to the world, but there is hope for a “Rebirthing,” or a “Whisper in Dark,” or that it is “The Last Night” you’ll feel alone. The step after being comatose is that you have to wake up. Awake is the next album in this journey, holding such songs as “Hero,” dealing with the “Monsters,” and being “Awake and Alive.” I think that what they were saying is the next steps in this rising up out of the pain and despair is to Rise and be Unleashed. Rise is an album full of tracks that deal with questions and pain, but also pushes the listener to stand up for their beliefs and push through the pain, burdens, and worries of life. Unleashed is the final step before being Victorious. Unleashed was hard hitting and aggressive, the kind of album that was motivational to anyone who had seen the struggles of life with songs like “I Want to Live,” “Undefeated,” “The Resistance,” and “Out of Hell.”
Victorious is the apex of all of these albums. It speaks of triumph and overcoming adversity. In the many listens of this album, it not only concludes the story arc of the previous works, but musically it melds everything that was great from the previous albums. These musical elements include the stringed instruments and orchestra aspect heavily seen in the title track “Victorious,” harkening back to tracks like “Rebirthing,” “Comatose,” “Hero,” and “I Want to Live.” There is also the hard-hitting guitar shreddage that only became more polished and complex after it was introduced in Collide. In Victorious, that does not change with the aggressive songs like “Legendary,” “Save Me,” and “Reach.” Also a Skillet staple are the melodic songs that are thought-provoking and meld Jen Ledger’s ethereal vocals with John Cooper’s poignant ones. This is heard in Victorious songs like “Anchor” and “Terrify the Dark.”
Whatever they release, Skillet has proven over the decades that they do not back down from singing about the hard issues in life and speaking to what their listeners are dealing with, whether it is grief, depression, loss, anger, seeking God, hope, or questioning. Through every stage of my life thus far, Skillet has been a mainstay, an anchor. I knew no matter what there would be a song, a melody, that would speak to me in those dark, lonely places, where I sometimes felt alone or forgotten. Their songs spoke strength, resilience, and life into me, and I am forever grateful for their passion and tenacity, to be unapologetic and always willing to sing and say whatever is needed at that time.
Horseshoes and Handgrenades by Disciple
by Sam Segar
A list of the decade’s influential albums would not be complete without mentioning something by Disciple. All of Disciple’s releases in this decade are important; however, Horseshoes and Handgrenades is undoubtedly the album that has had the most impact since its release in September of 2010. Personally, this album was my introduction to Disciple, a catalyst for my love of music, and a beacon of light during my darkest days.
Out of over two decades’ worth of Disciple’s discography, “Dear X, You Don’t Own Me” and “Invisible” are at the top of the band’s most popular songs on Spotify. Songs like “Worth the Pain” and “Eternity” bring a sense of hope, while heavier fight songs such as “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and “Battle Lines” ignite fires of righteous rage and resilience.
Horseshoes and Handgrenades is a beautifully crafted album start to finish; every single song is passionate and personal. Musically, this album is just as good during the 1,000th listen as it was during the first. The lyrics speak into the depths of the soul to inspire hope, change, and an acceptance of grace.
When I first got my hands on Horseshoes and Handgrenades, I was a suicidal teenager begging for some hope to hold on to. Now, this album is frequently revisited; every song remains just as powerful as it was nearly a decade ago.
Commodity by Remedy Drive
by Chad Fenner
Human trafficking has been around nearly as long as man himself, but the current social justice environment is finally pushing back. As part of that tide, Remedy Drive attacked the issue both in words and actions with their 4th release Commodity.
The album was a departure for Remedy Drive, both in musical style as well as lyrical content. Front man David Zach stated in early 2014 that Commodity would be a counter-trafficking album, meant as a fight for freedom. The May 2014 kickstarter campaign produced an impressive $27,710, well over the $20,000 sought.
Musically, the album is darker than previous Remedy Drive albums, reinforcing the lyrical counter-trafficking theme. The album opener “Commodity,” which is also the title track, spent an unheard of 16 weeks at number 1 on the Christian Rock charts. Its heavy but slow pace builds anticipation up to the lyrically climatic chorus:
I’m a soul inside a body
I’m not a commodity no oh
Untie me I’ve gotta be let go.
Following that are songs that speak about chasing dreams, freedom, life, and happiness, sometimes pondering what life was like before the ruin.
The album begins its climax with “Throne” and a coming hope:
Oh hasten the day – awaken the dawn
Strengthened by the phrases of redemption’s song
The King is still – the king is still on the throne.
Followed by the powerful Love Is Our Weapon:
Love is our weapon of choice
Love – raise the banner – lift it up – up above the noise
Shadows they would threaten – darkness would destroy us
Without love as our weapon – our weapon of choice
Eventually ending with When a Soul’s Set Free.
Listen when a soul’s set free
You can hear the angels sing
Oh – heaven rings
When a soul’s set free.
But the album is just the beginning. Commodity became the launching point for David Zach’s Exodus Road ministry, where Zach and others are going undercover to literally rescue children out of sex slavery and gather hard evidence needed for prosecution, with over 1300 survivors rescued and over 650 arrests made to date.
Vice Verses by Switchfoot
by Mary Nikkel
The 2010-2020 decade held so many incredible album releases, songs with stories that are likely to grow with time as they become embedded in the mythos of rock and roll. When choosing just one album to write about, I was torn between choosing one that felt influential on an industry scale, or one that impacted me personally. Ultimately, I chose an album that sits squarely at the intersection of both.
The year was 2011, and Switchfoot had just stripped back their entire identity with their first independent album, Hello Hurricane. That leveled ground produced one of the most prolific creative growth periods of frontman Jon Foreman’s career. Throughout 2010 and 2011, YouTube was bursting with bootleg aftershow videos of songs he was writing— some of which would be released with Fiction Family, some of which would never see the studio until 2015’s The Wonderlands, and some of which would become the electrifying identity album Vice Verses.
In retrospect, Vice Verses is an album that seems thematically prescient, a project with songs centered around duality. “Selling the News” feels like an eerie harbinger of the “fake news” era. “Dark Horses,” an anthem written for the homeless youth in Switchfoot’s San Diego hometown, saw Switchfoot on the forefront of more socially conscious faith-based music. I could even suggest that songs like “Restless” ended up being predictive of a deep spiritual unrest in the western church.
But for me, I was a college kid trying to survive a couple years in which I would move three times, earn my degree, work 6 different jobs, learn I had a chronic illness, and get married. I was the kind of person songs like “Thrive” were written for, this aching prayer to be more than the dysfunctional survival instincts we so easily slip into. “Souvenirs” was a wistful anthem on the edge of turning from teenager to young adult, “Afterlife” was a guitar-fueled invitation, and “Vice Verses” was one of the first songs I’d learn to pick out on a guitar with aching fingers and an aching heart.
To this day, Switchfoot ends every single show with the Vice Verses closing track “Where I Belong.” I remember seeing Switchfoot play the day after the 2016 election, a day marked by perhaps the most cultural unrest, division, othering, and fear that I have ever seen in my lifetime. That was the song Switchfoot offered into that moment, a reminder of the open table, the hope of being made whole, the Kingdom come:
But I’m not sentimental:
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive.
Until I die I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon,
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong.
Where the weak are finally strong,
Where the righteous right the wrongs,
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong.
These were a few of our favorite albums, but we’d love to hear yours too! Feel free to share in the comments as we look back together!