A Redemptive Collision: Seventh Day Slumber’s ‘Closer to Chaos’

Seventh Day Slumber is at the forefront of what seems to be a resurgence– both in Christian rock as a whole, and in their own personal music and ministry. The band’s last album Found released in 2017, full of songs that saw a kind of spiritual homecoming for the band, centered on experiencing God’s grace again after a period of darkness. This summer’s follow-up seems to turn those foundational messages back and apply them to a world that is, both externally and internally for many listeners, spinning truly Closer to Chaos.

“Alive Again” sets the tone for the whole album with its gritty verses and soaring chorus, sinking deep into the tension of a desperate desire for life to collide with the places where we feel most broken. The song also makes it clear that this will be a rock record, with riffs standing front and center.

“Cold Kiss Embrace” and “Burning an Empire” bring us into the heart of the chaos, the internal pressure and societal decay that can bring us to a place of desperation. Each song is led by Joseph Rojas’s signature gritty vocals, delivering performances that bring weight to each topic he addresses. “Light it Up” serves as a note of defiance to addiction and destructive habits. Swaggering “Drama” bows out of harmful relationship patterns.

Sonically, the guitars here feel the most full, developed, and intentional of any Seventh Day Slumber record yet, under the careful guidance of Jeremy Holderfield (who also produced the project). “Man Down” comes from the perspective of someone who has reached the absolute end of themselves, a theme that rides waves of beautifully textured electric and acoustic guitar above a persistent bass line from Ken Reed.

Another notable musical facet to Closer to Chaos is the contributions of drummer Blaise Rojas, who at just 17 has already been playing with the band for 4 years. His drum fills round out the tracks, but his songwriting contributions make an appearance too on songs like “The Letter.” This raw, visceral song plays almost like a sequel to Seventh Day classic “Chris’ Letter,” updated for a new generation perhaps even more urgently in need of a reminder that they’re not alone.

“‘I think you’d be better off if I wasn’t here
I’m writing you for the last time,
Been hurting for years,’
said the page stained with tears.”

That kind of confessional has always been crucial to the core of who Seventh Day Slumber is. Their refusal to shy away from the full reality of human pain allows them to offer a hope that doesn’t feel ignorant or empty. “Sober” takes a raw look at addiction, at the tantalizing temptation of going numb, at how difficult it is to do the hard work of healing instead of just coping. But between “The Letter” and “Sober” stands “Still Breathing,” a song of honest surrender crying to God “breathing, You’re keeping me alive / my heart’s still beating, You brought me back to life.” The album wraps with “Your Eyes,” a song which juxtaposes the worst places we find ourselves in with the truth of our identity in the eyes of a God who loves us enough to choose to be with us in the loneliest places.

Occasionally a band puts out a record that feels like somehow the truest version of themselves, like they’ve laser-focused in on all the things they’ve always wanted to sing. Closer to Chaos feels like that for Seventh Day Slumber. Every song is heavy both musically and thematically, taking on raw pain with visceral guitar riffs and vocals. The scale of the heartbreak addressed on Closer to Chaos is massive, but the hope of redemption claimed as truth is even bigger still.

You can find Closer to Chaos on iTunes and Spotify.

Breaking Boundaries and Brutal Honesty: ‘Feels Like Home’ by UnMasked

Florida rap-rock trio, UnMasked, have knocked it out of the park with their third album since 2017, Feels Like Home. With a unique blend of Thousand Foot Krutch and NF with a little Eminem sprinkled in, UnMasked is breaking genre boundaries with a sound both hip-hop and rock fans can get behind.

The album opens with energetic hip-hop and heavy guitars in “Fahrenheit.” The voice of the guitarist, Josh, echoes through the breaks in the beautifully crafted chaos; the refrain steps into the mind of a person with social anxiety: “It’s getting hot in here / somebody crack a window / so I can vent my fears / to someone who’s in control.”

“Ain’t My Game” keeps the high energy going with a combination of speedy rhymes from Jeremiah “Zero” and steady beats from drummer Jeff. This song center on the transparency of the band through the many masks artists are influenced to wear.

While the raps remain fast, the beat thins and tempo slows in “Better Things.” The rap gets real, breaking into the mentality of ostracized individuals driven to the edge: “You scare me / You jamming me to bits / I can’t take another hit / And all I ever did to you was be different / How do you feel now?”

The next two tracks slow way down. A stripped down beat and acoustic guitar guide the brutally honest depiction of the music industry in the lyrics for “I Get It.” The album’s interlude “Feel For Me” stands out from the remainder of the album, featuring little more than clean vocals with a piano accompaniment. It’s a beautiful melody filled with raw pain from a depressed soul.

The album picks up the pace again with catchy rhymes and beats in “Updown.” The heavy riffs and hard rock tone come full force into the mix with “Ctrl C” and “Yeah.” The latter of the two is purely an energy booster; however, “Ctrl C” is an anthem of resistance, calling out: “We won’t, we won’t, we won’t compromise!”

Retreating back into the feel of classic hip-hop, “Night-Night” pulls you in to the realm of self-doubt and questioning that lives in the darkness when sleep refuses to come. The lyrics of this one remain as genuine as the rest of the album: “Can’t hide from the thoughts around / Can’t hide in the dark from sound / Can’t write when the ink is out / The light’s getting closer now.”

“Possibilities” begins with a passionate speech; the mood continues to grow while the song explores the concept of rising from rock bottom. It’s a song that encourages the listener to think deeper, while also perfectly setting up the album’s conclusion, “Feels Like Home.” With a nostalgic mood set by the cello of Tate Olsen (Skillet), the title track is a bittersweet look at the transition between innocence and the changes of adulthood. The song finishes with a glimpse of comfort in the words:

“I didn’t know you, but now that I do
I’ll walk beside you, my friend.”

With a variety of emotions and messages packed deep within every song, UnMasked has created an album that feels like life. Their strong convictions and brutal honesty mixed with a unique sound makes them stand out from the pack. This trio is definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Find Feels Like Home on Spotify and Apple Music

Related Artists: Thousand Foot Krutch, NF, Eminem

Personal and Musical Growth: Oh, The Horror! By Gold Frankincense & Myrrh

We are in the midst of a musical landscape that where it is increasingly difficult to thrive as a heavy faith-based band without having some level of pre-established name recognition or a backer. This context makes what is transpiring with the rising band of teenage sisters from Florida turn heads.

In 2010 Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh (GFM) released their debut album Identity Crisis and began playing shows at local venues. Over the last eight years, GFM has increased their touring schedule and built a solid international fan base.

Their latest release, Oh, The Horror!, demonstrates growth as they explore deep subject matters and introduce fans to an edgier brand of what they have self identified as “beautycore.” The album features a tight sound from musicians who are fine tuning their craft, more screaming vocals, and a continuation of the familiar melodic harmonies that only siblings can provide.

“Give Me A Sign” kicks it off as up-tempo tune that plays like a fun punk rocker, featuring vocalists CJ and Maggie harmonizing while Lulu provides a steady hand on the drums. Lyrically, the song is a cry for help from someone stuck in place and running out of time:

“Give me a sign, I need something to not give up the fight
Cause I’m lost, down to nothing, just trying to survive
It feels like I’m stuck and going nowhere fast
My life is on the line, I’m running out of time
Give me a sign.”

GFM begins to explore a more mature brand of metal with “The Other Side.” This song features thick and meaty guitars, heavier dragging percussion and increased dissonance. Lyrically, the song asks whether it is really possible to find something better, only to resolve that the grass is never greener on the other side. This is a lesson that takes a lifetime for many to learn, a subject tackled by Solomon in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes as he declared that there is nothing new under the sun.

They lighten up the mood with “R.I.P.,” a fun fight song cowritten with Josiah Prince (Disciple) that is sure to be a favorite in live sets. The pre-chorus is a hooky chant leading into a stand-up declaration that GFM is not going away any time soon.

The edgy metal sound returns on “Never Again” as they literally scream back at their doubters. They are seemingly planting a flag firmly in the ground, declaring that they are comfortable in their identity– they no longer have an identity crisis.

“I will stand my ground, I won’t apologize for who I am
You will never break me, You will never break me.”

“On the Inside” follows as an anthemic rocker celebrating beauty that goes beyond the surface level, the strength and character that is found within that can’t be taken away even though we may get scars and flaws on our body.

“Can You Promise Me That This Will Never End” wraps the package in a neat bow, tying the theme of the album– growth, maturity, confidence in our identity, and finding a place in the world– together nicely while staking their claim as a staple in the hard music landscape for the foreseeable future.

The GFM sisters brought their A game on Oh, The Horror! as they continue to make music that is not only fun to listen to, but speaks truth to our souls and encourages confidence in who we are as people.

Oh, The Horror! can be found on iTunes and Spotify.

Pushing the Limits On Album Eleven: Native Tongue by Switchfoot

Switchfoot has solidified their place in the music world over the course of eleven albums after first becoming household name with the anthems “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move.” One might think that with a career spanning 23 years they would be locked into a sound and not pushing boundaries. Switchfoot however has never shied away from expressing their thoughts emphatically or exploring new ways to express their musicality.

Native Tongue begins with the raucous “Let it Happen.” This song has a driving melody, but lyrically speaks about finding the meaning of life with lyrics such as, “This life is hollow and mostly borrowed, the voices are screaming, but where is the meaning? Noisy crescendos behind closed windows.” The album moves further into exploring life’s meaning with “Native Tongue.” This upbeat song drives the message home through melodic tones, guitars, and lyrics such as, “love is your language, love is your native tongue.” Switchfoot has always seemed to want to bring unity through their music, and tracks like this are no different.

The third track on the album, “All I Need,” is more of a ballad in nature. It is still full of lyrical content speaking of needing love and connectedness, as the chorus rings out in Jon’s clear vocals: “All I need is the air I breathe, the time we share and the ground beneath my feet. All I need is the love that I believe in– tell me love, do you believe in me?

The fourth track kicks into overdrive. “Voices” seems ambiguous in its meaning at first listen, even if the music and lyrics do draw you in. The meaning can be found in the bridge: “every moment crowded with choices, speak to me and drown out the voices.” While it is not clear who the person is speaking in this line, one could think that it might be God, speaking through the noises of life, and a conscience trying to push through distractions.

The album moves to the fifth track, “Dig New Streams,” which is a completely different sound than the previous four tracks, leaving the listener wondering what the next track is going to entail. It also shows that Switchfoot is never one to play it safe musically or lyrically. This song once again speaks of love and unifying differing sides, something that is not unheard of on previous Switchfoot albums like Where the Light Shines Through with the song “Looking for America” or the track “Politicians” off of Nothing is Sound.

The sixth track shifts into an easy to love track, “Joy Invincible.” It is in a different gear than what has been heard in the previous five tracks. The vocals are ethereal when you hit the chorus, with lyrics like “Hallelujah nevertheless, was the song the pain couldn’t destroy. Hallelujah nevertheless, you’re my joy invincible.This song is one that makes you smile at its lighthearted sound and will be one that may end up being hummed after a listen. The next track, “The Hardest Art,” follows the same vein with a more melodic sound. This track is definitely a surprise from Switchfoot, as it is a different sound musically for them. Kaela Sinclair’s guest vocals marry well with Jon’s in this pop-synthesized track with some great lyrical content:

Every movie makes love seem easy
They fall in love like the fire burns.
And maybe I’m the only one,
but it feels like love is the hardest art to learn
.”

The last seven tracks of this album follow the same pattern as the first seven tracks. They leave the listener guessing what will be next on this musical roller coaster of an album. You have driving tracks like “Can’t Take My Fire” and “We’re Gonna Be Alright,” while mixed in between are moving ballads like “The Strength to Let Go” and the album closer “You’re the One I Want.”

If fans of Switchfoot thought the first album out of hiatus was going be a rehashing of something already done in the band’s storied career, this album tells a different story. It tells a story of life, love, seeking, searching, and redemption. If this is the culmination of 23 years, it is exciting to see what the guys from San Diego, CA bring to their next album!

Listen to Native Tongue on Spotify and on Apple Music.

This review was contributed by Sharayah Franklin.

Hope in the Dark: “Animal (Feat. Jake Jones)” by Out of Black

Based out of Nashville, Tennessee, Out of Black formed in 2016, quickly releasing their first EP a year later. They started out strong, with their single “Voices” making it to the top 20 of Billboard’s Christian Rock Chart in March of 2017. Their newest single shows that they’re only getting better.

Beginning with a driving riff and intermittent bass drum combo before rapidly picking up into a raging hard rock track, Out of Black’s single “Animal” is reminiscent of Three Days Grace with a modern twist.

Drummer Cody McAskill picks up the intensity as guitarist and singer Matt Black starts in on vocals, angrily singing about the internal struggle of fighting against the evil of human nature. When the chorus comes around, Jake Jones (As We Ascend) adds his voice to lyrics such as: “I see you everyday / My reflection isn’t even me / We’re not the same / You’re an animal.”

The chorus breaks and leads into a quick yet intricate guitar solo, where the influence of the project’s producer, Andrew Stanton (Disciple, I Am Empire) rings through. The track maintains its power, finishing on a scream and one last blaring chord.

Out of Black is definitely a band to keep an eye on if you like heavy, hard hitting music with a strong message of hope in a dark world.

You can find “Animal” on Apple Music and Spotify

Related Bands: The Protest, As We Ascend, Three Days Grace

Symphonic Masterpiece: ‘Castaway’ by Mirratal

Earlier this year, we introduced you to Mirratal, a symphonic metal band from The Ukraine. Their lead single, “Abyss of Lunacy,” left us all wanting to hear more from the rockers.

The wait is over as Mirratal released their debut full length album on January 30th. Castaway is a polished musical adventure that will sweep you away on a mystical journey, searching for hope and purpose.

After kicking things off in a big way with “Abyss of Lunacy,” the sound gets even bigger and fuller with “Poison.” As a brass musician, I have profound appreciation for a well-balanced mix that is thick and heavy in the bass and percussion and blends to the upper ranges. Castaway does not lack in echoing percussion reminiscent of something heard attending The Philharmonic Symphony in New York.

“Timeless Sea” is a song of reflection, opening with Andril Pavlenko on the keyboard with what sounds much like an oboe playing a mysterious but lovely tune. After a spoken word completes the introduction softly, this rocker explodes into a full-on shred fest in the chorus, featuring lead singer Igor Roshenets demonstrating his rangy vocal chops. The title track features a majestic instrumental that would fill a concert hall, while continuing to fire on all cylinders with driving guitars and synthetic keys.

Not only is the music magnificent, but the message is equally powerful throughout this collection of 10 tracks filled with themes of hope and freedom. “Find Your Name” plays like a metalcore track featuring Katrina Kapshuk opening the song with powerful vocals before being joined for a duet on the bridge and chorus by Roshenets. This song is about overcoming depression and believing in hope.

“After years of darkness, rising sun will shine upon your back”

As the album continues, it seems to get heavier and more dissonant. “Distinguished Phrases” is a frenetic headbanger featuring drummer Sergiy Ivanov skillfully tending to his craft, pushing the pace with plenty of snare drum. “Mystery” invokes sensations of sitting in a rock opera on Broadway, as it tells a story of searching high and low for answers.

“With emptiness inside your soul
You’ll go around the world
To find a mystery”

“Run” immediately brought back memories of watching the entrance of former WWE wrestler The Undertaker. Cue the pyrotechnics as the band sings about the competing concepts of doomsday and hope. The onset of minor chords seem to fit the feeling of unsettledness looming over this song.

“Sounds” is a triumphant song ultimately leading into an impressive instrumental bonus track, “The Wind,” which I would challenge any marching band to take on next fall.

With their full length debut, Mirratal does not disappoint fans of powerful and skillful musicianship while telling stories of hope, love and seeking. Castaway is a masterful collection of songs that will deliver for expectant listeners.

Find Castaway on Spotify and iTunes.

Related Artists: Trans Siberian Orchestra, RED, The Philharmonic Orchestra

Fresh Pop And Funky Beats: ‘Brand New Day’ by 7eventh Time Down

7eventh Time Down has always made upbeat music that edifies the church, with hit songs like “God Is on the Move” and “Just Say Jesus,” but a new term might be needed to describe the musical style on their newest album Brand New Day.

The best way to describe the multitude of elements happening throughout the album is to call this music “funk pop” (you heard it hear first, folks). While the overall sound is rooted in modern pop, 7eventh Time Down carves a niche by mixing in components familiar to funk music like dance worthy beats, rhythmic bass and thundering drums.

Taking it a step further, “Make It Count” and “Help Me” blend hints of urban and hip hop sounds with the overarching funk pop sound. All of this results in a refreshingly fun and high-energy album that keeps the pedal to the floor, daring listeners not to move to the beat.

The message to The Church is made clear from the top. “I Have Decided” firmly plants the flag while invoking familiar lyrics from the old hymn of the same title.

“In a world that stands divided
Let the church stand united
If you’re with me, let me here you say
I have decided

With my hands and my feet
With my heart and my voice
I will follow Jesus.”

The album continues to dive deep into faith, worshiping Christ and talking about what following Him looks like, each song building on the last. “Let Me Tell You” is a song about how Jesus changes us through grace and “The 99” describes a God who loves us so much that He will travel to the darkest corners to find and bring us home.

“Make It Count” leads with guitars that lend to a reggae feel before it crescendos into the booming chorus declaring that we’re running out of time to make our lives count.

“Right now it’s a new day
Another chance to live your life the God way
Before the light burns out
Before the time runs out.”

Turn heads by turning up the bumping title track on your car stereo. “Brand New Day” is the purest funk track on the album, declaring that it’s “A brand new day with you” and that “I cannot deny the Truth.”

After a worshipful pop tune, “Can You,” the album enters the final turn strong with “Help Me” before closing with a mic drop of a song.  “Basic” leverages a hooky beat and an in-your-face message to leave listeners contemplating what God’s love looks like.

“This love ain’t basic, it covers all bases
Walking through the room, got you guessing who it came with
Wider than the space is, deeper than the bass hits
Hooky like this beat I’m cooking up in the basement
This love ain’t basic.”

With Brand New Day, 7eventh Time Down has achieved the task of appealing to fans of nearly every genre in one album. From worship and pop that to hip hop and funk, this album will have you dancing in both body and spirit.

You can find Brand New Day on Spotify and iTunes.

Related Artists: TobyMac, for KING & COUNTRY, Newsboys

Born of Fire: ‘Dawn of Destruction’ by The Persuaded

(Content note: Self-harm, suicide)

The best rock and roll is always born of fire, be it the fire of our own personal hells or the fire of the Spirit that ultimately burns us clean. The Persuaded’s full length debut Dawn of Destruction is born of both.

Comprised of 4 songs from prior independent EPs and 6 brand new cuts, Dawn of Destruction ushers in The Persuaded’s era with Rockfest Records. It’s a long-overdue fulfillment for a band who has spent seven years navigating the brutal local show circuit, lineup changes, and personal devastation. A year ago, The Persuaded was considering calling it quits. Now they’ve released what promises to be an early highlight of metalcore in 2019.

The weight of personal challenges and the confusion and anger of betrayal blaze through songs like “Betrayal” and lead single “Wolves.” The riff from Cody Phillips that kicks off “Wolves” instantly hooks the listener into a tale of disappointment and abandonment, told by the back-and-forth vocals of Josh Honea and Joseph Vargas.

You’ve burned your bridges
And watched them fall
You fake innocence to fool them all.”

“Forced Silence” takes that theme and explores it on a broader level, addressing a world that demands apathetic conformity. This song shows off the unique fusion of metalcore and more traditional hard rock sounds that The Persuaded concocts, riding a frenetic drum pace from Trent Russell that instantly reminds of metal music while more melodic elements and full-bodied rhythmic guitars take over in the chorus.

Other songs recenter from external threats to introspection, addressing the internal demons of depression, addiction, and even contemplated suicide. “The cuts on my wrist, they betray me once again / I’m tired of living like this now / God break these chains from me” the song “Save Me” cries over a raw wall of guitar that adds weight to the sense of desperation. This song also moves us beyond the pain of personal and relational struggle, looking to God to provide release. The album’s one ballad, earnest “Heavy Heart” pleads “Take this heavy heart / It wants to be light / Make me new in Your sight.”

That plea is firmly rooted in songs that serve as declarations of truths that hold beyond the burn of betrayal. “Unashamed” is a passionate, melodic creed, voiced with some help from guest vocals from Kevin Young (Disciple). The feature feels fitting, a rock veteran joining his voice with a newly rising band, emphasizing together the message of the chorus:

Even through the darkest night 
Your light will shine in all our hearts
No matter what life throws our way
We’ll shout Your name
We are the unashamed.”

That determined declaration carries through previously released “To My Brothers,” a song that calls to those who have faltered and struggled to take heart and remember hope and purpose. Album closer “The Fire” wraps the set of songs with an invitation for the Spirit, calling on deeply Biblical language as it sings “Baptize me in Your fire / Let it wash away all my past mistakes / Touch the coal to my lips / Until all the sin has been burnt away.”

One of Dawn of Destruction‘s deepest strengths lies in the fact that it’s unafraid to put songs of great darkness and songs of great faith side by side. In doing so, The Persuaded acknowledges the reality that even a life lived in the footsteps of Jesus will walk through scorching trials. This honesty extends an invitation to others, showing by example that perfection is not required in order to be loved by God. In fact, the juxtaposition of faith and pain beautifully proves the concept The Persuaded built their band around: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

You can find Dawn of Destruction on Spotify and iTunes.

Related Artists: Memphis May Fire, Amongst the Giants, RED

Indie Artist Spotlight: Southern Roots Shine On Eric Van Zant Debut

Former 7eventh Time Down lead guitarist released his debut self-titled four song solo EP in October 2018, and listeners will find it to be a departure from the pop/rock sound heard in hit singles like “God Is On the Move.” The self-titled debut Eric Van Zant is a return to the guitarist’s southern rock roots, heavily influenced by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton and other great southern rock artists. The debut from Eric Van Zant is sure to become a fast favorite for fans of the recently disbanded Third Day.

The album kicks off with “Devil’s Neck,” which plays like a Skynyrd acoustic ballad and is a nod to how powerful and influential a prayer warrior Van Zant’s mother was in his childhood:

“When her knees would hit the ground
Every demon started leavin’ town
Mama kept her foot on the devil’s neck.”

“Set it on Fire” is a fitting title for a blazing song featuring a full band backing Van Zant’s powerful vocals.  He also shows off his guitar chops here, shredding on rangy licks throughout.

“Fight No More” is a foot-stomping rocker with a steady and driving tempo, rhythmic guitar and storytelling lyrics about moving on from a disagreement and seeking the Lord for a better way.

“I asked the Lord for answers
Gotta be another way
Back and forth for hours
The answer stays the same…
I’m not gonna fight no more.”

The much too brief EP closes with called “She Prays,” which is a soft ballad filled with lyrics of reflective love, gratefulness that a loved one takes time to pray.

With his freshman solo project, Eric Van Zant perfectly brings forth not only his musical southern rock roots, but also unabashedly shares heartfelt lyrics of faith in God.  The best thing about this EP is that he is already working on a follow up project.

The self-titled debut EP from Eric Van Zant is available for streaming on Spotify and iTunes. Learn more by visiting www.ericvanzant.com.

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