Single Review: “Old Sin, New Skin” by Faith Head

The musical landscape in 2019 is full of computer generated electronic and synthesized sounds mixed underneath (or, in some cases, over) familiar pieces of a rock band. While the use of these tones can often create a unique style, it is still a joy to hear a classic, raw grunge performance.

Fans of post-grunge bands such as Creed, Puddle of Mudd and Three Days Grace will appreciate the latest single by Chattanooga, Tennessee based independent rock band Faith Head.

Faith Head was founded in 2015 as a “band whose focus is apologetics and other modern issues,” and in 2016 they released a 10-song album titled Are You a Faith Head? The band name came from the Urban Dictionary definition, which is “someone who holds irrational religious fundamentalist beliefs and no matter what evidence is provided to the contrary will never change.”

In December, the band released a new single “Old Sin, New Skin” demonstrating significant growth and a refined edge to their sound.

The song leads with a pounding bass line provided by Patrick Shipley, backed by heavy rhythmic percussion from drummer Gabriel Gardner before allowing space for a simple yet effective chord progression layered in by Donny Raines. All of this sets up Jimmie Webb’s powerful vocals, a singing voice distinctly made for a hard and heavy post-grunge arena rock band.

The message of “Old Sin, New Skin” is one of overcoming temptations through what is learned in scripture.  The song closes with an impressive technical guitar riff by Raines.

The single is set to appear on an EP the band plans to release in 2019.

For fans of: Creed, Kutless, Alter Bridge

Find more Faith Head on Spotify.

Faith Head is:
Jimmie Webb, Vocals
Donny Raines, Guitar
Patrick Shipley, Bass
Gabriel Gardner, Drums

Courageous Rock: “My Declaration” by Bayless

If you’re looking for hope for where rock might be headed in 2019, “My Declaration” by Bayless is a good start.

Bayless is a rock duo formed by husband and wife Jared and Vanessa Bayless. With an EP produced by Hawk Nelson’s Jonathan Steingard already under their belts, they have put in the time honing their craft. But “My Declaration” elevates their sound to true blistering hard rock, a sonic intensity calculated to match the forthright lyrics:

I wanna lead courageously, leave a legacy
I wanna surrender myself
Faith awakening, live for eternity
I’ll stand with no ovation
This is my declaration.

“My Declaration,” which was mixed Justin Forshaw and mastered by Robert Venable (both of As We Ascend), establishes Bayless as a rising force to be reckoned with. The searing, distortion-heavy guitars and impressively dynamic vocals show Bayless setting the bar high for themselves– and delivering. Lyrics centered on being willing to be the one carrying light into dark places show a refreshing level of fortitude. All of it proves that wherever Bayless goes from here, we’ll want to be listening in.

Find “My Declaration” on iTunes and Spotify.

Indie Artist Recommendation: Mirratal

Rarely does a metal band blend so perfectly the use of strings, horns and nontraditional percussion with the familiar guitar riffs and frenetic tempo of heavy metal.

That is precisely what Mirratal has been doing since forming in 2013. The band is based out of Kiev, Ukraine and is getting ready to release their first full-length album, Castawaythis month.

The lead single from that album is called “Abyss of Lunacy,” a track the band says is “devoted to the problem of information wars and propaganda aimed at the future generation, who can’t protect themselves from the influence of questionable advice and understand what to believe in.”

The rocker opens up as a staccato and rhythmic orchestral piece, reminiscent of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Just over a minute into the song, vocalist Igor Roshenets enters with a singing voice distinctly similar to Stryper vocalist Michael Sweet, perfectly in tune and time.

The vocal harmonies on the chorus add depth to the already well rounded number, and the song is made whole by a beautiful guitar solo from Sergii Stygar followed with a fun synthetic keyboard lick by Andrii Pavlenko.

A steady beat is provided throughout from talented drummer Sergii Ivanov.

Lyrically “Abyss of Lunacy” is warning the next generation of listening to propaganda and lies: “Fake press, TV and censored dreams / This reality is acceptable, but not for me / There’s nothing to hide, built prison for minds /Your children will guard the keys.

The bridge provides hope for our future: “Show me… / The one, that could / Fix this system of sin.

Find more by Mirratal on Spotify.

Mirratal is:

Igor Roshenets: Vocal, bass
Sergii Stygar: Guitar
Andrii Pavlenko: Keyboard
Sergii Ivanov: Drums



Coming Home: ‘Native Tongue’ by Switchfoot

Certain bands, certain songs, have the ability to capture something transcendent: a spiritual language that takes listeners past themselves into something shared, something that anchors us in the eternal. Few bands possess the ability to invite listeners into that place quite like Switchfoot.

Their history includes offering us sing along hits like “Meant to Live,” “Dare You to Move,” and more recently “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” and “Live it Well.” With ten albums and two decades of musical and philanthropic work behind them, 2018 saw Switchfoot pressing pause. They stepped away from the relentless pace of the road, digging deep into the roots of why they’re doing what they do. With Native Tongue, they have emerged reborn.

We’ve seen something similar once before in Switchfoot’s discography. After Hello Hurricane was essentially a deconstruction of what it meant to be Switchfoot, Vice Verses came back swinging. 2018’s year on pause has seemed to serve as a similar reevaluation for the five band members, with Native Tongue carrying the same kind of punchy assertiveness that marked Vice Verses.

But make no mistake: the songs on this album are not repeating anything Switchfoot has sung before. Listeners might have suspected that would be the case following the release of the thundering anthem “Native Tongue.” Beyond simply setting the bar for the kind of energy you’ll feel throughout the album, it also lays out the thesis statement: “love’s the language, love is your native tongue.”

The heavy emphasis on Chad Butler’s percussion and Tim Foreman’s bass on both the title track and other pre-released cuts like “Voices” once again remind a little of Vice Verses, but that only scratches the surface of what this album has to offer. “All I Need” is a poppy, sunny ride through finger snaps and a whimsical melody declaring dependence on love as a sustaining force. Smooth “The Strength to Let Go” soars through the joy of soul-deep surrender to a compassionate Maker. “Oxygen” is wistful and aching as it leans on slide guitar as well as acoustic to paint a scene of distance in a relationship, seeking resolution.

With fourteen tracks, Switchfoot had a lot of ground to explore on Native Tongue— and more than just territory to stake down, this space feel like a musical playground. Every member of the band is firmly rooted in exceptional skill, and through the course of this album each musician gets space to express their unique craftsmanship. “Take My Fire” is an absolute celebration of the guitar tone mastery offered by Drew Shirley, providing a delightful dose of riffs for those who enjoy a straightforward rock-and-roll tune. Jerome Fontamillas’ keyboard and programming expertise is formidable on “The Hardest Art,” which manages to be both a departure from standard Switchfoot sound and also one of the strongest tracks on the album. Featuring ethereal guest vocals from Kaela Sinclair, the song summarizes the core tension of Switchfoot’s entire body of work:

Maybe I’m the only one
But it feels like love is the hardest art to learn…
Love is surrender.”

As mentioned earlier, the refrain of “Native Tongue” truly is the root system this album grows from. But that theme of love as our truest self is approached in part through knowing what it is to be detached from that way of being. “Prodigal Soul” wanders through a raw, folk-leaning sonicscape as Jon Foreman poignantly confesses “I’m a prodigal soul, and I want to come home.

That longing to be at home, settled into the rhythms of a love lived and expressed, will be what pierces to the core of listeners. We are invited to participate in that longing– a longing each of us likely already knows well. “Joy Invincible” feels like a tune wrestled from the heart of any one of us in moments of tragedy and shock, fighting to be rooted in that limitless love: “Hallelujah nevertheless was the song the pain couldn’t destroy. Hallelujah nevertheless, you’re my joy invincible.”

Musically, Native Tongue is easily the most diverse album Switchfoot has ever released. From funky spiritual “Dig New Streams” to earnest rocker “Let it Happen” to closing tender love song “You’re The One I Want,” there is a delightful fearlessness in the range of sounds.

But the defining momentum of this era of Switchfoot is a magnetic draw towards divine love. This unbreakable thread has always sewn together the whole of the band’s discography, but the careful process of sifting through distractions in pursuit of foundational truth has distilled it in its purest form yet.

The joy saturating Native Tongue feels like an act of resistance. The call to participate in and come home to a love that outlasts our self-distraction and regrets will reverberate long beyond the album’s end.

Find Native Tongue on Spotify and iTunes.

Top Rock Releases of 2018

As one of the strongest years for rock in recent memory draws to a close, here are Rock On Purpose we’re reflecting on the best 2018 had to offer.

It was a year of electronic elements weaving their way through rock with more creativity than ever before. It was a year of thoughtful ballads and searing social commentary. It was a year of a new Christian rock label rising. It was a year of veterans remaking themselves and newcomers offering their voices to the genre.

There were so many good albums that we couldn’t fit them all on this list, so we’ll be adding some of your favorites to a Spotify playlist. Enjoy looking back with us!

Mary Nikkel’s Picks

1. Disease by Beartooth
Content Note: Songs dealing with alcoholism, addiction
Beartooth’s ascent has been a rapid one– with good reason. Lead singer and primary songwriter Caleb Shomo’s ruthlessly introspective explorations of mental illness, addiction, sobriety, and spirituality are in their most mature and raw form yet with Disease. When you tune into the lyrics, it’s almost hard to listen to, it’s so raw. When you zoom out to the broader musical picture, it’s a tightly muscled musical beast, tearing through the airwaves with grit and power. This album promises continued replay value.

2. Dark Skies by Fit For a King
Fit For a King is one of the mainstays of the current wave of post-hardcore acts, displaying an impressive ability to appeal to a wide range of listeners. Dark Skies manages to be somehow both their heaviest and most melodically compelling album to date. With intrepid lyrical ventures into a many shades of soul darkness, Fit For a King presents just the right blend of crushing riffs, gut-deep growls, and soaring melodies.

3. Trench by twenty one pilots
Although this feels almost like a cop-out to include due to how obvious it is, the fact remains that twenty one pilots is achieving something for alternative music that no one has managed in years: they’re making the whole world care. With yet another concept-heavy release developed in captivating detail, from the lyrics to the art direction of the packaging, Trench is another masterpiece for this duo. From sharp staccato jams like “Jumpsuit” to the searing ballad “Neon Gravestones,” Trench is an effort that gains richness with each listen.

4. Red for War by Zahna
The freshman class of Rockfest Records has been a dominate force in rock for 2018. One of those artists, Zahna, released an album so high-caliber it defied all debut project stereotypes. Red for War wrestles with betrayal, anger, and skirts despair, ultimately catalyzing a response of hope and determination. Zahna’s vocals are breathtaking, paired with instrumentation that shores up the emotional impact of each track.

5. Erase Me by Underoath
Content Note: Language, themes of addiction
This album was a difficult one for many, and undeniably controversial. But I believe that the return of genre-defining giants Underoath is best understood not as a set of belief statements, but rather as a story– a story about wrestling through abandonment, addiction, and desperation. A story from the trenches of the long, agonizing up-and-down journey of sobriety. The musically experimental and thematically relentless album hinges on the frenzied bridge of “ihateit:” “God, erase me, I don’t deserve the life you give, I don’t deserve the life you give. God, I can’t change at all, I don’t deserve the life you give.”

Honorable Mentions: Broken by Memphis May Fire, The North Star by Remedy Drive, Attention Attention by Shinedown, Obscene by Amongst the Giants

Matt Durlin’s Picks

1. Ember by Breaking Benjamin
Content Note: Mild language in “Blood,” and they explore some dark themes throughout.
My top rock album of the year came with the band that is about to set out on tour with Skillet, Underoath, and Fight the Fury in 2019. Breaking Benjamin continues to be a premier hard rock act, delivering hard and heavy music and deep, thoughtful lyrics. There are few breaks from exploring dark themes on Ember, from the opening track “Feed the Wolf” through “Blood,” an honest look at fears within. The journey is equally heavy musically, as thick and raucous guitars are backed by hard-hitting percussion and powerful vocals. I am excited to rock out to these tunes live in 2019.

2. Legacy by The Protest
After a relatively slow start to the year, The Protest dropped one of the first and best rock albums of the year in July with Legacy. This album is enjoyable to listen to from front to back and features dual guitar licks that are some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. “Knockout” is perhaps my favorite song of 2018, with aggressive vocals and an energetic chorus.

3. Still Just Breathing by Set For The Fall
This November release was an early Christmas gift for rock fans. Still Just Breathing has something for everyone, starting with “Who Am I,” a driving up-tempo track featuring Memphis May Fire frontman Matty Mullins. Set For The Fall blends sounds from alternative rock to heavy metal, and the result is everything a mosh pit of headbangers could ask for.

4. LEDGER EP by Ledger
I generally try not to include EPs on lists like this– artists with full length albums ought to be rewarded. But there are exceptions to every rule, and Jen Ledger’s long-awaited solo debut (which many expected to lean to pop and less rock) did not disappoint. Ledger EP has been in regular rotation since it was released in April and has already garnered accolades for hits like “Not Dead Yet” and “Iconic.” Jen Ledger delivered one of the best rock projects of the year with her debut.

5. Palms by Thrice
This addition to the top five may come as a bit of a surprise to metal fans, and while I appreciate the heavy, this alternative left coast rock album deserves your attention. “Hold Up A Light” is one of the best tracks on this Switchfoot-esque album. Palms is perhaps the most diverse album by Thrice since 2005’s Vheissu.

Honorable Mention: Red For War by Zahna
Just missing the top 5 on my list is the debut album from Zahna (a.k.a. Suzy Madsen). This album paves the way for a bright future as Zahna shows off her ability to pack a powerful punch vocally. There is no doubt much to look forward to from this up and coming act.

Amongst The Giants: Moving Past The ‘Obscene’

Marco Pera and Brian Boyd have been creating heavy music together since they first became friends in their youth in Florida. They played in several musical projects together before Amongst The Giants was born– a band combining elements of their musical influences with a message of inspiration and hope, resulting in an uplifting hard and heavy musical adventure. Joining Pera and Boyd to round out Amongst the Giants is drummer Blaise Rojas (of Seventh Day Slumber fame).

Their debut project, Obscene, is heavy music at its finest. The band balances the controlled screams of Brian Boyd perfectly with Marco Pera’s smooth vocals. Blaise Rojas is an absolute animal on drums, providing the backbone on which to build a hard rock outfit. Pera plants himself firmly in the discussion as one of the best in the business on guitar, running up and down the scales with technical ease.

Themes throughout Obscene are directly in line with Amongst the Giants’ mission to inspire and give hope, while connecting with people on deeply personal level along the way. There are lyrical moments that are not for the faint of heart, as the band is not afraid to tackle a problem head on.

The album starts off with driving rocker “Hollow,” a song about finding peace of mind from the circular motion of anxiety and depression. The theme of breaking chains of the past and moving toward healing continues with “Glimpse of Life.” This headbanger is a rallying cry for anyone who is struggling with depression, encouraging them not to give up hope. The chorus begins to move deeper into the experience of those who are facing mental health challenges: “And even I was barely getting by, holding out for just a glimpse of life / I can’t live like that, living by wits getting through by the skin of my teeth / There’s gotta be a better way to make it to the end.” Amongst The Giants proposes a solution in the second verse that by working together we can help each other get through dark times: “Let’s keep going, we’ll get through this together / I hope my words resonate with you and keeps you going.

In addition to inspirational messages, these songs also contain stories of facing and overcoming a myriad of obstacles we might encounter throughout our life journey. “Lost in Translation” enters with a harmonious intro before hitting back hard.  It is easy to get caught up in what others think, trying so hard to prove our worth to those that don’t want to believe who we are. After spending so much time to make someone see the truth, this song speaks about letting go: “You say that I’m fake and that’s alright / I can’t make you see inside / When you pretend to know who I am.

Obscene continues to counter that it’s what’s on the inside that counts with fiery and fast paced “Loyalty Measures.”

One of my favorite moments takes place on the title track. “Obscene” is in your face both musically and lyrically. On this screamer of a track, the band tackles the deeply personal topic of pornography addiction. Featuring the vocals of fellow Rockfest Records artist Zahna, this tune takes a look at what it’s like to be addicted to porn:  “Haunting my dreams at night and I can’t escape / What is the cure for this deadly disease / No matter how hard I try my eyes can’t unsee her beautifully disgusting face / What have I become.

As with the other tracks on Obscene, Amongst The Giants doesn’t allow for unanswered questions. The cure for this addiction requires divine intervention: “O God, I’m broken and twisted and hideous / Restore my life, restore my innocence, this is not what I was created for / This ends now and you won’t hold me back / You will never hold me down / You will never have me.

“Too Late,” which has seen success on the Billboard charts, is an anthem asking the question of whether our culture has become desensitized to repeated headline-grabbing tragedies. This hooky and melodic tune is followed by one of the most interesting songs on the record: “Ex Nihilo” is a Latin term meaning out of nothing. To connect this phrase to the lyrics, the image of a phoenix rising from the ashes is painted for listeners. The progression of being made new out of nothing is consistent throughout, proclaiming that we are created by God out of nothing, and because of Him, we have purpose.

Amongst the Giants saved the best for last on this album. “Tomorrow” is a hard-hitting song featuring slicing guitars and dissonant chords while presenting a dire warning to church leaders about not leading people astray from the truth. The lyric is taken straight from from the gospel of Matthew (18:6): “They say it’s better to tie a stone to your neck / and throw yourself down to Marinas trench / then to lead these innocent people astray / Here’s a rope for your troubles and a stone for your grave / Drown your empty heart, seek forgiveness for the lives you destroyed.”

Amongst The Giants announces their arrival– and staying power– on the hard rock scene with an intense and heavy debut. Obscene is a 45-minute hard rock experience that will leave you wanting more from this up-and-coming artist.

You can find Obscene on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: The Protest, Zahna, Seventh Day Slumber, Convictions, Memphis May Fire, Spoken

P.O.D. Comes Home With ‘Circles’

Nearly 25 years ago, an upstart California-based nu metal band introduced a brand of rock fusing hip-hop, reggae, punk and metal along with Latin influences of lead singer Sonny Sandoval and longtime band mates Marcos Curiel and Wuv Bernardo. The rockers dropped early hit singles such as “Southtown,” “Alive” and “Youth Of the Nation.”

Fast forward to 2018, and P.O.D. is releasing their tenth studio album and first since The Awakening in 2015. In the trailer for the album, Sandoval talks about how they are inspired to continue to make music by fans who have approached the band about their impact while discussing the vibe on the new tracks.

Circles kicks off with a booming reminder that we’re listening to 25-year veterans of the rock industry. “Rockin’ With the Best” feels like P.O.D. is planting their flag firmly in the ground and staking their claim as the life of the party, ready to take on all newcomers.  One of the best lyrics on this track is also a reminder of the technological advancements of the music industry since P.O.D. debuted in January 1994: “As good as it gets from past to present tense / MP3s on iPhones to tapes in cassette decks.”

“Always Southern California” is a catchy yet laid back tune that doubles as a reflective tribute to the place from which P.O.D. hails.

The title track checks in like an anthem for the streets, blending hip-hop verses with those famous Latin-infused harmonies on the chorus. “Circles” is an account of the vicious cycle of addiction, how pain can be temporarily masked but the high is never enough. “I hear you like the tough love / Then push turns to shove ‘cause / You could be my next buzz / When will it be enough ‘cause / I’m just right here spinning in circles.”

“Panic Attack” is among the headbangers sure to be a favorite for rockheads. Traa Daniels drops a steady bass line before transitioning into a filtered rap thrown down by Sonny Sandoval. This fast paced, heavy song examines what it is like for someone who is going through moments of extreme anxiety, battling to overcome the “50 million voices.”

Another tune that provides additional insight into the state of the industry is “On the Radio,” which asks why rock and roll isn’t played on the radio, even though the band still feels the love from fans everywhere they go. Though this track may not receive a lot of air play, listeners will be cranking it on their stereo systems. Feel good tracks like “Fly Away,” “Domino” and 2017 single “Soundboy Killa” are sprinkled throughout this album. These songs are throwbacks featuring more of the reggae-laced metal for which P.O.D. is best known.

Drummer Wuv Bernardo provides the steady backbone on “Listening For The Silence,” a hard-hitting rocker with a message of how to cut through all the voices of chaos and fear to listen for God in the silence. The bridge reads like a prayer: “When these words fail / Then nothing just might make sense / Are you talking to me? / Are you speaking to me?

P.O.D. solemnly asks what happened to our world and casts a vision for a better world on “Dreaming.” The closer on this 11-track LP speaks to the hopelessness of loneliness, singing with desperation “I just want to go home / It’s as far as I can go / So much more, but nobody knows / I don’t know where else to go / All alone so I just wanna go home.”  Marcos Curiel thrives on the electric guitar on “Home,” while the chorus at the end sounds strikingly familiar to the children who appeared in “Youth of the Nation.”

Overall, Circles is a fun and high-energy album that touches on themes of overcoming addictions, anxiety and loneliness. Longtime fans will appreciate that P.O.D. returns to their latin and SoCal influences as they reflect on the magnitude of what it means to have successfully been a band for a quarter century.

You can find Circles on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Disciple, Papa Roach, Thousand Foot Krutch



Living Fully: ‘Broken’ by Memphis May Fire

They say that if you’re not changing, you’re dying. It’s a saying that has rarely been more true than when applied to bands’ creative longevity. The challenge for established musical entities is how to change enough to thrive as creatives without leaving their longtime listeners behind. That is exactly the balance Memphis May Fire nails with Broken.

In the seven years since Rise Records debut The Hollow, Memphis May Fire has racked up accolade upon accolade, launching chart-topping singles and dominating the stage on tours like Warped. With the arrival of Broken, Memphis May Fire proves that not only can they climb to the top of the post-hardcore genre– they also have the wisdom and musical chops to innovate in order to stay at the top of that game.

As you can glean from the title, Broken is fueled by weighty themes, diving into the different ways we break (relationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) while holding the courage to claim the hope for healing. We caught a glimpse of this already with the lead single “The Old Me,” a moody rocker that longs to return to a time before anxiety and depression clouded daily life. “Sell My Soul” musically swaggers its way through towering guitar riffs from Kellen McGregor as it offers a scathing rejection of anyone who would try and force Memphis May Fire to shut up and sell out. “Heavy is the Weight” reinforces that declaration, incorporating a hip-hop interlude that pairs perfectly with the rhythmic structure of the song.

The frustration of relational betrayal and the dark places it can take us are a centerpiece conversation on this record, beginning with “Who I Am.” The ferocious verses give way to a melodic, confessional chorus: “it’s not fair for me to think you’d understand the darkest part of me is part of who I am.” The theme of exposed flaws ultimately severing a relationship is taken to the next level with “You And Me,” a piercingly poignant ballad sung from the place where two people realize it hurts more to stay than to leave. This track shows Matty Mullins’ prowess as a vocalist, emotional fragility resonating through the pitch perfect melody.

Musically, the band shows a clear progression towards a more melodic sound, but without ever sacrificing a thundering, heart rate raising power. “Over It” is a song fed up with stress, the frustration seemingly spit through grit teeth in the verses. “Fool” rides the steady pulse of Jake Garland’s drums while expressing the anguish of relational abandonment, also serving as one of the few songs that has a really strong presence of screamed vocals on the bridge.

That is the sound progression that is likely to surprise longtime listeners the most: although Broken does utilize the classic MMF rough-cut vocals as accents, it shies away from needing to use screams alone to create emotional intensity and weight. “Mark My Words” screams its way through transitions between verses and choruses, but overall its self-empowerment declaration against the negative forces trying to hold us back relies on tight lyrics and aggression built through instrumentation. The ability to be musically arresting (and heavy) with much less screaming is a tall order, but Memphis May Fire absolutely delivers, proving that they’re not losing momentum for an instant even as they creatively mature.

When all is said and done, the great plot twist of Broken is that yes, we might all be broken– but we’re also so much more than that. “Watch Out” is like a deep breath inhaled, centering in on confidence: “see the tables turn, feel the fire burn / once we get started, there’s no stopping us.” The album ends with “Live Another Day,” a track that summarizes the highs and lows of the songs that come before it while speaking assurance and courage directly to anyone who might be considering ending their life: “we were born to be great, don’t just throw it away / live another day.”

That call to live, no matter the pain (or the healing) it might lead you through, lies at the core of Memphis May Fire’s Broken. It asks a question worth considering: do any of us live fully before we’ve been broken?

You can find Broken on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Papa Roach, Demon Hunter, Sevendust

Regret and Redemption: ‘Still Just Breathing’ by Set for the Fall

In an industry climate that sets up more barriers than ever before for rising artists, it has become incredibly difficult to come out of the gate strong. But you’d never know it from listening to Set for the Fall, who makes mature, melodic hard rock look effortless.

Over the course of just three short years, Fayetteville, NC-based band Set for the Fall released their debut album 3 Nails and landed spots touring with Seventh Day Slumber and later Memphis May Fire. That unstoppable momentum has culminated in Still Just Breathing, a monster of a sophomore album showcasing a sound that instantly pulls the listener into an expansive emotional experience.

Part of the excellence of Still Just Breathing lies in the fact that it strikes a delicate and delightful balance between hardcore sensibilities and post-grunge, refusing to be pigeon holed in one subgenre. The crushing riffs paired with refreshingly technical guitar moments in lead single “Breathe Again” begin to reveal this synergy. The beautifully poised guitar mix from Harrison Muffley and Donovan Roybal is paired with vocals from Joseph Lassiter that reference the post-grunge sound, instantly reminding of bands like Shinedown and Seether.

That unique sound is delivered with musical intentionality and cohesion, from the frenetic energy of the guitars on “Callout” to the scalding screams on the bridge of “Liar.” Those tracks also exemplify the way that Still Just Breathing never wastes the kind of aggression that hard rock naturally provides. They put the full weight of that aggression behind the emotional experience of being broken, being betrayed by someone you trusted.

This album is certainly not heavy in musical style alone. Set for the Fall offers unflinching exploration of relational pain, regret and personal demons. “Paper Hearts” is a scorchingly honest song with a killer vocal hook that talks directly to some of the worst parts of how we react to heartbreak, offering the lyrics that give the album its title: “I know you know I know I’m left here bleeding / I know you know I know I’m still just breathing.”

“Who I Am” takes a look at self-destructive patterns from the outside, the chorus pleading like a dear friend begging someone to walk away from their own sabotage. The melody on this song is instantly memorable, the perfect opportunity for a guest appearance from the soaring vocals of Memphis May Fire frontman Matty Mullins. The project’s other noteworthy feature comes from Ryan Kirby of Fit for a King on “Judgment Day,” a banger of a song that captures cultural discord and descent with a musical fury that builds on the theme of chaos.

Set for the Fall’s voyage into the workings of the human heart brings them to some more mellow moments as well. “Counting Stars” is a lament, regretfully recounting loss. “Forever” is a love song sung from the road, singing about the sacrifice required for both those who tour and their loved ones at home. These ballad-leaning moments prove Set for the Fall has more than one sonic palette in their repertoire.

With an album that clocks in at 12 tracks (plus an intro), there is room for a lot of themes. Regret, loss, heartbreak, chaos: this desperation is deliberately punctuated by answering melodies of hope. “New Creation” fiercely screams the victory cry that comes with being set free from the worst of ourselves: “I am a new creation.” Closing track “Home,” fittingly enough, brings the emotional journey through human highs and lows to its conclusion in the arms of a divine Rescuer: “I’ll face these moments I guess until I see you again / when you finally call me home.”

There is a certain level of dangerous cheese factor that bands in this musical space often have to contend with, trying to connect with the downtrodden without resorting to the pitfalls of over-commercializing and simplifying others’ pain– a trap many rock bands have fallen into in the past. Set for the Fall side steps that hazard entirely, staying laser focused on exceptional song crafting and lyrics that try to tell a story instead of pummeling with trite truisms. The result is the kind of album that has been sorely lacking over the past decade. Still Just Breathing blew me away with its musical maturity, satisfyingly unapologetic rock sound, earnest humanity and resolute message of redemption.

You can find Still Just Breathing on iTunes and Spotify.

Related artists: Spoken, Memphis May Fire, Shinedown, Sevendust, Art of Dying

Up ↑