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

Meg Hudson of Drive Thru Society

I was 15 when I picked up the bass guitar and began playing with my older brother. The following year, my parents bought me a guitar so I could play at church and start writing my own songs.

Music has always been a way to express outwardly what’s going on inside, and the feeling of creating something so raw and vulnerable was extremely liberating for me. I had always loved singing at church and performing at various talent shows, but it’s a completely different feeling when you get to perform a song that you wrote.

In college, I was heavily involved in our campus ministry and met Greg (my now husband) through playing on the praise team. We had always talked about our love for rock music and desire to take positive messages of hope and grace into the dark parts of the world. We got married in 2011, and shortly after we broke away from the praise team to create Drive Thru Society. As most young rock bands, we had no clue what we were doing when we started, but we played passionately and fumbled our way into the scene.

The longer we wrote and pursued music, the more we started to draw material for songs from the stories of people we would meet at shows or online. Our song “Ghosts” stemmed from this exact scenario. My best friend had struggled with undiagnosed depression for years, and after some time of building our relationship she finally told me her story of her attempted suicide. She was 19 and felt that she didn’t deserve to live, that she wasn’t worthy of God’s love, so she decided to overdose on a bottle of pills. She didn’t expect to wake up the next morning, but was surprised when she did and was surrounded by nurses in a hospital room. She said it was in that moment of weakness that the Lord reached down and told her that He wasn’t done with her and started to re-write the negative thoughts that were in her head telling her that she didn’t have what it took and that she wasn’t worthy of His love.

I personally had never struggled with those things, but I felt the Lord had softened my heart to empathize with her story and used my mouth to speak for her by writing the song. While I was in the studio, she actually sent me some lyrics that made it into the song. I thought it was incredibly neat that it came straight from the source.

Through writing this song and playing it live, I can’t tell you how many texts/emails we’ve received regarding the impact that her story has had on others, which made us realize the responsibility we had to encourage and steward those who shared their story with us.

Our heart to those who have personally struggled with suicide is that it is tough right now, there’s no denying that. However, it gets better. I think as teenagers and young adult its hard to see just how big the world is. We get so narrow focused on what’s right in front of us that we can’t even comprehend that we’ll ever get past this. But suicide ends the possibility that it’ll get better and doesn’t allow us to trust the Lord to use us and teach us through those dark times.

My best friend thought she was so damaged and that no one would understand her pain (after years of being rejected because of it), but because she allowed someone in (me) and received love through that, she was able to fully receive God’s grace for her decision and step into the freedom that He has for her. You are not defined or damaged by your mistakes. When you receive the healing power of Jesus, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done because He stands in for you and makes you clean.

Genesis 50:20 says “What you intended for harm, God intended for good.” This was coming from Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and endured years of feeling unworthy, but ultimately saved them through God’s sovereign plan. There are so many moments where we intend to hurt ourselves (whether through believing negative things, self-harm or self sabotage), and we intend it for harm, but God in His grace and mercy can turn it around and use it for good like He did for my friend. Joseph was wrongly imprisoned for a time, but Genesis 39:21 says “The LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.”

Sometimes when we struggle with mental illness our minds can feel like a prison and that we are trapped to feel this way forever, but commit that scripture to memory and remember that the Lord has promised “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 / Deuteronomy 31:6). It’s easy to only look at our current circumstances and think I’ll never make it past this, but even in those moments trust that the Lord has you and will get you through it. It may not be the way you planned, and you may be in that season for longer than you expected, but trusting the Lord always outweighs us taking things into our own hands and trying to solve the situation on our own.

Remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12. Remember who the real enemy is.

Through our understanding of scripture and listening to the stories of people that have been moved by our music, it encourages us to continue writing about difficult topics that our culture is facing. We know that music has a power that’s difficult to explain in words, but is more something you feel. We want to continue to write and create in a space that uses our platform to ultimately glorify the Lord and then encourage our listeners towards His goodness.

In April 2017, Greg and I experienced one of the lowest points in our music career and really had to re-evaluate why we were pursuing this in the first place. We had aligned ourselves with people in the industry that we trusted, and after a few months of working with them we realized that we were not on the same page and did not have the same convictions. I personally had felt attacked on a level I had never experienced, and my once confident demeanor was whittled to practically nothing. Self-doubt ran rampant, and I second guessed every decision I made because I was belittled in almost every sense of the word working with those people.

We stepped back and were now faced with a huge ok God, now what? moment. Everything we had been working towards since college had just been ripped out from under us, and we had to decide how we were going to proceed forward. I was given a book during that time called Follow the Cloud by John Stickl, and I had no idea how much it was going to impact me during the lowest point of my self-esteem. John talks about how God leads us one small step at a time to prune us along the way and to deepen our obedience to Him. It would be nice if the Lord gave us a giant roadmap and we could just move through it, but then it wouldn’t develop perseverance, plus taking one small step at a time refines our character and increases our trust in the Lord.

In a time where I wanted nothing to do with the music industry and felt completely disabled to write music, I felt the Lord telling me “it’s not over yet, just keep following me one small step at a time. It will make sense eventually.” It was all I could do to take those small steps day by day and slowly allow my heart to forgive and heal from the beating it had just taken.

Through that season of healing and restoration, the Lord showed me that it didn’t matter where I was or what the end game would be, but that I am making a difference even in the daily routine of life. I didn’t have to sell a ton of records, I didn’t have to have a top radio single, I didn’t have to look perfect all the time or meet certain weight expectations in order to be effective for the Kingdom, but that an open heart towards those God loves and obedience in the small steps were what God honored. It seems so simple now, but at the time it was revolutionary for me.

My encouragement to you is that you don’t have to know the big picture, you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to compromise in your personal convictions to be used by the Lord. We took almost a year off of music and finally felt we could start writing and creating again because the Lord realigned our focus with His kingdom in mind, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since!

You are enough, and in those times when you don’t feel that way, God provides grace to make up the difference. Don’t let fear hold you back from being obedient in the small things and trusting God through the small steps. 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. the one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Step into the freedom that God has granted you through Jesus and set your fear aside because the Lord is with you!

A few months ago with this renewed heart the Lord has provided multiple opportunities for Drive Thru Society, including our song “Ghosts” being featured in an upcoming movie called Worthy. We’ve talked with Bruce Snyder (head of the project), and our hearts towards ministry and art are definitely in alignment. He’s been encouraging from the beginning and affirming that we are where we’re supposed to be. We’re very excited to be working with him and the rest of the Worthy crew on this project!

Greg and I have one more single to release, most likely in early 2019, and then we will record a full length record. We started writing a few months ago and are excited to tell more stories and share more art with everyone. We’ve talked about playing a few shows here and there, but have no immediate plans.

I hope you’ve felt encouraged to stay the course and be persistent even in moments when it doesn’t make sense and you can’t see what’s around the corner. Remember that you are loved and that you never know where the Lord will lead you next. You matter and you’re making a difference!

Farewell to Midnight by As We Ascend: A Perfect Storm

Although Farewell to Midnight is technically As We Ascend’s debut, it would be difficult to categorize it in anywhere near the same league as your usual hard rock freshman fare.

As We Ascend is a trio formed by guitarists and vocalists Justin Forshaw and Jake Jones, both formerly of We As Human, and drummer Robert Venable, best known for his work as a producer (his impressive resume includes work with diverse names like twenty one pilots, Kelly Clarkson, Megadeth and Disciple). The three veterans create a special kind of musical chemistry on Farewell to Midnight, proving out of the gate that their work ethic, passion and dedication to the craft of rock and roll are unparalleled.

As you might expect from a group formed by guitarists, songs like “Hatchet,” “We Fight” and “Watch the World Burn” display full-bodied riffs paired with searing solos. The fact that these songs are so grounded in the guitar presence is refreshing for those who might have been missing that element in recent years. The guitar work never strays into self-indulgent territory however, with songs like the addictive album highlight “Tell Me” showing off As We Ascend’s ability to balance guitars with percussion and vocal hooks to serve the needs of the song. Similarly, punchy “When the Gun Goes” features hefty guitar riffs that carry the song without overpowering it.

Justin Forshaw and Jake Jones both hold their own in their new roles as joint vocalists of As We Ascend, their voices transitioning back and forth seemingly effortlessly. Vulnerable ballad “At My Door,” which also features a guest vocal from 3 Doors Down vocalist Brad Arnold, provides a canvas for the full range of As We Ascend’s vocal dynamic to be displayed. “At My Door” also captures a subtle but poignant message of hope in Christ as the bridge sings “will I let go of the past and live for tomorrow / will I curse the hour glass as it bleeds through the night? / Can I sing for the memories without words of sorrow / sing for the hope I have when Jesus comes?

“Insulate” is another track that shows clearly that the heart of this album lies in providing hope and offering a call to listeners to move out of their own personal darkness. The searching lyrics sing out “The love that’s gone inside left a hole in your heart so wide, but hold tight: God will make you whole.” The elements of a redemptive Gospel found here are presented without apology or gimmick, woven into honest pictures of the often heartbreaking complexities of life.

The sound As We Ascend presents is developed and dynamic, boasting a unity between the three members that forges Farewell to Midnight as a tight, coherent unit. Although it could be tempting to listen to this album entirely in light of the past, As We Ascend is so much more than their We As Human roots, and they display promise that could easily carry them on a meteoric rise far beyond what their last band achieved.

With their dual guitarist and vocalist dynamic, tight songwriting and technical mastery, As We Ascend has created the perfect hard rock storm. Farewell to Midnight is a frontrunner for the best rock record of 2017, proving undeniably that for As We Ascend and their listeners, the best is yet to come.

Related Artists: Disciple, We As Human, RED

The Covering by Random Hero: Struggle and Salvation

Random Hero has built their following through a consistency of work ethic and missional focus that characterizes all the most enduring hard rock bands. With an impressive discography of independent releases under their belts, for new release The Covering Random Hero turned to fan funding, leaning on the dedicated following they’ve garnered through a decade’s worth of hard work on the road.

The Covering was envisioned as two parts: The Gift & the Curse and The Light & The Covering. That duality is definitely evident on the release. The first half has a darker tone, with songs like lead singer “Mirror Mirror” inviting introspection and establishing the need for deliverance. “Violence in Me” and “Where I Belong” further illustrate the struggles of a soul locked in addiction, calling to God for help. Musically, the band pairs theatrical, electronic elements with Joshua Bertrand’s crunchy, full-bodied guitar riffs to set the tone.

The second half, which falls under The Light & The Covering heading, soars through uplifting and redemptive territory. “Chance to Breathe” holds a strong mission statement in the bridge: “The devil wants you to think you’re hopeless, I believe we’re not that hopeless. The devil wants you to think you’re worthless, I believe we all have a purpose.” Many of the songs carry anthemic declarations in that same vein; “Fire in Me” announces defiantly “death doesn’t scare me anymore.”

Random Hero is at their best when they pair the heavy guitar riffs and Aaron Watkins’ intense vocals with an epic, theatrical sound (a dynamic fans will recognize from their live shows, as bassist Rob McDonough famously wears steampunk gear on stage). “Violence in Me” achieves this balance well, as do stand-outs “Satellite” and “Impossible.” Each of these tracks employs a vibe that perfectly sets these songs as a soundtrack for the visceral battle between sin and redemption.

I would love to see Random Hero grow and tap further into their potential when it comes to melody and vocal hooks; tracks like “Running” and “Mirror Mirror” boast exceptional, textured melodies with effortless transitions between raw screams and soaring vocals, an element I would enjoy seeing worked out more consistently across a full album in the future.

The Covering‘s strength lies in its ability to paint raw lyrical pictures the way the life-giving love of Jesus collides with our struggles, secrets, addictions and heartaches. Random Hero holds steady in a focused pursuit of offering hope to the hopeless against a backdrop of music that offers the perfect level of grit and drama to complement the themes.

Related Artists: Spoken, Disciple

IX by Spoken: Rock Longevity

Few bands have had the level of steady longevity that Spoken can boast. The title of their new record IX, roman numerals for nine representing the number of studio albums they’ve released, speaks to the reality of their work ethic and faithfulness to the calling of crafting hard rock centered on messages of redemptive hope.

Releasing less than two years after 2015’s exceptional album Breathe Again and drawing on some of the same team, IX doesn’t stray too far from the tone established on its predecessor. However, Spoken has never been one to stop pushing themselves, and there’s enough evolution on this project that it strikes the difficult balance of familiar and fresh. Single “Stronger” exists in that beautiful tension, with searing guitar riffs and a melodic, urgent chorus: “sometimes you hurt so long you don’t even notice the pain is gone.” “I Will Not Fade” has similar strengths with ferocious riffs shoring up a theme of relentless determination.

One of the way this album moves forward is by exploring new territory in both guitar and vocal tones. “Pages of the Past” sees heavy distortion on the guitars bleeding into electronic accents, creating an eerie and aggressive atmosphere that begs to be recreated live. “This Is Not the End” shows off Matt Baird’s incredibly versatile voice, soaring through a message of enduring hope.

With IX Spoken manages to transition between heavy and heartfelt ballads effortlessly. Worshipful “In My Sight” closes the record, following in the tradition of vertical musings of praise we’ve heard on Spoken records past. The song has a sense of rededication as it sings “I will trust that You are in control / I will leave all of my doubts somewhere behind / somehow along the way, I’ll keep You in my sight.” “Sleepless Nights” is also mellow and almost calming, even through the detailed guitar work in the bridge.

The themes on the album range everywhere from the worshipful tone of previously mentioned “In My Sight” to the angry ache of “Silence,” which scathingly calls out someone who has a complete lack of sympathy for those who are hurting. All of the themes remain tethered to the concept of an eternal hope in Christ that runs deeper than any betrayal or pain. “Dying Without You” phrases it this way: “I was not alone, I held the hand of all creation / Say my name, and I will run to You, fall into You / I’m to blame, and now I know it’s true / I’m dying without You.”

IX shows Spoken’s continued ability to stay grounded in their history while expanding into new corners of rock excellence. If you’ve ever wondered how to achieve staying power in a shifting industry landscape, you can find a perfect case study in Spoken’s dedication to ultimate redemption paired with their ability to keep moving forward musically.

Related Artists: Memphis May Fire, Disciple

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