An Honest Experience: ‘Above the Ashes’ by Living Scars

In their highly-anticipated second album, Living Scars has created an interesting amalgamation of theatrical and heavy sounds with a dash of electronic sprinkled beneath. Above the Ashes is not only a collection of good songs; this entire album is an experience, from start to finish.

The piano and strings on “Recalibrate” build up anticipation with the help of gentle drum samples that lead into the fulfillment of the full band joining the mix. The song keeps the feeling of an intense theatrical score all the way through, finishing abruptly with the screams of bassist Adam Renteria stating the album’s theme with the words “When the darkness comes, we will rise above the ashes.”

“Fall in Line” begins with a catchy, driving riff from guitarist Austin Schroeder. The heaviness remains throughout the rest of the piece, only fully backing off for the first appearance of the refrain. Vocalist Parker Crook demonstrates his dynamic voice throughout this piece, going from soaring falsetto to classic hard rock cleans. Lyrically, this song focuses on making the decision to live like Christ, even when it seems better to fall in line with the rest of the world.

The music intensifies with help from Chandler Crooks’ drum work in “Monument.” There’s a raw feeling of betrayal buried in both the music and the lyrics. The song ends with a breakdown that pairs well with the intro to the next track, “Wide Awake.” The mood easily shifts into a raging fight song that displays lyrics such as “I’ll stand for something and fall for nothing.”

“Escape” brings a theatrical sound reminiscent of Within Temptation; the music perfectly fits with the regretful desperation in the lyrics:

And I know what I’ve done
I spilled all the blood
And I want to change
Help me escape.”

Including guest vocals from Amongst the Giants’ Brian Boyd, “Hollow” is another anthem of pain and betrayal. The vocals compliment each other while the track beautifully melds radio rock and heavy metal breakdowns into a masterpiece.

The album slows for a bit with another perfect song pairing in “Misery” and “Deceived.” These two songs create an interlude of painfully beautiful honesty about humanity’s inherent weakness. “(Sic)” rounds off the interlude with an exquisite instrumental that perfectly leads into the escalating introduction to “Breakdown.” The invigorating music matches the words, ascending from the depths of the previous few songs:

I feel it coursing through my veins
The pressure’s rising, it’s okay
‘Cause it brings me right to you.”

“Into the Dark” is a determined war anthem featuring tasteful hints of synth among blaring guitars and raging drums. The intensity grows as the title track begins. “Above the Ashes” encapsulates the album’s theme in a passionate blend of heavy metal and uncompromising lyrics, fading into completion with a delicate score similar to the previous mellower songs.

The album officially finishes with a mashup of two previously released songs in “Broken Change (Crooked Remix).” Although the upbeat electronic sound doesn’t blend with the rest of the album, it’s an equally excellent bonus tune that’s worth a listen.

Above the Ashes is a masterpiece that honestly explores the depths of the human experience. The music feels like pain, betrayal, and triumph; the lyrics outline an epic journey of running away, repeatedly failing to stand alone, and finally returning home.

Take my life into your hands
Leave my memories in the past
Open the door to a world with so much more
Watch me rise above the ashes.”

Find Above the Ashes on Spotify and Apple Music

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

Vibrant Duality: ‘The Beast You Feed’ by VERIDIA

“There is a war between two wolves raging inside all of us. The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed.”

This is the Cherokee proverb that serves as the starting place for VERIDIA’s long-awaited debut full length album.

The road to get to The Beast You Feed has often been fraught with challenges and setbacks, a process that guaranteed that the resulting songs would have the intensity that can only be born from struggle. The ten tracks are laid out in two halves, a balanced take on the light and the dark. “The first 5 songs on the album touch on stories of selfishness, anger, a wounded, guarded ‘dark’ perspective,” lead singer Deena Jakoub explains. “The second half shifts to stories of those who brought light into my life when I needed it the most.”

That first half begins with the lead single “Numb,” a dark-edged masterpiece that explores what it feels like to numb our ability to honestly experience the world, aided by an infectious pulsating beat. “Cheshire Smile” and “Feed the Animal” continue to uncover the ways our hearts warp when we isolate them from community and connection, with “Cheshire Smile” talking about the walls we set between ourselves and others and “Feed the Animal” expressing the wounded desperation for love that still exists behind those barriers. “Ghost” sings from the ultimate haunted ground of loneliness.

Musically, this project is the most electronically-focused we have heard from VERIDIA yet. Kyle Levy’s percussion continues to provide the backbone, and Brandon Brown’s guitar work lends texture and grit, but it’s all spun together by rich and layered electronic beds. The non-organic, digital sounds play into the theme of living life automated, severed from the truest parts of our humanity. With songs like “Savage,” we see the truly exceptional range of techniques Deena is capable of as a vocalist, offering delivery and melody structure that plays into the experience of the lyrics.

The Beast You Feed hinges on “I Won’t Stay Down,” an empowering, bracing call towards hope: “Gotta keep my head up / Gotta fight until it hurts / Part of the process / Hope is in the progress / I’m rising up / Been down and out, but I won’t stay down.” This song serves as the turnaround at rock bottom, as if asking the necessary question: now the pain and dysfunction has been acknowledged, what do we do with it?

“Reckless” answers with an energetic, insistent beat that has had fans dancing at live performances for the past few years. “Dopamine” is a heart-skips-a-beat love song, with quirky instrumentation to match. Continuing to display the versatility of VERIDIA’s musical arsenal, “Perfume” is a sonically slick pop tune, reflecting on the people in our lives who carry an air of infectious joy with the lyrics “I wanna live like you do / Breathin’ love into the room.”

The album closer “I’ll Never Be Ready” has attracted a significant amount of press surrounding the fact that Amy Lee’s Evanescence played piano for the ballad, but here the star power should be far overshadowed by the significance of the story. Deena Jakoub wrote this song while walking with her father through terminal illness, with the song ultimately finding a place at his funeral. When she reached out to invite Amy Lee to provide piano for the track, it was mere months after Amy had lost her own brother. The result is a loving lament that piercingly captures the ache of loss.

As a VERIDIA listener since the days of their 2014 debut EP Inseperable, I feared that I might have set my expectations for their debut album too high. Those qualms were instantly dismissed as The Beast You Feed proves that VERIDIA can consistently deliver intentional musical excellence and a thoughtful, heart-on-your-sleeve approach to lyrics that is instantly arresting. Some of their earlier fans in the rock market may need a moment to mentally adjust to the more electronic-centric sound, but I hope they take that time to do so. What they’ll discover is a gem of an album that explores what it feels like to truly attempt to live life fully, even when it hurts.

You can find The Beast You Feed on iTunes and Spotify.

Related Artists: Halsey, FF5, Icon For Hire

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