John Gregorious – Still Voice

gregJohn Gregorious. Still Voice. Spotted Peccary, 2016. $9.49

He was the best guitar teacher I ever had. Those were the days when I wanted to learn rock scales and riffs. “Teach me the tricks,” I would say. He was always gracious and taught me exactly what I wanted to learn. That was nearly thirty years ago. If I could press the reset button, I would ask my teacher to school me in the ways of ambient guitar.

His new album is called Still Voice. His name is John Gregorious. The record is seasoned and mature. The disc is filled with beautiful harmonies, layered with stunning background vocals that send chills up the unsuspecting spine. The album contains elements that are uniquely haunting; others elements inspire with rich texture and joyful notes.

Gregorious is a tremendous talent that needs to be heard and celebrated. Fans of Phil Keaggy will be impressed with the beautiful phrasing and will no doubt be begging for more. Still Voice is an album that is worthy of an army of listeners. 46 minutes of soul-storing music will capture the attention of music lovers everywhere. Purchase the album today!

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KUTLESS – Glory (2014)

71RkPU3N1wL._SL1500_I’ve followed Kutless for nearly ten years now.  I’ve enjoyed their music but in all honesty, it would be a stretch to say that I am numbered among one of their fans.  Last year, that changed when I took my kids to a Kutless show.  I was very impressed with four guys who were musically tight and professional.  But more important, their hearts were revealed on the stage that night.  It became evident that the gospel is the true driver of their lives as well as their music.

Their newest release, Glory has only increased my respect for these guys.  The first word that popped into my mind as I listened to these new songs was this – VERTICAL.  A few lyric samples will highlight the vertical dimensions of this terrific album:

In Jesus Name is filled with gospel-saturated themes that give listeners hope as they rest in Christ alone —

Son of righteousness, crucified, hanging on the cross, you paid the price to give us life — In Jesus’ name, our sins are washed away, In Jesus’ name, we are rescued, we are saved.  The love has come to make a way for us.

In Jesus’ name, there is freedom for the broken, In Jesus’ name, there is healing for the hopeless — For all our days, we rest in Jesus name.

You Alone fixates the attention of worship on God in all his glory —

At the Cross, You stretched out your arms, Now You wear the scars, You wear the scars — At Your Name, every knee will bow and every voice will shout, we will shout.  There is no one like You, No one —

Great is the Lord, Ruler of all, You Alone, Conquered the Grave, You are the Way, You Alone, You Alone.

This album is presented as an act of worship to a holy God.  It is filled with cross-saturated lyrics that magnify the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And the music perfectly fits the God-centered song writing.

Many have commented in recent days that Kutless has finally arrived.  I would stand in hearty agreement and note that their arrival has everything to do with remaining faithful to the gospel.  My prediction: Glory will win the Dove Award  but will probably be passed over when the Grammy’s are issued.  My guess is that the boys in Kutless could care less.  With hearts that are vertically fixed, their gaze is upon the Savior of their souls instead of the approval of men.  Their reward will never perish, spoil, or fade!

5 stars

SACRED WARRIOR – Waiting in Darkness (2013)

swThe 80’s was the decade of great Christian music.  Stryper led the way and several other bands followed.  Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Holy Soldier, and Guardian set a new direction and gave musical hope for a multitude of young people who grew tired of what passed for “music” in that generation.  One band that rose up during those formative years was Sacred Warrior.  What made this band special was their no-nonsense lyrics that confronted listeners with the biblical gospel.  They were never afraid of confronting sin and speaking plainly about the problem of evil.  SW eventually broke up and went their separate ways.

Almost thirty years later, Sacred Warrior has returned with a new lead singer and a fresh, updated sound.  Their new album, Waiting in Darkness has all of the features described above.  The only difference is this: The music is faster and the rock is heavier.  In fact, this is their heaviest album to date.  It should come as no surprise that this brain-rattling music is accompanied by the same non-compromising approach to the gospel.  Each song on the album is a testimony to the gospel of grace.

Track by Track:

The album begins by addressing the problem of evil and the reality of redemption:

Desperately wicked we are born Corrupted seeds/This stronghold grips humanity/The curse of sin

Flesh and spirit raging on the war within/Life or death cursed or blessed the choice is given/In the perfect sacrifice a hope remains                                                   Redemption by shedding of blood love overcame

The title track, Waiting in Darkness is a heavy metal exposition of spiritual warfare:

Through your anger they fuel the fire/Feeding off of your flesh’s sinful desires/Lies and confusion your faith put to the test

Focusing in on all of your weaknesses/We must be vigilant to thwart their evil plight/Be strong in the lord and in the power of his might/Be prepared for war

In Dust and Ashes is a Job-like lament written in the first person that is sure to grip the attention of anyone who is enduring a dark night of the soul:

Oh lord hear my cry/I’m a man with many troubles/ In the regions dark and deep /This world lies heavy on me/Your steadfast love remains/Even though I feel abandoned/Invade my soul/Break the chains of doubt and sorrow/Skin for skin all that I am/Will bless your name in your remain

In dust and ashes I repent/Resolved to make you my content/In dust and ashes I confess/My love for you within this test

Fear Me is a bold declaration of the sovereignty of God.

I speak and the waves obey I am governed by none, sovereign over all  Wisdom begins and ends with me/All authority is mine and I’ll put an end to evil’s reign   For vengeance is mine says the lord/Fear me like you’d fear a raging fire/You’d never run into the flames/Respect keeps you from the pain/Or the ragin of the ocean/You’de never jump into the waves and sink to your grave

Fear me

To deny that I exist/ Suppress the truth for a lie professing to be wise/The wrath I hold will be revealed/This world I will destroy                                                                 Judging all who reject my name

Fans of A.W. Pink will immediately wonder if the guys in Sacred Warrior have been meditating on the classic, The Sovereignty of God!  

Long Live the King continues to confront the listener with the sovereignty of God over all things.

He is the lightning he is on high/Always and eternal and his love will never die/He is forever the answer to the rhyme                                                                                      Of what will be for you and me before the start of time

I hear the thunder I hear the call/The armies of his angels from the royal temple hall/One day is a thousand years, still he’s drawing nigh/Lift up your voice unto the sky/shout the battle cry

Long live the king, Long live the king

Jealous Love is a ballad that glories in the Cross of Christ.

sac

Day of the Lord is the token eschatological metal anthem and is rerecorded from their first studio album, Rebellion.  This one is a real blast from the past!  This is the kind of music that put Sacred Warrior on the map.

Fans of Sacred Warrior will only be encouraged by their latest record.  The music is tight, sounds current, best of all – exalts the Lord Jesus Christ!

THEOCRACY – Remastered and Remixed (2007)

theocracyThe self-titled release by the Atlanta-based band, Theocracy first appeared in 2007 but has been out of circulation since that time.  For several months, fans have long-awaited for the release of Theocracy’s original album – an album that has been remastered and remixed.  On November 19, fans around the were thrilled to listen in to Matt Smith and the boys hammer out their unique style of Stryper meets Dream Theater heavy metal music.

Track by Track:

After a 80’s-like keyboard intro the album begins with a double-base drum anthem that celebrates victory in Christ.  Here’s a few lines from Ichthrus.

Forced into the catacombs
unite to praise the King of kings
they fear a revolution
and the power that He brings
heaven’s sons stand as one, as believers
in the blood of Christ
even in death we have true life

CENTURIES FLY
BUT THE FLAME IS STILL ALIVE
THE MAY HIDE IT, BUT IT WILL NEVER DIE
CARVED IN OUR SOULS,
SEE THE TWO HALVES OF THE SIGN
THROUGH THE AGES HIS GLORY WILL ARISE
FOR ALL TIME

The Serpent’s Kiss begins as a ballad and speaks candidly about the curse of sin that has been inflicted on the cosmos.

Born into the darkness
thrown into the viper’s den
the serpent in the cradle
takes the child into its nest of sin
slowly suffocating
the souls of victims it has found
into the vicious cycle
on the path that only leads us down

Rat-race-fueled machinery
this system of corruption
have we become so cold and numb
we’re blind to its destruction?
We’re forging in the fires made of greed
Our idols made of gold
then bowing down before them
with corrupt, adulterous souls
opened eyes,
realize…

WHAT WE HAVE DONE
WHAT WE HAVE SEEN
WHAT HAS BECOME OF OUR LIVES
CORRUPTED OUR DREAMS
WHAT WE HAVE LOST
AND WHAT REMAINS
PARALYZED BY THE VENOM THAT RUNS THROUGH OUR VEINS
THERE’S GOT TO BE MUCH MORE TO LIFE THAN THIS
THE WORLD’S CARESS IS JUST THE SERPENT’S KISS

But the venom that has plagued mankind has been defeated by the power of the cross.  So the song continues …

I stand before you as a child
by this world I’ve been defiled
stained and poisoned, burned and beaten
bruised and wounded, sick and vile
with hands reaching out to you, I run
realizing what I’ve done
you take me in your arms, a reunited father and son…

The song is not only a powerful reminder of the gospel but also leaves listeners with a permanent and painful warning:

And all illusion ceases to exist
the world’s caress is just a serpent’s kiss

Mountain paints a vivid portrait of the journey that every Christ-follower faces.

Step by step the climb gets harder
my being weakens as I struggle farther and farther
flesh is weakness, darkness, sickness
my dreams are shattered, my ambitions crumbled
my will defeated, my spirit humbled once more
I am hopeless, helpless without you

The tune resembles John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress and leaves listeners with hope as they plod their way through the Christian life:

Take me to the places I can’t go
Transcending
I’m sick of living in the status quo
New Beginning
And when it seems I’ve given up
On eagle’ wings you life me up again
and this time I know, in the end
…You carried me

The title track, Theocracy is a metal dream that challenges every listener with the direct claims of Christ’s lordship:

At the center of my heart there sits a throne
That the rightful occupant’s not always
free to call His own
For how can I give the King
His place of worth above all else
When I spend my time striving
to place the crown upon myself?

The chorus hammers the lordship theme with a holy vengeance:

I TAKE MY CROWN AND CAST IT DOWN
CASTLES BURNING
CASTLES BURNING
LEARN TO GROW, GROW TO BE
A FLESH AND BLOOD THEOCRACY
TO TAKE THE LOSS AND BEAR THE CROSS
RAISE THE KINGDOM
RAISE THE KINGDOM
BURN AWAY ALL IVE BEEN
TO RESURRECT THEOCRACY WITHIN

2 Corinthians 10:5 is employed to remind Christians to submit every thought to the lordship of Christ:

and the would-be rulers of my heart
that I place upon the throne
each lead the kingdom of my life to ruin
to bring every though into submission
to tear the idols down
is to break the chains, to rearrange,
to give the king his crown

The Healing Hand is a powerful five-part masterpiece that begins with the prophecy of the Messiah – the hope of nations.  The tune leads listeners from the cradle to the Cross of Christ where the “healing hand becomes the bleeding hand.”

His kingdom forever, the Lion of Judah in strength
everlasting redemption, atonement complete
resurrected in power, as King now he stands
FOR THE BLEEDING HAND HAS BECOME THE RULING HAND

Faith-born forever, a part of His kingdom become
Or reject him, stand back
and watch his kingdom come
Alpha and omega almighty is he
Christ reigns victorious for eternity
Eternity

Several more songs grace this stunning album.  There is simply too much to share in a short review in this format.  But suffice it to say, this piece of work by Theocracy is about as good as it gets.  The music is tight, the production is crisp, and the vocals are spot on.  Again, as I have noted elsewhere, Matt Smith is one of the premier songwriters of this day.  For whatever reason, he has gone largely unnoticed – a tragedy in its own right.  This young man should be commended for his God-given gifts.  But as every God-fearing man recognizes, all the glory goes back to the Giver of every good gift.

Thanks to Matt Smith and the band for writing such God-honoring music; heavy metal music that truly honors the Lord Jesus Christ and magnifies his gospel!

5 stars

BLOODGOOD – Dangerously Close (2013)

bloodgoodAlmost 30 years ago, I saw Bloodgood open for Stryper at the Paramount Theater in Seattle.  Even though I was fired up to see Stryper for the first time, I’ll never forget being blown away by Bloodgood.  They brought an energy to the stage that I’d never witnessed before.  But more important than energy was the gospel.  These four guys made it very clear they were Christians who just happened to be musicians who loved to rock.  The music never eclipsed the gospel; rather the gospel was only magnified by their music.

Bloodgood has returned stronger than ever with their first studio album in 22 years, Dangerously Close.  The rockers from Seattle are older and more seasoned.  David Zaffiro left the band years ago and has since been replaced by the virtuoso, Paul Jackson and more recently, Oz Fox from Stryper.

The album starts off strong with Lamb of God, an anthem that delights in the person and work of Christ:

He stretched out His arms to hold you/Gave up His life to know you/Lamb of God

On His knees He washed our feet/Poured His blood on the mercy seat/Told us to love one another/Lay down your life for your brother

Child on Earth  (a song that may prove to be the best track on the album) contrasts the righteousness of God and sinfulness of man in stark terms.  The Messiah is presented as the Virgin born, Son of God – the only One who can cover a sin-stained world.   It is a celebration of the protoevangelium (the first gospel) that articulates the redemptive purposes of the Messiah that Scripture prophecies in Genesis 3 and Isaiah 9:

My sin, my sin, has gone away/The Lord has set me free/My friend, my friend beginning and end, the Lord has died for me/Virgin birth, child on     earth/Crucified, pierced his side

The child grew and the cradle fell, crushing the head of the snake from hell

Several songs have a vertical dimension that catapult listeners to Scripture soaked lyrics.  I Will has a psalm-like feel that exalts the living God and expresses trust in his Providential care.  Bread Alone expresses complete confidence in God’s all-sufficient grace.  Pray is call to humble submission before a holy God who delights to answer the cry of His people.  And Run the Race challenges Christ-followers to live faithfully before God.

On a musical note: The guitar work on Dangerously Close is a feast for the ears.  These guys are a real delight to listen to.  I’ll admit my biases up front.  I’m a huge fan of Paul Jackson and Oz Fox, two guitar players who are underrated and deserve more attention.

Bloodgood is a different band with a different sound.    But one thing remains the same.  Bloodgood is committed to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, a message that rings loudly throughout their new album.   The cross stands at the center of the lyrical content – an emphasis that is missing in a lot of Christian music these days.  Dangerously Close is a solid offering that should please longtime fans and welcome new listeners to a very good band.

4 stars

STRYPER – No More Hell to Pay (2013)

stryper albumThere’s a buzz in the music world.  Veteran rockers, Stryper have released their latest original studio album.  No More Hell to Pay, which includes the original lineup, hit the streets on November 5.  The buzz has been brewing for several weeks as the band has been releasing samples and even streamed the entire album a few days ago.  

First, it’s important to admit a strong bias, upfront.  I’ve been a Stryper fan since 1983.  Those were the days of parachute pants, cassettes, and mullets.  Thankfully, we’ve moved on.  But Stryper only continues to improve.  Four guys in their 50’s know how to deliver the goods.  This is no-nonsense, melodic hard rock that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.   This very well-produced album is their hardest rocking album to date – a venerable feast for the ears.  Michael’s vocals are as strong as ever.  The guitar work is terrific.  The visual time-keeper doesn’t miss a beat.  And we can actually hear Tim Gaine’s pumpin’ the notes on his bass!

The opening track, Revelation, is a thundering tune that reminds listeners that there will be an accounting for sin.  God’s wrath will be unleashed on every unrepentant person.  The revelation will bring a final reckoning.

The title track, No Hell to Pay picks up where To Hell With the Devil left off with a hang banging tribute that celebrates the salvation that believers enjoy in Christ.stryperband2013newpromo_638_0

Tunes like Sticks and Stones, Renewed,  Saved By Love, Te Amo, Sympathy, and Legacy highlight Michael Sweet’s powerful vocals and guitar work.  The three-part harmony that has marked Stryper for over three decades is what truly makes this band special.  And who can forget the double-solos that Oz Fox and Michael Sweet bring to the table.  These guys are underrated and deserve to be noticed.

Water Into Wine is a Christ-centered anthem that alerts listeners to the power of the Messiah – the One who healed the sick and casts demons out.

The One takes Stryper fans back to the days of ballads like Together as One and Honestly.  This powerful tune has Michael Sweet’s signature vocals and songwriting written all over it.

For all the critics who counted Stryper out – think again.  Michael, Robert, Oz, and Tim have paid their dues.  The men in yellow and black are back and they’re stronger than ever.   No More Hell To Pay may very well be the comeback album of the year!

JOHN ELEFANTE – On My Way to the Sun (2013)

51qEpzSF1gL._SL500_AA280_Kansas was my first taste of progressive rock in the early 80’s – a blend of heavy guitars, keyboards, and melodic vocals – set to complex melodies and soul-searching lyrics.  Songs like Play the Game Tonight, Hold On, and Fight Fire With Fire set a high watermark for a new generation of musicians.  John Elefante provided the vocals for those Kansas classics.  He continues his musical journey with his latest, release, On My Way to the Sun.

The first thing listeners will notice is the classic sound that catapulted Kansas into the national spotlight over thirty years ago. Strong and melodic vocals dominate the album.  The production is first-rate, the kind of work that Elefante fans have grown accustomed to.  The arrangements are tight and sound is current – really a mix of the present and the past.

The title cut, On My Way to the Sun tracks a pilgrim who learns hard lessons and ultimately comes to the end of himself: “Lately, life’s been good to me/I finally found the key to what it’s all about/This is a life that’s been truly turned around/And this is no make believe.”

This is How the Story Goes is an 11 minute progressive tune that is reminiscent of Kansas; a true feast for the ears. Elefante is quick to alert listeners about the most important thing in life, namely – one’s eternal destiny: “And this is how the story goes/You must believe it all my friends from the beginning to the end/Cause everyone lives forever/We just have to choose where my friend.”  As the tune progresses, the answer is given for people desperate for hope: “A Virgin had a Son/And a stone was rolled away/So how can we be terminal because He lives today.”  Kansas fans will swear that Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope joined Elefante for this one!

We All Fall Short is a brilliant acoustic driven tune that awakens listeners to this fundamental reality, namely, every person has committed cosmic treason against a holy God, and has as a result, fallen short of His glory:  “But we all fall short of the glory of the Lord/And if we stand on the fence it’s not a life we can afford/No better place to be than beneath His wings/And the love that we crave is the love that He brings.”

This Time is a haunting, cello dominated tune that follows a girl who gets pregnant outside of wedlock and is pressured to walk through the  horrific prospect of having an abortion.  The song is a powerful reminder that life is a gift from God – that life is meant to be cherished and treasured.  A very special song, indeed.

Confess is a gospel-exalting song that celebrates the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He offers every person who confess their transgressions: “Praise Him and fall to your knees and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord/And He’ll be faithful to forgive you of your sin/Just confess that Jesus is Lord.”

My hope is that John Elefante’s new work will attract a whole new audience.  This is masterful music that honors God and lifts the cross of Christ high!  Play it loud and worship with a heart that magnifies and exalts the King of the universe!

5 stars