Release Date: July 23rd 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Let There Be Light
- Your Great Love
- Calling on Fire
- Save Us
- I Belong to You
- Bring Us Back
- Hallelujah to Saving Grace
- Only You Can Raise the Dead
- Caught in the Middle
- From the Very Start
After being impressed by one of the standout 2012 album releases, the almost flawless The Heartbeat, Sparrow Records band Bellarive are set to release their new album Before There Was on July 22nd, again with a central theme of worship being the heartbeat (no pun intended) of the album from first acoustic guitar strum of “Let There Be Light” to last piano note of “From the Very Start”. Again asserting the fact of their influence in their music being guided from artists like Leeland and David Crowder; lead singer Sean Curran and the band have crafted my favourite worship album of the year so far (yes, even better than Crowder’s Neon Steeple!).
Initially apprehensive and hesitant of what would become of the album after listening to their promotional single “Lazarus” through watching their music video (a black and white acoustic/hard rock song with emphasis on the marrying of ambient reflectiveness and frenzied rock-n-roll); Bellarive’s latest album has since changed my mind, from someone who vaguely assumed they would deviate from their original sound, to an avid fan still. Releasing songs like “Lazarus”, “Calling on Fire” and “Bring Us Back” to iTunes before the album release date (for those who’ve heard these 3 releases, yes, the album is just as good as these three songs- maybe even better); Bellarive have the ability to write some of the most heartfelt, real and honest song’s I’ve heard since MercyMe’s Welcome to the New. As Sean articulates himself, ‘…even if it’s just for a moment, if people can realize that God is closer than they ever imagined, if they can believe and hold fast to the promises He’s spoken over their lives, we all actually begin to look more like Him…’
From the very first song “Let There Be Light” I can tell that Bellarive’s second Sparrow Records’ album is going to be a gem and one to be remembered as one of the standout pop-worship albums of 2014. With a powerful drum kick and electronic effects, Sean Curran leaps from the outset to proclaim that ‘…there is a light that won’t be overcome, in darkest night, You bring the morning song, sing over me, You know I need it, You will lead us all home…’ as we witness one of the year’s most engaging and life-affirming songs since Steven Curtis Chapman’s “The Glorious Unfolding”, from his 2013 album of the same name.
While the song can somewhat seem a little electronically layered for its own good (only to bring in listeners who may have an affiliation to upbeat and electronic music), on a deeper level the song connects with the basics of what humans want and need- they long to shine, and be noticed. Knowing that Christ shines for us, in both the darkest and lightest places; hopefully encourages us to stop striving and start enjoying- and we know Bellarive are from the get-go with a song that while serious in nature, can be fun to listen to as lead singers Sean Curran and Melissa Mage use electronic techniques to create a song that makes me certain of it being a hit as a worship song and an electronic-pop melody.
With ‘Bellarive’ derived from the French words ‘bella’ meaning beautiful and ‘rive’ meaning river, the band and especially this project Before There Was is a call for us to sit back and invite God’s river of love and grace wash over us and remind us of how beautiful we really are. “Your Great Love” takes the emphasis off of ourselves and places it on God as we are reminded that it was ‘…Your great love [that] has won, this can never be undone…’, sung powerfully by the remaining vocalist in the band, Mike Mage. Following on musically from “Let There Be Light”, “Your Great Love” employs more of a laid back CCM sound, while still keeping the passion and enthusiasm present in the first track.
“I Belong to You”, another one of my favourites, continues to keep the focus off of ourselves as Sean proclaims the heartfelt moment of God reigning over all- ‘…over all my weakness, over all my pain, over all I am, You reign, God of saving justice…’ More subdued than much of the music on Before there Was; “I Belong to You” employs a reverbing keyboard, and lyrics that are honest, with the chorus declaring Sean’s intentions in the powerfulness of the phrase ‘…I belong to You…’ One of my favourite songs on the album, “I Belong to You” is a great reminder to anyone who seems discouraged or down, to look towards Christ- we belong to Him, our Father, even during the times where we don’t feel like, or even believe it!
Throughout the album, the band employ some great musical features, yet overall keep the focus squarely on God as we see a new era where great artistic endeavours collide together with worship to create an album that is my favourite worship album since Meredith Andrews’s Worth It All. “Save Us” uses electronic percussion loops, and eerily emotive backing voices to create a sense of urgency as the band remind us to call on the Lord in times of our need, even declaring themselves in the chorus that ‘…we’re calling out, save us…’; while “Chains” continues to subdued nature of worship as we lift our hands to God and ask Him to take away anything that is holding us back- the chains in our lives if you will, even if we don’t believe that they are at the moment. With a strong piano presence, it is when we ‘…believe Your name can save, then I will trust in what You’ve promised…’, knowing that Christ overcomes the things others say aren’t the obstacles to be overcome.
“Caught in the Middle” tries its hand in rock, albeit a little unsuccessfully, as Sean invites us all to be caught up in God’s presence, and yet at times the guitar distracts us from fully engaging with worship, Sean does his best to create an atmosphere for us to think, contemplate and dwell on God’s presence. “Only You Can Raise the Dead” is an epic 6 minute electronic anthem about us proclaiming and elevating God to the position He rightfully deserves to be in, and despite all the distorted vocals, is the most freeflowing track on the album; yet, some of the most enjoyable songs on the album belong to that of “Lazarus”, “Bring us Back”, “Hallelujah to Saving Grace” and “Calling on Fire”.
A modern rock meets indie worship, “Lazarus” is a reminder that God can raise up the dead, both in a physical and spiritual sense, and while I felt like the music video with a little overdone- with plenty of shaking from the band, the song does convey to us the power and authority God has. “Bring Us Back” is a nice summer-y song, and perfect for the radio, or on long drives, as we uncover the powerful notion that God brings us back into His presence, and that ‘…You didn’t, You didn’t just take our sin, but You filled us up with Your righteousness…’, while the modern hymn “Hallelujah to Saving Grace” is a testament to the power of stanzas as Sean invites us all to experience the grace God freely gives in a song where it could be one that you would’ve heard before, but know you didn’t (don’t you have those experiences where a tune can be familiar, but you know you’ve never heard it before, because the song is new?).
“Calling on Fire”, the third single to be released by Bellarive prior to release date; is my favourite on the album, and though the song stands at 6:31, you wouldn’t notice how long it is from hearing it. A song that expresses what it means to truly worship, as Sean sings to God, giving Him permission to ‘…burn away my rebellious ever wandering heart, lift me out from the ashes, keep me where You are…’; the big drums and powerful guitars make this anthem come to life as we hear the band come to life in the powerful notion of asking God’s fire to come down and ‘…set our hearts ablaze…’ The notion of giving everything to God can be worrisome and vulnerable, yet the song makes it much more inviting than we can ever conceive. One of my favourite songs on the year alongside MercyMe’s “Flawless” and Francesca Battistelli’s “He Knows My Name”; Sean and the band ought to be commended for a near flawless album, and certainly the band of July with Before there Was!
What can I say about Bellarive that I haven’t said already? That they are a great band, and you ought to buy the album when you have the chance? That Bellarive is possibly one of the most underrated worship bands around today? Before There Was is a great album, and one that genuinely surprised me with its ability to bring listeners, myself included, into a place of reverence and adoration. An album that’s certain to appear in my top 10 albums of the year, maybe even top 5; fans of bands like Delirious?, Leeland or Rend Collective will love this new offering from Bellarive. A band that may not necessarily have as much recognition on radio as they ought to, Before There Was will hopefully change this. Well done guys for such a well thought out and enjoyable album, and one for us to remember that ‘…before there was time, long before sun sets, You planned for our soul to be free…’ (“From the Very Start”).
3 songs to listen to: I Belong to You, Calling on Fire, Hallelujah to Saving Grace
RIYL: David Crowder*Band, Rend Collective, All Sons and Daughters, Leeland, Delirious?