Release Date: August 1st 2014
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
- Ecstasis (Album Introduction)
- Heights of Zion (Pt.1)
- The Eschaton
- I Need You More
- The Heights (Pt. 2)
- I Will Come For You
- Song of the Bridegroom
- This is the Day
- Your Love Remains
One of my closest friends, singer/songwriter, pastor and youth leader Caleb Coles, who has been serving the church that I attend (GracePoint Christian Church) since 2011; is releasing his sophomore album The Heights this coming Friday, after more than 3 years since the release of the first album No Turning Back. Since then there has been quite a lot of changes and major life events in Caleb’s life (thus prolonging the release date!), and these include his recent marriage to wife Sarah (who sung on a couple of tracks on this album), Caleb starting to preach on Sunday mornings, being in charge of the youth group on Friday nights, and studying theology at Morling College. Though quite a busy man, Caleb’s authentic, honest, transparent and musically daring and captivating album has shown me that God’s plan for him involves him succeeding in all of these platforms of life. Debuting his song “Tapestry” at the Revive 2014 concert on August 1st 2014, along with physical copies of the project; The Heights is a one of a kind album that is a must buy for fans of worship music, of progressive rock, of alternative rock, and also for those who just want to be ministered by God’s presence. With a passion for Jesus, and a fervour that is contagious, Caleb’s prowess and a singer and a songwriter is one of the best in Australia (and no, I’m not just saying that because I know him personally!), and hopefully this album will propel him to greater heights, so that the gospel can reach more people!
Though I may be subjective in reviewing this album (Caleb is a friend that I don’t want to be too harsh on if I find a song to be distracting or not enjoyable), this is what I think makes me the perfect person to outline my opinion and thoughts. As any other reviewer may write their thoughts out of context, not knowing his story (though they may still be spot on), my insight into Caleb’s life is valuable in understanding the musical and lyrical decisions made on this record.
Opening the track list is “Ecstasis”, the 2 minute instrumental track, which starts of acoustically then swells to an epic crescendo, culminating in a powerful and majestic electric guitar solo. Ironically, this is probably one of the most captivating openers I have heard in a while, highlighting the fact that I have now understood a bit more- that music doesn’t need to have words to bless and inspire people, and music doesn’t have to have words in order for God to speak and move.
Now Caleb has included a medley of a couple of songs on this album called “The Heights Of Zion” and “The Heights” (both of them singles), and these ‘call and response’ pair of songs are in fact separated on the album instead of being next to one another like on most other albums- one is song #2 and the other #6. It’s an interesting concept of separating two thematically similar yet musically different songs, and to me it all boils down to intention and the meaning of the lyrics. The first song “Heights Of Zion”, is sung from a friend to another, and is an acoustic mellow ballad, which crescendos midway with an epic guitar solo to a worship rock anthem (Caleb’s attempt at a falsetto is quite superb!), and outlines how God will go to the ends of the earth to fight for our freedom and salvation, as shown in the vivid description in the chorus, highlighting that ‘…like a lion over his prey, so the Lord will do battle on the heights of Zion; like birds hovering overhead He’ll pass over to rescue us…’. Essentially, this is a song of reassurance of the promises of God, and its counterpart, “The Heights”, which is more reflective and slower in tempo, shows our response to God- that we should and will be willing to do God’s will, and soar to the greatest heights with God if required. Because of what God has done for us, we should be willing to do above and beyond the call of duty, and that fact that can’t be often said enough is the take home message from these two explosive and moving tracks.
Caleb has told me quite recently of his love for progressive rock, in which songs musically take us on a journey and finish at a completely different place than the beginning, and this love actually comes as no surprise when you hear Caleb’s album, as many tracks are musically quite different from the standard CCM pop radio friendly tune. The video game and soundtrack like battle cry “The Eschaton”, driven by acoustic guitar, then strings and electric guitar, then back to acoustic guitar, gives us courage and determination to stand for Jesus, as we actively fight a spiritual battle between principalities not from this world; while the spontaneous, stirring and free flowing like vertical worship anthem “I Need You More”, led by the piano, simplifies worship to a few phrases, which describe our need and longing for God, that we need Him ‘…more than the deer needs the water, I need You more than the lands needs the rain…’; which is pretty explicit and clear cut if you ask me.
The upbeat rock themed “Tapestry” (that is probably my favourite song in terms of music), with lyrics similar in content to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “The Glorious Unfolding”, is led by electric guitar and bass, as Caleb fervently cries out and reminds us all that we are all little pieces in the bigger story of God. Every piece is important in the tapestry of what God is making, of what His glorious unfolding plan is, and this is brilliantly and expertly outlined in the bridge where Caleb bares his soul and proclaims that ‘…this world is Your story and I’m a reflection, this world is Your story – death and resurrection…’, a sobering part of the song where I am moved to look inwards at the parts of my life I am holding back from God, and the parts I should be surrendering to His tapestry. While the prophetic declaration of “I Will Come For You”, led by the keys, is sung from God’s perspective, outlining that He has come for us, and doesn’t leave anyone behind as orphans (though salvation is a gift and a choice), and the electronic spontaneous like remix-y synth driven “Song Of The Bridegroom”, featuring Sarah, Caleb’s wife, on backing vocals, and sung from God’s perspective, shows us the loving side of God, as we understand that ‘…I’ll never abandon you, no matter what you do, cuz you’re my bride, and I love you…’, it is the final two songs that impact me the most and give the album the near flawless finish that it deserves!
The album closer “Your Love Remains”, is as good as any final song on an album that I have heard in a while, with Caleb singing vertical worship praises to God, about His omnipresence and His faithfulness to His promises. Led by the guitar, Caleb exquisitely compares’ God’s love to the seasons, claiming that the seasons come and go, but Jesus’ love remains. Similar in theme, the accolades don’t stop there, as Caleb reminds us in the simple penultimate ballad “This Is The Day”, led by guitar, probably my favourite of the whole album (maybe because of the sheer simplicity and profound effect due to in my opinion the Holy Spirit’s presence), of God’s active hand in creation. As Caleb sings out that we need to rejoice and be glad as God has created the day that we live in, and is responsible for our lives and our breath; it’s a surreal moment to bask in God’s presence, dwelling on all the good things God has made. Well done Caleb for giving us a different genre and mode to praise God, and for opening my eyes to genres I haven’t heard before, which I probably will in the future.
As an album, Caleb’s venture into worship/alternative rock/progressive rock is quite interesting, and well worth a listen if you want praise music with a distinct flavour and an edge that sets him apart from most mainstream CCM acts. Though not as flashy, catchy, or publicised as labelled worship artists like Chris Tomlin, Crowder, Casting Crowns, Newsboys and Jesus Culture, Caleb Coles’ The Heights is an album that will undoubtedly improve with each new listen. There are plenty of gems and lyrical treasures to be found, and plenty of things God will unpack and show us within the 48 minute journey, but it might be a journey that could be travelled many times. That’s ok though. If Caleb’s album ultimately provides a step for people to think about Jesus and the gospel, then I say that Caleb can sing in any genre he wants to. A job well done, I’ll be supporting Caleb’s music for as long as he makes it, even though that it’s from left field and not my first choice genre…
3 songs to listen to: Heights Of Zion, This Is The Day, Tapestry
RIYL: Muse, Jeff Buckley, Gungor, Dream Theater, Silverchair, Bellarive