Release Date: March 11th 2016
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- The Chosen Ones
- Eyes on You
- Brand New Life
- Love Still Shines
- Christ In Me
“…we love rock music and will always have a passion for it. But we really wanted to do something very different from what we have already done. We feel like we fit in with pop bands and rock bands. With this album, we have felt like including some worship style songs and it was a great experience in addition to the pop music that has been apart of us from the start…” Over the history of CCM, there have been numerous bands and artists that have drastically changed their style over time, either through lead singer changes or gradual stylistic changes. Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline and Hawk Nelson are bands which are in the former category of new lead singers imparting their own mark on the newest incarnation of the band, while artists like Kutless, The Afters, Building 429, Sanctus Real and Jeremy Camp have all recorded hard rock albums early on in their career and now are more inclined to recorded pop and worship.
Now, enter in Nine Lashes, a quartet rock band from Birmingham Alabama, who have also recorded an album stylistically and musically different to what fans are used to from them. However, an abrupt change from hard rock (2014’s From Water To War) to now worship, pop and dance (this year’s Ascend) isn’t the norm with bands and artists either, although maybe a factor in this musical change could have been a new label (the band recently changed from Tooth And Nail Records to BEC Recordings). Nevertheless, while I hadn’t been a fan of Nine Lashes’ music prior to this release, I was intrigued when I heard some of their newer material. And while I am a lover of all things CCM, and others may feel like the guys ‘abandoning’ their rock roots to be a little bit disconcerting and not needed at all; let’s reserve judgement for when we all read my thoughts and listen to this album- after all, perhaps the rock will reveal itself in the next album.
Though there is no rock per se within these eleven tracks, there is still uplifting messages, hope and inspiring lyrics all throughout, along with catchy and danceable hooks and beats. Kudos for lead singer Jeremy Dunn for stepping out of his comfort zone of rock and providing us with something different. Album opener “Heartbeats” contains a continuous drum loop and stirring electronics as Jeremy fervently reminds us that though we all are different in relation to race, religion, personal tastes and just overall outlook on life, we all have breath in our lungs, and whether or not we comprehend it, ‘…everyone cries, everyone bleeds, everyone falls down, we’re the same underneath, everyone loves, everyone breathes, everyone’s heart beats…’. Though not significantly spiritually sound, the melody does pose us with the question of what it means to be human, and encourages us not to judge others based on our preconceptions.
While “Deeper” does go deeper spiritually, with the EDM and synth driven pop tune essentially being a prayer, asking God to ‘…take me deeper, take me deeper than I’ve ever been before…cause I wanna be right where You want me…’, highlighting that the only to be more in relationship with Jesus is to immerse ourselves into the person who is Jesus Christ, an outright bold move by the band that deserves to be congratulated. Similarly, the remix heavy title track, proclaims that we can ascend to greater and greater heights and do the things Jesus did, with Jesus by our side, and while both songs sound like polar opposites thematically (going deeper with God and rising higher with God), they each make sense- by diving deep into a relationship with Jesus, we can climb the lofty heights where He wants us to go.
“The Chosen Ones” is probably the weakest point on the album, with Jeremy crying out amongst honest and mid-tempo electric guitars in this ballad that we are chosen…repeatedly, to the point of being slightly annoying (or maybe more so depending on your level of tolerance). Nevertheless, I understand where Jeremy is coming from, that God has chosen us to do great things, and greater than Jesus, considering that He who has defeated death is living in us; but the execution of the track means the message of the song is being sadly left behind. However, the band get back on track with “Glorious”, a worship song similar in theme to Paul Baloche’s song of the same name, although it’s an entire new song altogether. A straight up worship melody, this 5 minute piano led anthem, something the band hasn’t recorded before, immediately piques my attention, as Jeremy relays how ‘…You are glorious, You bring life to us, You are mighty, Saviour, risen from the grave, You are glorious, shining bright for us, You are mighty, Saviour, one and only God, and we praise You…’. A song that could conceivably be sung on a Sunday morning worship service, Nine Lashes have tackled a genre unfamiliar to them and succeeded in my opinion.
“Galaxy”, the first single off the album, brings the music back to EDM and pop, with the band channelling their inner Manic Drive musically. In my opinion, this song conveys the message of being with God and in relationship with Him, and juxtaposes and compares it with travelling the galaxy and exploring all of the unknown yet brilliant parts of the universe, likening the journey of being in relationship with Jesus to an epic grand scale adventure. It’s a clever move, and one that should be acknowledged and respected; kudos to the band. The anthemic electronic synth laden “Eyes On You” is one of the more musically adventurous tracks on the album, with synth brilliantly played against the lyrically message of setting our eyes on Jesus no matter our circumstances- trusting in Him in spite of our situations; while “Brand New Life”, another creative musical masterpiece, as I am reminded of Nintendo and Gameboy with its nostalgic sounds and 90’s atmosphere, centres on longing to find a brand new life, and finding that Jesus is the One who provides us with that new life and the overwhelming peace that we all consciously or subconsciously desire.
“Stolen” is a pure CCM/pop 3-minute track of danceable goodness, and could be described as the musical low point of the song for me (“The Chosen Ones” was lyrically poor due to the repetitive chorus!), however the subject matter of God stealing our hearts, and us proclaiming that no other person can take our attention away from Jesus Christ, and probably the passion and contagious joy I can hear from Jeremy, has somehow made this track one of my favourites from the album, despite the musical simplicity.
The penultimate song on the album, the worshipful Kutless like “Love Still Shines”, led by vibrant electric guitars, powerfully proclaims that despite the many times we feel like life is spiralling out of control, we can rest easy, as Jeremy ardently cries out ‘…oh, we’ve found the light, when there was not a star in sight, you showed us still that love still shines…’, that Jesus’ love is bigger and stronger than anything else in this world; while the final melody “Christ In Me”, a mid tempo electric guitar worship anthem, highlights the fact that it’s ‘…not who I am, but who You are, alive in me, it’s Christ in me, the fullness of the Father’s love, alive in me, it’s Christ in me…’, once again implying the importance of Jesus Christ and His love and power in us. Well done guys for creating a collection of songs out of the box that is sure to impact any who listen, and bring glory to God.
It’s strange to review an album of an artist that I hadn’t heard before prior to the album I’m reviewing. Some may say that my review is a bit tainted due to my love of CCM. However, what I will say that because I love CCM, I like this album- it’s not the other way around. Granted, listening to Ascend shows me that Nine Lashes are four guys passionate and on fire for Jesus, and because of my love for Ascend, I reckon it’s about time to check out the band’s previous two albums, don’t you think? So will fans of the band love this new worshipful/pop/EDM album? Depends if you like these genres or not. But one thing is for certain- that the band will continue to shape the CCM and rock industry for many more years. And whatever your views on this album are, let’s not forget that the band can surprise us, and record another full blown rock album next time! Or since they are defined as experimental…maybe jazz or country?
3 songs to listen to: Glorious, Stolen, Love Still Shines
RIYL: RED, Skillet, Switchfoot, Manic Drive, Kutless