Provident Label Group
Release Date: August 30th 2019
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Love Like Yours
- Unstoppable God
- A Million Ways
- I Will Forgive You
- Jesus Loves You
- As I Am
- Unending Hope
Sanctus Real have been a band that have had tremendous success over the years, ever since their first independent album released in the late 1990s. Since signing to Sparrow Records in the early 2000s, the band has worn its heart on its sleeve. With songs like ‘Lead Me’ discussing about the theme of standing up and leading the family as fathers, husbands and men in general (with the help of the Lord, of course), ‘Lay it Down’ encouraging us to lay down our troubles and worries at the foot of the cross, and ‘We Need Each Other’ showcasing the very need for us to be around people, that our company and camaraderie is what is going to allow us to get through this life not alone; we are reminded that such a band exists where they are not afraid to discuss and sing about themes that would otherwise be swept under the carpet. Fast forward till 2019. Lead singer Matt Hammitt left the band in 2015, and with such a dramatic personnel change that undergoed at a time where many lead singers of many bands were moving on to other places (Kevin Max and subsequently Josh Engler both left Audio Adrenaline, Adam Agee took over, Jon Steingard took over from Jason Dunn as lead singer of Hawk Nelson); worship leader Dustin Lolli picked up from where Matt Hammitt left off. And while with any lead singer change, we can all become hesitant at first, what transpired was something unique and different- This is Love EP dropped early in 2016, featuring more of a rock sound that was present on their earlier albums The Face of Loveand Fight the Tide.
Then came Changed in 2018, that featured the chart-topping radio single ‘Confidence’ and other standouts like ‘Safe in My Father’s Arms’ and the title track. Dustin fit right in with the band, and while as a sound, Sanctus Real was moving from more of a rock-anthem based band to more of a pop-radio friendly atmosphere, the band’s message and heart continued to stay the same, giving us songs borne out of local ministry and what people have been dealing with in their churches at home. Now here we are at the beginning of September 2019, and we see yet another album release with Dustin at the helm- Unstoppable God dropped August 30th, and with a little over a year between 2018’s Changed and this new album release; what the band has given to us is arguably one of this year’s most compelling and challenging for me personally. While it can still be some time getting used to hearing Dustin’s voice instead of Matt; this trio continue to deliver songs wholeheartedly to encourage listeners in their own walk with the Lord. And the songs from Unstoppable God are no different.
Looking through the track listing, we see a variety of songs that have been released via pre-release track or songs that we’ve known from years past. One such song that stands out on Unstoppable God is ‘Confidence’. Originally from their 2018 album Changed, ‘Confidence’ is arguably one of my favourite songs from the band of late, and a melody that we all can declare and proclaim alongside the band that we can in fact face our giants in confidence, knowing that He is with us every step of the way. As the band shares about the song themselves, ‘…‘Confidence’ is a prayer. It’s a prayer to see the world selflessly. Not a prayer to be in the lion’s den but a prayer to have such unshakable faith in the kingdom of heaven that we are willing to go through dangerous things. Moses never made it to the promise land. He only was able to view it, but his hope was in God’s plan for God’s people. The plan that he contributed to. He knew it was so much bigger than himself. Confidence is a prayer to see this big picture, to walk humbly, to do what you feel He has called you to do. The truth is real confidence comes from real belief. Belief in a creator that does see this big picture, who does call the unqualified to do unimaginably big things…’ The song itself is a reminder to us that even if we feel as though we are uninitiated and under-prepared for the feats and tasks that He has prepared for us, He will nevertheless use us regardless of what we believe we can and can’t do, to showcase His glory and allow us to be shaped and moulded in the meantime. If God can use the people in the bible that were far from perfect, to elevate His own fame and bring glory to Himself, then through our very own inadequacies, we can rest assured that He has things under control. ‘Unstoppable God’ the title track, is another standout on the album, as we see a message of declaring the promise that His presence in our lives is unmovable and unshaking. He is indeed unstoppable and that the doubts, uncertainties are weaknesses we have only allow His promises to shine through all the more, as we rely not on our own strength but on His assurances and the belief that He will come through, always. As the band continue to relay, ‘…sometimes when we write songs, we write them right in the middle of our battle; a song of faith, or hope, believing that God will walk us through. Other times we write songs after we’ve come out the other side and we are able to look back and see what God has done for us and through us; a song of victory, of deliverance.‘Unstoppable God’ is a song of thankfulness that God has never left us and that his plans are always better. We believe in a God who moves mountains, parts the sea, and gives hope even in the most desperate times. Though this song is a song of victory for us, we hope that it strengthens you no matter where you are in your battle. Our hope is in a God who doesn’t care what odds are stacked up against you. His love removes fear and allows us to live fully. Where does our help come from? Our help comes from our God and nothing can stop an ‘Unstoppable God.’…’
Both ‘Lazarus’ and ‘Jesus Loves You’ are the remaining songs that were released prior to August 30th via apple music, and both these melodies remind us things we often overlook as Christians. ‘Lazarus’, recently released as a music video just this last week, tells of the raising from death to life, and alludes to the metaphor, that the physical raising of Lazarus from actual death to life is only going to be a fraction of what we as people would feel if we are raised from spiritual death to spiritual life. A song that encourages us all to bring forth our testimony to share with others the change within us, ‘Lazarus’ imprints on our hearts, that what comes with the resurrecting from death to life has to fruit in terms of a changed heart and spirit- positive and powerful change has to take place after a Lazarus-like encounter. ‘Jesus Loves You’, a sentimental song (as it reminds me personally of the children’s song ‘Jesus Loves Me’) full of a heavy piano presence, reminds us of the very special things often done for us during childhood that stay with us our entire lives. ‘Jesus Loves You’ is about someone who needs to be reminded of this very fact, maybe even after a while of them maybe not fully understanding the exact gravity of God’s love for humankind. Regardless of what we feel ourselves, the fact remains- Jesus loves us, and a song like ‘Jesus Loves You’ should encourage us to delve deep into this statement and recall back the truths that allow us to understand freely and without pressure- that Jesus loves us just because, and nothing we can say or do will undo His great love for us!
Throughout the rest of the album, we see the band continue to present various themes in a variety of genres and styles, as Dustin and co. show a different side of themselves. With the being a staple in the CCM community since the 1990s, Dustin, Mark Graalman (drums) and Chris Rohman (guitars) have given to us songs with heart and hope, as these melodies form an album that by far is one of my favourites of 2019 thus far. ‘Love Like Yours’, the album opener, starts with a riveting piano riff and gang vocals, as Dustin invites us all into the theme of there never being another love in the world that can fill our hearts like Jesus’ does. Yes, I know it is a ‘simple’ message as messages go, but as an album opener, the musical arrangement is enough for anyone who has been a fan of the band to at least listen to it- if only to listen once. ‘A Million Ways’, quite possibly in the running to become an official single in the future; slows down the tempo a bit as we find out that there’s ‘…a million ways You’ve been good to me, so many broken pieces mercy has redeemed, You never let me down, never left my side, I look back and find You’ve been faithful all my days in a million ways…’ as the notion and understanding of God being faithful to us and in spite of us is brought to the fore, while ‘I Will Forgive You’, similar in theme compared to other songs like ‘Forgiven’ (Sanctus Real) and ‘Forgiveness’ (Matthew West), is completed with a gospel choir as this rousing anthem highlights the need for the person who has indeed been wronged, for whatever reason, to forgive the other person. Forgiveness is a funny thing- it doesn’t excuse what has been done, but it can heal hurts and set free the person who has been weighed down by bitterness and resentfulness.
The album then ends with the songs ‘As I Am’, ‘Unending Hope’ and ‘More’, and while each of them have a shared CCM/radio friendly atmosphere, that can sometimes bleed into each other and make the last three songs feel continuous even when they shouldn’t be; the messages of each of them are indeed timely and heartfelt. ‘As I Am’ feels like a song that someone like Warren Barfield or Aaron Shust may sing, as the message of God taking us as we are, even if we do at times feel like the thief upon the cross or the woman at the well; while ‘Unending Hope’ feels like something from a Casting Crowns album- in a good way. Dustin and co. invite us to partake in the theme of us declaring God to be our one unfailing, unending hope, that ‘…You’re the same through the ages, You’re the God of endless mercy speaking life into the dark, and I believe You are for me, every breath is a reminder I can trust in who You are…’ ‘More’ rounds out the album with a sense of expectation and anticipation as we realise and see that what God is doing in our lives and the lives of others is just the beginning of what can be seen on the horizon of what God is really capable of. Revival and renewal are things on the heart and radar of God and worship and justice always go hand in hand. This is a song to expect the unexpected with God, and that as we declare that God does more with us and overwhelm us beyond belief moving forward; our preconceptions on what we believe God can and can’t do to further His kingdom will crumble and shatter, as we realise that there are no limits to what God can use to draw people in to Himself.
So there you have it…Unstoppable God. While it can still take some getting used to, hearing Dustin’s voice instead of Matt’s, let us know that this isn’t the first lead-singer change in a prominent CCM band. Audio Adrenaline have done it- with varying degrees of success. Hawk Nelson is another example, and Newsboys is yet another. In all these cases, what remains true is their heart for ministry and declaring and proclaiming the Lord’s love for His creation. Sanctus Real bring about the same message. Yes, there will be some die-hard fans that will boycott anything without Matt Hamiitt…and that’s ok. Then there are others, like myself who are indeed open to Dustin and his perspective on the music. And that’s ok, too. Unstoppable God, and maybe even Changed before, are being held to the standard of all of Matt Hammitt’s albums previously, when to be honest, they should be compared to themselves. In essence, a lead singer change can be a band change without the band change. Because like it or not, the lead singer makes the band. And for me, since coming into the fold in 2016, Dustin Lolli has recaptured a vibrant spirit and made the band continue, when I’m sure there was every intention to quit at the end of 2015. Nevertheless, here we are with Unstoppable God. An album that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and one that is a must-have if you enjoy similar artists like Tenth Avenue North, Casting Crowns or Sidewalk Prophets. No, they’re not similar to Sanctus Real 1.0, because they’re not, and I’m sure they’re not trying to be. I’m sure once we understand that every new singer doesn’t have to emulate the previous one, and that a new sound can be developed for the better, the sooner our judgements of the band and albums once there’s a turnaround of lead singer, can decrease.
3 songs to listen to: Lazarus, Jesus Loves You, A Million Ways
RIYL: Matthew West, MercyMe, Zach Williams, Tenth Avenue North, Kutless