Release Date: November 10th 2017
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Your Great Name
- Strong Tower
- King Of My Heart
- You Are Love
- Great Are You Lord
- Your Love Awakens Me
- Shepherd Of My Soul
- Gave It All
- No Wonder
If you would have to describe Kutless in a phrase, it’d be a band that were rock, and now have added worship elements into their melodies, resulting in a unique hybrid that keeps them fresh and relevant in today’s CCM market. Like Audio Adrenaline, Sanctus Real, Jeremy Camp, Building 429, The Afters and Newsboys prior, Kutless, headed by front-man Jon Micah Sumrall, has redefined and evolved in their sound over the years. Starting off as a hard rock band in Portland Oregon in 1999, lead singer Jon Micah Sumrall and his friends have consciously made a decision and effort to incorporate more and more worship into their albums, in alignment to where they believe God is calling them to musically and ministry-wise. Still one of the most popular and respected rock/pop-rock/CCM/worship bands in the music industry today (despite some listeners thinking that the band have gone soft over the years!); the expansion of their hard rock style of music, to include more pop rock and later on worship, garners much debate. Though the upcoming new 10 track worship project Alpha/Omega, which releases this coming Friday, and is a sort of sequel to 2009’s ground-breaking It Is Well; brings the focus firmly on vertical worship, as the band infuse rock and worship once again (to much greater success than the lacklustre Glory in 2014, although nothing much can top Believer in terms of enjoyment for me!), and has me earnest praising along with the band that have continued to defy expectations in a very good way.
With plenty of smash hits in their discography, such as “Carry Me To The Cross”, “What Faith Can Do”, “You Alone”, “Sea Of Faces”, “Complete”, “Shut Me Out”, “Run”, “Even If”, “Better Is One Day”, and “Strong Tower”; Alpha/Omega shows us all once again that rock and worship can indeed coexist. This album is a well-timed reminder of Kutless’ relevancy, and has me appreciating their musical expansion a bit more, as we worship Jesus with all of our might, and marvel at how far these guys have come in their time as a band, which I reckon is leaps and bounds! With the new release, Kutless are doing what they do best, and worshipping Jesus with no constrictions.
A glance through the tracklist gleans no less than 50% of the tracks being covers. Though some would say that it’s lazy song choices, that all the songs should be original; I beg to differ- these are worthy song choices of past, present and future hits, and bear in mind It Is Well had plenty of covers as well. “Your Great Name”, originally recorded by Natalie Grant, and written by Michael Neale and Krissy Nordhoff, kicks off proceedings, and is a solid entry, driven by stirring guitars and standing tall at 5 minutes. As Jon earnestly cries out that ‘…hungry souls receive grace at the sound of Your Great Name, the fatherless, they find their rest…the sick are healed, and the dead are raised…’, we remember that it is in only Jesus’ name that everything bad in this world can one day turn to good, and it is only in Jesus name’ that our souls can be set free from bondage and sin. What a freeing notion, and a stellar rendition of probably one of my favourite worship songs of all time. While familiar lead single “King Of My Heart”, originally by John Mark McMillan, and released by Kutless in early January this year, is featured also- a testament of the goodness of God, that ‘…You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down…’– and it’s also great that Kutless included the inspiring outro ‘…when the night is holding onto me, God is holding on…’, a refrain noticeably absent from Bethel Music’s cover version.
Hillsong Worship’s subdued “Cornerstone” is modernised, and changed into a 3-minute rock anthem, which surprisingly works, even though the last verse is omitted in favour of a head-banging guitar solo; while the band’s near-flawless interpretation of One Sonic Society’s “Great Are You Lord” is sublime, and goes to show us why the song made the cut for WOW HITS 2018 (although it was a year too late!), with Jon ardently recounting that ‘…it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise, it’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only…’– this song is definitely Holy Spirit anointed- kudos to Jason Ingram, David Leonard and Leslie Jordan for writing one of my favourite modern worship anthems ever. And though nothing can top Phil Wickham’s original version of “Your Love Awakens Me”, Kutless give it a stab. It would say it’s the weakest cover out of the five, but nonetheless still engaging and compelling to listen to and worship along with the band.
And that concludes part one of the album- the covers. Onto the originals, and the band have a few mixed results. Immediately I would like to make special mention to the latest single “Shepherd of My Soul”- an inspiring mid-tempo worship ballad, with just the right amount of guitars to call the song part rock, or part edgy. This is Kutless back at their worshipful best, with Jon majestically reiterating that Jesus won’t ever let us go, and ‘…in the valley low, there’s no fear that I’m alone, because of You, because of who You are…’, that He is our protector, our provider, and the only One we can rely on. “You Are Love”, sadly suffers from a repetitive chorus, and the band trying to much musically here, as there are electronics along with piercing guitars- is it rock or dance/pop?; however the band go back to basics with the piano prominent “Gave It All”, a modern retelling of the hymn “I Surrender All”, with the hymn present in the verses, and a newly penned chorus, highlighting the fact that we’re ‘…forgiven and set free, I give all of me to the God who gave it all…’.
Album ender “No Wonder”, an epic worship anthem, driven by vibrant keys and grunging electric guitars, is as close as something that we could hear Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman sing at a Passion Conference or event (and who knows, in the future, we still might!), as Jon vividly displays imagery, describing the majestic qualities of Jesus, and later on declaring in reverence that it is no wonder that we call Jesus Saviour, because of everything He is and everything He’s done for us. But if there’s one song that all of you should listen to, on Alpha Omega, it would be the re-recording of the band’s smash hit single “Strong Tower”. There’s nothing much more that needs to be said about “Strong Tower”, except that this version is just as emotive and awe-inspiring as the 2005 version. It’s probably the most popular song of the band of their whole career, so what are you waiting for! Alpha/Omega celebrates the band’s past while looks forward to an unknown but bright future.
Though fans might lament the Kutless of yesteryear, I for one welcome the worship band with open arms. In knowing that Alpha/Omega is kind of a direct sequel to It Is Well, we should remember that rock isn’t at the forefront here, and that’s ok. Jon’s prowess as a songwriter and singer is still quite remarkable, and I can’t wait for Kutless’ future projects, if this varied and musically different album is anything to go by. Though Kutless will always be the band that everyone will talk about, for both the CCM and rock music styles, and their divergence in styles; let us all remember that the band are travelling in the musical direction of where God is leading them, and where He wants them to go;ven if it leads them away from rock. Anyway, fans of Switchfoot, Skillet, Chris Tomlin and Jeremy Camp will certainly love this new offering from Kutless, so sit back, and worship along with Jon Micah Sumrall and friends.
3 songs to listen to: Strong Tower, Shepherd Of My Soul, No Wonder
RIYL: Skillet, Switchfoot, Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, Daughtry, Crowder