Phil Wickham – Hymn of Heaven

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Release Date: June 25th 2021

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Phil WickhamHymn of Heaven (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Battle Belongs
  2. Hymn of Heaven
  3. House of the Lord
  4. It’s Always Been You
  5. Where I’m Standing Now (feat. Brandon Lake)
  6. Reason I Sing
  7. His Name is Jesus
  8. 1000 Names
  9. Falling in Love
  10. Look to Jesus
  11. God of Revival
  12. 3:16 (Spontaneous)
  13. Heart Full of Praise

Phil Wickham has become one of my favourite worship leaders, and worship music artists since he unveiled to us his indie debut album Give You My World in 2003. Since that time, Phil has given to us powerful singles after powerful singles- ‘Grace’, ‘Divine Romance’, ‘After Your Heart’, ‘Safe’, ‘I’ll Always Love You’, ‘At Your Name’, ‘This is Amazing Grace’, ‘Glory’, ‘Living Hope’, ‘My All In All’, ‘Your Love Awakens Me’ and ‘Till I Found You’, to name a few. In a general sense, Phil has always had a knack at giving to us, great albums, period. From albums like his most recent, Living Hope, to the album that got me into the fandom, Response, as well as his chart-topping The Ascension; Phil’s powerful and distinct voice cuts through all the cookie-cutter CCM that seems to seep through, and brings it home to be a reminder that great music artists still exist within the realms of CCM. But for me, as a cut above the rest, has always been Phil’s singalong volumes.

Just look back at his music career for a second. You have the acoustic albums Singalong 1 (acoustic versions of songs from albums Phil Wickham and Cannons), Singalong 2 (acoustic versions of songs from albums Heaven and Earth and Response) and Singalong 3 (acoustic versions of songs from album The Ascension), alongside Children of God: Acoustic Sessions and the most recent Singalong 4 (acoustic versions of songs from his album Living Hope). In each of these volumes, it’s just Phil, the acoustic guitar and these songs, making the experience much more intimate and compelling. For as long as I remember, hearing these renditions on all the Singalong albums, as well as the 2016 acoustic Children of God album, makes me enjoy the original songs all the more. This further proves the fact of Phil’s ability to take a song and strip it down to just acoustics, creating a space for the Lord to move and speak, thus making much of his songs and his discography more impactful and encouraging because of these acoustic renditions.

Quite possibly one of my favourite worship artists of all time, alongside others like Meredith Andrews, Paul Baloche, Christy Nockels, Tim Hughes and Chris Tomlin; Phil Wickham has continued to impress with every album that releases, and as the years go by, we see a sound that has been refined and matured as Phil delivers songs that are as poignant as they are seemingly out-of-the-box musically and hence, in some ways, underappreciated in the scope and realm of worship music as a whole. While artists like Chris Tomlin, Hillsong (all its facets), Jesus Culture and Bethel Music are the most popular at the moment; it is nice for Phil to come along and inject some kind of life and vitality into the worship music genre. Not that the worship music genre is a bit of a drag, yet sometimes, it needs someone to come to present to us a new kind of how worship music can be portrayed…and Phil Wickham has done just that throughout his career. Now here we are in June 2021, and after the chart-topping and heartfelt 2018 album Living Hope (that borne the singles ‘Living Hope’, ‘Great Things’ and ‘Till I Found You’), Phil is back at it again, with arguably one of the most cohesive and impactful albums I’ve heard and listened to, since 2016’s Children of God.

‘Battle Belongs’ released as a radio single in September 2020, and ever since then, has become one of my favourite songs from Phil, ever since ‘This is Amazing Grace’ way back in 2013. The song itself- declaring to the Lord that the battle is His, that the battle (be it physical or in a spiritual sense), belongs to God, and our weapon in the form of prayer and a steadfast heart running after the Lord and trusting Him in every circumstance, is what needs to be focused on the most as a resource, rather than a last resort. ‘Battle Belongs’ is a great reminder of how we should be acting, especially in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. Whatever we’re facing and the struggle that we’re in, we can rest assured that the Lord fights our battles for us- we need only to be still and know He’s God, giving our worries and troubles to Him, maybe even on a daily basis. ‘House of the Lord’ followed after ‘Battle Belongs’ and was released in April 2021, and alongside ‘Battle Belongs’, came to be one of my favourite worship songs, by any artist, over the past year or so. The song itself is about not being quiet about the joy of the Lord on our lives, and how living our lives to the full will be the best testament to how we can present to others, the joy of our Lord in our own lives. And it is the joy of the Lord, that a lot of songs nowadays need to focus upon, rather than songs about ‘me’ as being the central character. How God has impacted our lives is good, but to always be constantly sing about that in worship songs, can sometimes make us all look more inward than outward, and a song like ‘House of the Lord’ refocuses our gaze on Christ our Saviour. ‘House of the Lord’ keeps our focus on things above, to realign from our own immediate circumstances, to being reminded that God is in our midst wherever we are, that His moving in our lives, either through healing physically, mentally, or even spiritually, needs to be declared and recognised, and such a song as this, does this very fact. Then the third pre-release track ‘It’s Always Been You’, accompanied with a heartfelt and emotive music video, dropped digitally with the pre-release of the album, in mid-May 2021, and for me, is one of my favourite songs from Hymn of Heaven. A song that is a love-song of sorts, between us and God (or it can be a love song sung between spouses on their special days (weddings, anniversaries); we are indeed reminded of how in every circumstance we find ourselves in, we know who is always with us- Christ Himself (or the song can be seen as someone singing to another family member/close friend). ‘It’s Always Been You’ is a great reminder of how God is always for us, even if we can’t even see it ourselves, and is one of my favourite songs on Hymn of Heaven, as we see such a powerful track, challenges us all to see if our own relationships with God, mirrors Phil’s enthusiasm and passion throughout this track.

‘…my new album “HYMN OF HEAVEN” is out this Friday, and I couldn’t be more excited about these songs, or more proud, of the very talented team that helped me bring them to life. We released the first single from this record, “Battle Belongs” last September. Before the song was even out it had become a personal anthem for me in the middle of a very frustrating season. I would catch myself singing it day to day. Using the melody and lyrics to preach to my own soul that God was in control and on my side. It has been amazing watching that song becomes an anthem and encouragement for believers all around the world. Thank you, Jesus! Then we released the joy bomb that is “House Of The Lord” on Easter weekend. I wrote that song write in the middle of a season when I needed to remind my heart of the truth that though happiness comes and goes, I can always find joy in the reality of who God is, what He has done, and who I am in Him. It has been so incredible to see message after message of how churches sang the truth of this song as people started gathering together again on Sundays. A few of them even said this was their church’s “comeback song”…what an honor to be a small part of those huge moments in people’s communities!! (by the way, “House of the Lord” officially hits radio station in a few weeks. So Pumped!!!) The third single we released is called “It’s Always Been You”. You guys. This one is CLOSE to my heart. Once in a long while, a song comes out of nowhere that feels like God gave it to me, FOR me. To remind me of things I’ve forgotten. Or broaden my ideas of who God is and how far His love can reach. This is one of those songs. It’s been so beautiful to hear and see this song connect with others in similar way.  And NOW it’s time to release the whole record in its entirety THIS FRIDAY! Each one of the 13 tracks carry weight and identity for me. I pray these songs have a lasting impact in people’s lives as they go out into the world this week. I want to say thanks, seriously a huge thanks, to all of you who care about this music and have walked alongside me through these records. What an honor and a privilege…’

Throughout the rest of the album, we see Phil present lyrical themes certain to be declared and sung in Sunday morning church service settings around the world in the upcoming weeks and months ahead. ‘Hymn of Heaven’, the title track, is a hymn-like song, co-written with Bethel leader and worshipper Brian Johnson. The song itself reminds us all, of the day in the future ‘…when all will bow before Him, there will be a day when death will be no more, standing face to face with He who died and rose again, holy, holy is the Lord…’, and as Phil himself relays about the track, we are made privy to how the song was ‘…written in the height of social unrest and COVID. There was a couple weeks there that I felt that it was falling apart, watching the news and all that stuff. And I was talking with my friend who I write a lot with and as we were talking, we were talking politics, as we do once in awhile, and just the world and family, and we just landed on Jesus and what He’s done and who He is, then we landed on what He’s promised for all of us. And it’s just this idea that if you’re a believer, you believe that one day that Jesus will not take us away to some other land. The Bible teaches that He gonna renew the creation He’s made and that we’re going to be with him. And instead of living under the rule of sin and death, we’re gonna live under the rule of Jesus. And even right now, it’s hard to hold back tears because that promise is true. It brings hope, if you really live, not with your head in the clouds, but with your head in the place of knowing the end. We have the end plan in mind, so it can inform every decision, it can inform every huge life decision, it can inform every conversation you have with your kids before bed of just, like ‘man, we just have a few decisions here, here on earth’. It’s such a vapour, a quick thing, just a few choices, then it’s done. And then you’re seeing Jesus face to face, and I’m just like…”I cannot wait for the day when we are looking, not at a man or an ideology as king of this world, but we’re looking at Jesus as King of this world” and it’s everything that it’s meant to be…’ Phil also has a duet with Bethel Music worship artist Brandon Lake in the song ‘Where I’m Standing Now’, a track about seeing where we once were in our lives, and then comparing it to where we are right now, from our despair and uncertainty, to our comfort and hope we have in Christ, or as Phil himself declares in the song, ‘…I stand on the chain breaking, miracle making, powerful name of Jesus, oh the body raising, prodigal saving, powerful name of Jesus…’, while Phil continues to impart to us heartfelt themes of worship and praise in the songs ‘Reason I Sing’, ‘1000 Names’ and ‘Falling in Love’, all which have the potential to be powerful songs sung in churches around the world in the upcoming months ahead.

‘Reason I Sing’ is a mid-tempo track full of percussion and gang vocals, as Phil uses this track to amass all the reasons that we sing to Jesus- ‘…for the cross that you bore, and the death that you paid, for the victory you won, over death in the grave, this is the reason I sing, for the hope that you give, and the joy that your bring, for the promise that heaven is waiting for me, this is the reason I sing…’, while ‘1000 Names’, co-written by Passion worship leader Sean Curran, is a track that Sean could sing on the new Passion album (maybe coming this year or next year), as Phil declares in the track, all the words that he knows Jesus is deserving of, and reminds us all that we know the King of Kings ‘…by 1000 names, and You deserve every single one, You’ve given me a million ways, to be amazed by what You’ve done, and I am lost in wonder, at all You do, I’ve known You by a thousand names, and I’ll sing them back, I’ll sing’em back to You…’ Sean Curran, and fellow Passion worship leader Melodie Malone both had a hand in co-writing Phil’s song ‘Falling in Love’, an acoustic-driven light-percussive track about falling in love with God more and more, as we continue to explore the depths of His love for not only us, but for each and every human on Earth- so much so that He died a gruesome death on the cross (and rose again on the third day) so that we can be reconciled back to Him (and that is reason enough to fall in love with our Father, right?); while ‘Look to Jesus’ is a vibrant and rejuvenating song (a la something like Rend Collective vibe), as Phil invites us all to celebrate the fact that when we look at Jesus, and focus our eyes on Him, all of our troubles seem to pale in perspective, or as Phil puts it, ‘…death looks like an empty grave, fear looks like a giant slain, trials look like gifts of grace, when I look to Jesus, failures bow to victory, sin has lost it’s hold on me, endless love is all I see, when I look to Jesus…’ ‘God of Revival’, the powerful song by Bethel released live in 2020 as part of the live Bethel album at that time, is given the Phil Wickham treatment on this album (as well as Phil even recording an acoustic piano version of the song on his youtube page), while the album ender ‘Heart Full of Praise’ is again presented as a modern-hymn, whose theme is very similar to that of Hillsong’s ‘King of Kings’. While the song itself as the final song on the album, can seem a little more mellow than even I would’ve liked (and thus, I was not necessarily as fully engaged in the track as I have been with others), ‘Heart Full of Praise’ is uniquely created with layered vocals and piano, to create more of an emphasis on lyrics and the message of the song, of how we are full of praise, hands lifted high to Jesus, because of what He has done for us, all those years ago.

Yet for me the song that was the standout from the album is ‘His Name is Jesus’, quite possibly one of my favourite songs from Phil since ‘Living Hope’, and a song that could potentially become a radio single in the future (after ‘It’s Always Been You’). Standing at 5:21, Phil presents such a song, as an anthem for the church, declaring Jesus’s name, and presenting a worship melody as being one that asserts all of the things that we elevate Jesus to be- light of the World, there being freedom in His name, a love enveloping us all beyond what we can even fathom or understand…just 5 minutes of declaration after declaration, and a song that has fast become an anthem of mine within the last few months. ‘His Name is Jesus’ showcases Phil at his skillful and masterfully best, and a song that continues to remind me of why we need a worship artist like Phil Wickham in a CCM landscape as it is right now.

The King is in the room, come see the scars of love upon His hands
The King is in the room, we’ll watch the darkness flee at His command
Who is this King? Who is this King?
His name is Jesus, His name is Jesus, light of the world, there’s freedom in His name
Awesome in power, reigning forever, light of the world, there’s freedom in His name, There’s freedom in His name

Excerpt of ‘His Name is Jesus’

Over the last 18 years (his first studio album Give Me The World was an independent one made in 2003), Phil continues to present poignant songs of praise and perseverance as this new set of songs- the songs on Hymn of Heaven, are some of the most emotive and energetic I’ve ever heard Phil perform in his whole career. As Phil relays a message behind ‘Battle Belongs’ that I reckon serves not only as a message for the song, but also a message of what is occurring and transpiring in our lives right now, let us reflect upon these words by Phil- ‘…I remember the first time we led “Battle Belongs” in worship. At the chorus, every hand was lifted in the air. We knew we had a special song. It’s such a fight song. At that point, I wasn’t going through a fight or a serious battle. But, I remember wondering who the song would be for. I wanted to know how this song would play out in people’s lives. Shortly thereafter, the whole world was in a coronavirus pandemic. So, questions answered: “Battle Belongs” is a beacon of hope for everyone. It was definitely a beacon of hope for me. When I was in the middle of rabbit holes of news stories trying to figure out what was true, this song brought me so much hope in whatever I was doing. When living life, I sing this song to myself. Sometimes, my kids ask me to “sing the battle song.” “Battle Belongs” has become a fight and faith song for my family, my church community, and other church communities. And, since its release in September 2020, the song’s positive message has spread like wildfire.
We’ve been getting messages from all around the world about how the song has brought courage and victory to their lives. We’ve received countless messages from nurses and doctors who have found freedom and peace from the song’s message. Worshipping in the face of the enemy and in the face of darkness puts a seal on our faith. In Jesus, there’s always a higher, more powerful song to sing that’s stronger and bigger than anything we face in the world. Whatever comes our way, nothing can outshine the brightness of that truth and no darkness can quench that truth. When I sing “Battle Belongs,” that’s what I think about. Can I really believe that God will move on my behalf in miraculous ways? My favorite line of the song is “when all I see is the cross/You see the empty tomb.” This song points us to the story of the cross. God defeated sin and death on our behalf. There was no way to win that battle on our own. That’s what John 3:16 is all about. Jesus went to battle on our behalf and won. We can live in a place of victory because death has been defeated. Salvation takes a step of repentance and faith…’
And with that, I’m gonna listen to Phil’s new album again and again, because this album is for anyone who loves music in general, who loves worship that isn’t the ‘run-of-the-mill’ like Chris Tomlin (sorry, Chris), but rather, something unique, fresh, emotive, powerful and heartfelt, all of which is shown very much throughout Hymn of Heaven and much of Phil’s songs of the past. Well done Phil for such a project that stands tall amongst many of the worship album releases of 2021 so far. This is a perfect album for anyone who has enjoyed much of Phil’s music catalogue previously, or those who love and appreciate worship-style music with more of a creative edge. Can’t wait for people to be encouraged and impacted by such an album as this in the upcoming weeks and months ahead!

3 songs to listen to: His Name is Jesus, It’s Always Been You, Battle Belongs

Score: 5/5

RIYL: Chris Tomlin, Tim Hughes, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Martin Smith

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