Release Date: July 28th 2017
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Wide Eyed Wonder
- Light Rise Up
- Hope Has a Name
- Atmosphere (feat. Sarah Reeves)
- He Is Anthem
- One More Moment
- All I Need To Know
“…When Tooth and Nail pushed us [Anberlin] originally as a Christian band, we wanted nothing to do with the Christian market. For me, I love Jesus Christ with all of my heart, and I felt called to this mission field, and we are the body of Christ and we are the feet that are treading where many Christians wouldn’t, but I also had to come to the logical conclusion that not everyone in Anberlin was Christian and no one in our crew was Christian. So, for us to call ourselves a “Christian band,” where we would play mostly churches, it would be fake. Everyone was fine with playing a Christian festival here and there. But at the end of the day, I felt transparent. I felt that, at any moment, someone was going to try to see through our band and ask “what are you guys even doing here?” But everyone was very respectful, and nobody trashed Christianity, and nobody wore some crazy T-shirt at a Christian festival. It wasn’t like that. They knew the roots of the band, and the roots of my life and the direction I felt called to. I just wanted to be completely honest…” If you have never known who Stephen Christian is until now, then you definitely have to check out his music pronto (I guess that includes me prior to me listening to Wildfires but anyway…). The former front-man of the now disbanded popular mainstream rock group Anberlin, and founder of side project Anchor & Braille, Stephen, now signed to BEC Recordings, and now a full time worship music leader in Albuquerque, unveiled his debut solo album Wildfires last month. And though I hadn’t (and still haven’t) heard any of Anberlin’s discography (is that shame on me? Maybe… I should listen to them, shouldn’t I?), I think that it’s still fair and valid to state that Anberlin was one of the most influential rock bands over the past decade.
For many die-hard fans of the band, I’m sure they were in shock when Anberlin disbanded in 2014. Stephen’s vocals, similar to Marc Martel of downhere and Kevin Max, are very distinct and unique and to never hear them again is a travesty. Even after listening to Wildfires plenty of times, I can conclude that Stephen’s voice is special and deserves to be listened to and appreciated, even if you are not a Christian or not. Yes, though Anberlin is a mainstream band (not all of the members are Christian!), Wildfires is a worship album, chronicling the events from 2014 onwards in Stephen’s life that God was moving and orchestrating. The end result is 10 inspiring, emotional and honest songs sure to impact even the most hardened hearts, in my opinion. So, should listeners and fans of Anberlin take a chance on Stephen’s new worship project? Take a listen and decide for yourself, I reckon, but you can read my thoughts below as well!
“…The song [Gloria] is about how intimate God is. If he wanted to, he could be a “Thor-like” God from afar, and watch from a distance, and not care. And yet, he chooses to be a part of our everyday life. And he chooses to be involved in the most intricate details of our lives. That, to me, is profound. He knows us better than our wives or husbands; he is closer to us than our own children. And he takes the time to count the hairs on our head. That is beyond words. That’s crazy…” The lead single “Gloria” dropped to digital retailers earlier this year, and as a worship song, and a single, it’s pretty good. Stephen’s distinct, powerful, emotional and explosive vocals are on full display here, as he fervently outlines the predicament he was facing- having lost three jobs post-Anberlin that he was relying on to be the breadwinner for his family, God spoke to him in a real way one night in the midst of Stephen experiencing anxiety and panic attacks in the middle night- he asked Stephen whether his daughter worries about provisions. When Stephen answered no, clarity entered, and this song was ultimately born. In “Gloria”, Stephen looks to God, rather than the circumstances around him. As he cries out ‘…who can stand against our Rock, our Foundation? He’s our Redeemer, the Hope of Salvation, tell me, who else could we call out in time of trouble? Who else could we give all our adoration?…’, we are gently reminded of the sovereignty of God, and his unending faithfulness. Well done Stephen for a comforting melody about the fact that God has everything in His hands.
The rest of the nine worship anthems thematically is similar to “Gloria”, and that’s definitely a good thing, as we are time and time again encouraged by the notion of God being by our side always. The album opener “Trust”, though repetitive lyrically, packs a mighty punch musically, through stirring and captivating electric guitars, as this mid-tempo worship anthem reiterates the fact that ‘…You are good, Your way is higher than mine, You are love, the way, the truth, and the life…’, with Stephen vocally sounding similar here to Matt Hammitt, previously of Sanctus Real; while potential single mid-tempo CCM ballad “Wide Eyed Wonder” is one of the most catchiest melodies on the album, as Stephen ardently asks God to maintain his own wonder at everything Jesus is and everything He has to offer, and can do. There are times that we take Jesus’ love and His creation for granted, and “Wide Eyed Wonder” is a prayer asking God to help us be like innocent children again- and boy do we need to be like children now more than ever, considering the current global political climate. “Light Rise Up”, the pseudo-title track, is a supercharged high octane guitar led mid-tempo worship anthem, where Stephen powerfully exclaims that Jesus’ kingdom is reigning now, here on earth as it is in heaven, while we also see God’s light rising up out of the darkness and changing lives; and Stephen also displays his big booming, vibrant and commanding voice in “Hope Has a Name”- a personal album highlight (and no not the Phillips Craig and Dean song!), where he majestically reiterates that we do not have anything to fear ‘…cause our God is here, Hope has a name, the name of Jesus…’.
Probably the most inspiring and maybe compelling track on Wildfires is the enthralling duet with Sarah Reeves that is “Atmosphere”, led by haunting keys and providing a…you guessed it, an atmospheric feel, with all of the synth and electronic effects layered in. With Sarah and Stephen singing together in perfect harmony, relaying to us the fact that Jesus is all around us, permeating creation with His presence, that ‘…You breathe and Hell begins to shake, and You speak, chains begin to break, and You move, mountains fall down at Your feet, oh Jesus, we believe, Your spirit is here invading the atmosphere…’; “Atmosphere” is one of the most inspiring, worshipful and encouraging songs of 2017 that I have heard, in my opinion, and should be the song that listeners should listen to first on Wildfires.
“He Is Anthem” is a happy-go-lucky folk/guitar led celebratory Sanctus Real/Rend Collective type of melody, led by strong electric guitars, where Stephen joyously proclaims that ‘…He’s bringing back, bringing back my home, He’s waking up, waking up my soul, He is the anthem my heart is singing, singing…’. As Stephen focuses on the notion of Jesus being the only One we can sing to, because of everything He is, and everything He has done for us, and has promised to do, we are glimpsed into a track that should be sung in churches everywhere on Sundays in the near future. While “Undone” is ambitious musically and lyrically, and on their own are well thought out in their individual facets, yet together sound quite disjointed, although Stephen’s vocals shine bright here, as he points out that he longs for his own will to be undone, as God shakes his whole world, and moves him into something that he can never fathom, and infinitely better, beating in time with God’s heart and His plan.
Lyrically and musically, “One More Moment” probably is one of the most inventive tracks on Wildfires, as Stephen creates a dialogue of sorts between us and God, with the end result being an ardent and honest prayer, where Stephen asks for one more moment with God, and that ‘…forever feels so far, don’t want to wait for heaven…’, as all he craves is God’s presence. Wildfires ends with the brilliant closer and the Greg Sykes penned “All I Need To Know”, where Stephen brilliantly conveys through the potential radio single and slower tempo reflective and contemplative ballad, that ‘…You are my only hope, I look to You alone, even though I’m scared, You are always there, that’s all I need to know…’. Not nearly enough do we hear new worship songs detailing the intricacies of our feeling other than joy and adulation, so hearing worship songs about our pain and grief, and juxtapositioning that notion with the concept of Jesus being all that we need to know, is very clever and I’m sure listeners will resonate, with probably one of today’s most impacting, or future impacting worship anthems (alongside “What A Beautiful Name”, “The Cross Has The Final Word” and “Death Was Arrested”).
“…When God calls He fulfils. Life is like a puzzle, where God hands pieces to you one at a time and you don’t know where they’ll fit. You flip things and try and piece it together yourself, and sometimes you don’t see the full picture until years down the road. Now I look back and I see the pieces slowly forming for this role as a pastor. I was in Anberlin to be a pastor. God built my platform so I could be a pastor. My education was so I’d be equipped as a pastor. I hope this record blesses people and helps bring them closer to Christ like each song did for me. God’s been orchestrating my whole life so I could get here and rise up the next generation…” Stephen’s journey from rock band front man to worship leader, worship pastor and solo artist, is quite remarkable, and could only be described as God working and being faithful and keeping His promises. As a debut album, Stephen Christian’s Wildfires is quite remarkable, and si worth the listen. For Anberlin lovers and non-Anberlin lovers alike. Or for people like me, who hadn’t for one reason or another, listened to Anberlin. Maybe I will in the future. That’s not the point though. The point is that Stephen now has a platform to spread the gospel now, now that his rock band days are over (or over in the sense that Anberlin will never reform again). So what Stephen does with his solo career is up to him. But one thing is for sure- he will continue to make Jesus’ name renown if Wildfires is anything to go by. And if you are unsure of the faith element if you aren’t a Christian, but love Anberlin,I say give this a chance. Stephen’s much loved vocals will I’m sure speak to you, and teach you something about yourself that you may not already know.
3 songs to listen to: Hope Has A Name, Atmosphere, All I Need To Know
RIYL: Phil Wickham, Kevin Max, Downhere, Anberlin, Anchor & Braille, Matty Mullins, Jordan Feliz