When Spoken released their Kickstarter-funded Illusion two years ago the result was a triumphant comeback to the Christian rock scene. It may not have been their best release, but the format of crowdfunding, recording with complete artistic freedom, and partnering with a label for distribution proved to be a successful formula. For their latest project, Breathe Again, the band is taking the same approach, with the only difference being a change in labels (this time releasing through Artery instead of eOne) but the outcome is possibly their strongest album since Last Chance To Breathe.
From start to finish, Breathe Again is a focused project. As the title suggests, this is an album is filled with themes of spiritual renewal. The concept of God "breathing" new life into us is a common theme in the Christian music industry, but Baird does not settle for trite lyrics or cliche, instead filling each word with a sense of desperation and hope. The lyrics aren't necessarily groundbreaking, but when paired with Baird's dynamic vocals the straightforward songwriting approach is quite effective. One notable example of this is the chorus of "Breathe Again," "I know inside you're falling apart / I know exactly where you are / I see the hope, the light in your eyes / you've come too far to feel this way / so leave the pieces in the grave / starting over again." The way Baird emphasizes the hurt with gritty vocals and soars with cleans for the more encouraging words leaves a strong impression. Spoken's alt-metal fans may be disappointed that Baird's piercing screams only show up in small doses throughout the album, but given that his emotional singing is the most unique aspect of Spoken's sound, this hardly sets them back from delivering intense rock tunes.
Accompanying Baird's impressive vocals are monster guitar riffs from Scoop Roberts and energetic drumming from Isaiah Perez (just listen to that drum beat on "Surrender"). Dynamic transitions between heavier and steady moments make for an engaging experience, something "Falling Apart" truly excels in, building tension during the verses, exploding with a tight drum fill, and driving through a furious chorus. Other highlights include the epic "Hollow and Untrue" with a gritty baseline contrasting a gentle flute and "Walking In My Dreams" which hits full force with aggressive hard rock. Many songs have guitar solos, and several carry electronic undertones and/or background strings to provide necessary distinction from track to track. The three slower songs also help to break up the album, the two reflective mid-tempo rockers ("Your Memories Are Alive Again," "Nothing Without You") provide some relief in the middle of the album, and the sole ballad "Take My Breath Away" serves as a thematically unifying closer.
Though there isn't a single weak track on Breathe Again, there are slightly more solid tracks ("Hold On," "Poison in the Air") than there are exceptional ones ("Beyond The Stars," "Falling Apart") making it land just shy of its fullest potential. Where Illusion appealed to fans of alt-metal and hard rock alike, Breathe Again might be more for fans of the latter. Regardless of style preference, this project warrants many spins as it is one the strongest rock albums to come out this year.- Review date: 12/7/15, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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