Aggressive worship music - is there really such a thing? There are plenty of the classic rock bands that produce a stereotyped worship album, but it tends to be just a watered down version of radio-friendly, safe for the whole family music. However, a group of eclectic and insistent Christians out in Seattle known as Mars Hill Music, based out of Mars Hill Church, have declared that they want to change that. And with a large influx of offerings recently released, MHM is releasing its first full-length this week, from the band Citizens. But is it really a game-changing album or is it just the typecast music that we've all come to know and tolerate?
The album opens with the driven "Sweetness of Freedom." A vicious combo of distorted guitar, sweet synth, and raspy vocals make this track the perfect way to start the album. Thematically, it focuses on the full disclosure of the freedom that believers receive when covered in the righteousness of Christ. "Hail the King" and "I Am Living In A Land of Death" use this same approach with intense distortion but excellent clarity. Lyrically, "I Am Living…" uses such excellent imagery when lead singer Zach Bolen sings, "I've got Jesus' blood in my veins." To even think about the concept has pride-crushing implications.
A true standout is the first single off of the album, "Made Alive." Musically, it has a spark pop synth with grunge-funk bass. The lyrics reflect on our depravity but celebrate on the glory of Christ's grace as Bolen gruffly sings, "You have bought me back with the riches of your amazing grace and relentless love. I'm made alive forever, with you life forever, by your grace I'm saved." "Sins of My Youth" echoes the theme of God redeeming us from our sin but in a more contemplative way, by being reminded of the gospel.
For those who are in love with hymns, you will find "In Tenderness" and "I Surrender All" to be very refreshing. Both tracks keep the original melody intact while updating the music. As simple as this may sound, not many can accomplish it to this degree of excellence and make you want to sing it at your next church gathering.
The album concludes stunningly with "Oh God." The dark sounds of just a soft guitar and Bolen's near-breaking vocals really match well with the lyrics, "In the valley, oh God You're near. In the shadow, oh God You're near. Oh God, You never leave my side." However, it doesn't stay dark for too long; it explodes with hope and the climax and ends with celebration, "Height, nor depth, nor anything else could pull us apart. We are joined as one by the blood. Hope will rise as we become more than conquerors through the one who loved the world."
Citizens is an album made for the Christian who has wanted to sing gospel-centered lyrics but not sacrifice artful music on the altar of conformity. Citizens, as well as Mars Hill Music, have not only offered up some great tunes - they are paving a new road in music. Plus, this stuff will work for private times of prayer and corporate celebrations, especially churches that are engaging the culture. So, to answer the question from earlier: this album is a game-changer.- Review date: 3/11/13, written by Ryan Barbee of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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