Nowadays, Anberlin is a big name is the alternative and pop punk circles, having had a successful run on Tooth & Nail Records, which led to a signing with mainstream giant Universal Records. But before Anberlin was even a thought in their minds, Stephen Christian, Deon Rexroat and Joseph Milligan all played together with a drummer named Sean Hutson under the name of SaGoh 24/7. Hutson left at one point and was replaced by Nathan Young, making SaGoh 24/7 a true early incarnation of Anberlin today (with the exception of Anberlin's current guitarist Christian McAlhaney).
1999 is when SaGoh released Servants After God's Own Heart. When I hit play on the first track, "Missionary Song," I was thrown for a loop. I knew it wouldn't be quite like Anberlin, but what I got was absolutely nothing like Anberlin at all. It was closer to Rise Against than Anberlin, with Stephen Christian even having a much harsher voice. It was hard to figure out that it was Christian providing vocals until several songs in when he also did some Anberlin-style vocals. The rest of the music is similar to the skate punk genre - fast-paced beating of the snare drum with speedy kick drums behind a raw barrage of power chords. The one exception is the odd-sounding "Withstand," which is hornless-ska in the verses, but then turns into screaming in the chorus.
Now, as far as lyrics go, they're also different than Anberlin's lyrics. Whereas the spirituality is rather scarce in Anberlin's repertoire of songs, SaGoh is much more focused on God (even in the somewhat cheesy name). While there are a couple punk rock love songs (and a song about being like Rocky Balboa), there's faith sprinkled all over the place. In "Missionary Song," Christian literally says that, like Stephen in the Book of Acts, he will die for Christ. The aforementioned "Withstand" has a great message of fighting for what you believe and staying strong in the face of adversity, but it almost gets lost in the oddness of the song's musical structure (and Christian's screaming is weak and sounds like he's really straining to do it - I'm surprised it didn't tear his vocal cords). They also tackle issues such as abortion in "Days of Our Lives," and they end the album on a worshipful note with "Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You, I'll seek You in the morning, and I will love to walk in Your ways, step by step You lead me, and I follow You all of my days, I want to see Your face."
Overall, I wouldn't necessarily call Servants After God's Own Heart a good album. It's decent, but the style of punk SaGoh displays here is one that doesn't demand much. In all honesty, the drums are really the only thing that has to be good, as playing fast drums without messing up isn't easy. But for the guitars, you really only have to know some power chords, and the bass can easily follow. Then the vocals can be rough, and it fits perfectly with the music. SaGoh seems like they took total advantage of that when they started writing songs. It's very surprising that a band as finely-tuned as Anberlin came from this, but props to the guys for continually crafting their art to make it the best it can be. If you've never heard SaGoh 24/7, check out Servants After God's Own Heart and see what you think, but if you like Anberlin's current stuff, don't be surprised if you don't care much for what SaGoh offers.- Review date: 11/21/09, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: 316 Records / Rescue Records
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