It says a lot about a band's character and tenacity that 28 years after their debut dropped, they are still alive and relevant in the scene. It is a rare accomplishment that is achieved not by accident and should be celebrated for the feat that it is in our high-speed culture that eats one-hit-wonders and spits them back into oblivion to never be heard from again. Since their inaugural release, there have been many lineup changes for Disciple, but that revolving door has finally seemed to shut since their 2014 release Attack. On Skeleton Psalms, the newest offering from the hard rock mainstays, they continue to build upon that continuity and the resulting chemistry among the band members.
One thing about every Disciple album you know going in, is there is going to be at least one or two radio-ready ballads as well as a solid mix of alternative to hard rock. It is a formula that has served them well over their lengthy career, and on Skeleton Psalm they do not do much to deviate from what they do best. Thematically, the album opener, interestingly entitled "The Executioner," sets the tone of the album from the gate with the themes of coming to grips with our flaws, failures, shame, and sin. According to lead singer Kevin Young, "It is about realizing that no, I do not want to celebrate anything about what I have done in this life. I want to lay my life down in exchange for a better one that God has for me." Disciple charges ahead with these thoughts in mind with the aid of a gospel choir in the opening few seconds that adds a mournful tone to a song that already carries a somber message in its opening refrain, "I never was the picture of a model son, a crooked criminal they caught holding the gun, it got so hard to see the truth from all the lies, slowly becoming more and more what I despise." It is an interesting inclusion that adds flair to the normal recipe that goes into making a Disciple opening track. It reminded me of the driving violin accompaniment to "Dear X, You Don't Own Me" from Horseshoes and Handgrenades.
Much of the same thematic imagery of wanting more than what we often settle for permeates many of the proceeding tracks in typical Disciple fashion. In the made for rock radio "Promise to Live", Young sings "This is where redemption lives/ In your surrender, you gotta remember/ what the truth is." It is a great song the seamlessly flows out of the longing for something more found in the album opener and takes the stance of someone coming alongside with words of encouragement and love. The title track, "Skeleton Psalm," reintroduces another Disciple staple, almost rap-rock vocals, and "Bad Words," one of the album's heaviest songs, which takes an interesting spin on James 3:5-6. The fifth track, "Resurrecting Reasons," is the first ballad on the album and carries a decidedly southern flair as Young croons over the down-tuned, dirty sounding guitars, "You keep resurrecting reasons/ To keep resurrecting Jesus in me." The back half of the album contains two of the better tracks on the album in "Scapegoat" and "Bow Down," which offer some of the more surprising experimentalism on the album. The latter transitions between metalcore and rap-rock while the former throws an unexpected 80's power metal flair in the refrain of "I am the way/ I am the truth/ I am the Life." This quickly transitions into a bridge that walks the fine line that exists between metal and hardcore breakdowns as Young screams "The hand of the Father is my shield and my dagger, and I won't serve another God." "For The Life of Me" closes Skeleton Psalms in typical Disciple fashion with a proclamation from the perspective of God reaching to a hurting soul, that despite what they have done, "I will wake you up again/ for the life of Me."
Disciple has been one of the more consistently great Christian rock acts for the past 28 years, and with their latest offering, they show no signs of slowing down. Each of these "Psalms" found in this release shows a maturity that comes from the longevity of the band and the welcome addition of a little experimentation, especially in the back third of the album, serves them well. In an age of flash-in-the-pan bands and downloadable singles, it is nice to hear a cohesive album that presents no true skippable tracks throughout. Granted there has not been much change to the typical Disciple album formula but they have manufactured a solid slate of songs that point to our need for Jesus during all life's seasons and it serves as another solid entry into a stellar career.- Review date: 4/20/23, written by Matt Baldwin of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Tooth & Nail Records
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