It’s been three years now since contemporary Christian phenom Anberlin called it quits. Since then, former frontman Stephen Christian has continued his own musical endeavors to critical acclaim; although his solo work has not been his only work (Anchor and Braille), his debut solo album, Wildfires, may be some of his most personal work yet.
This album has a canyon of deep reach into lyrical significance that is clearly rooted in experience rather than just an observation. Most prominently (and refreshingly), there’s a humble nature throughout the work, bordering on meekness. On Wildfires, Christian proves that God’s words take on a new meaning when you’ve lived through the hard times and found His presence still remains. This album seems to be a celebration of that unconditional aspect of God’s nature.
It also seems to be a settling, of sorts, into the true experience of Christian’s faith after having weathered some personal storms. This solo project is a proclamation of God’s greatness, expressed through Christian’s praise and encouragement using the Bible as a grounding wire to keep the music in the vein of faith rather than hardship.
The sound and music of Wildfires are secondary to this message. The vocals are not only the primary vessel for delivering the message, but they steal the show from the start. Christian’s voice is so unmistakably his own, it’s impossible not to remember the departed Anberlin in his sound. For accompaniment, the occasional flourish from guitar riffs and percussive tempos are there, but it’s all generally kept to a very selective presence. It’s used more simply for the consistency of a beat. The void left does not remain empty, softened with atmospheric keyboard fillers allowing his voice and message to shine.
Unlike some contemporary Christian albums, Wildfires leaves little room for open worship or personal interpretation. It’s largely a page out of the CCM playbook, but it is genuine. In fact, it’s raw enough to avoid the common glossy sheen applied to some of more corporately produced albums that come off as insincere from the genre. Songs like the praise tracks “Gloria” and “He is the Anthem” are abuzz with energy, whereas as others like “Wide-Eyed Wonder” have a more mellow and emotional place on the album. Although the record as a whole happens to be enjoyable, some natural frontrunners are “Undone” for the lyrical imagery and “Atmosphere” for Sarah Reeves‘ ethereal vocal contribution.
As one of the many veteran members of the Christian music community, Stephen Christian understands his art and his audience. Just as he did with his time in Anberlin, he has delivered a product in his solo work that is both influential and encouragingly positive, even amid some heavier content. Wildfires is proof that everything must end but new beginnings are always soon to follow.