Living Sacrifice
The Infinite Order

I suppose you expect a lot from storied veterans Living Sacrifice. You have to. When Brett Favre shows up to play, as a veteran, you expect him to either a) do it and do it well; or b) hang up the shoulder pads. It’s in mediocrity where veteran players die. Likewise, you expect Living Sacrifice to come strong, avoid mediocrity and deliver. Otherwise, the album gets swept under the rug, finds a small niche of fans (“Their new stuff really DOES rock!”), but basically dies to their general fan base.

That being said, as Living Sacrifice has gotten older as a band, their music has naturally matured; they’ve had their thrash metal, metalcore, even Soulfly-inspired days. And though Living Sacrifice has had its share of ups, The Infinite Order doesn’t overwhelmingly impress – and may be scarily hanging on in the purgatory state of mediocrity. Although I’m digging the metal roots the album is set in, The Infinite Order feels like it’s caught in an in-between state. I want something faster, even though the record is still pretty fast. I want something more dynamic, even though it has its mood swings. Songs like “Organized Lie” get it. It’s got the metal tempo, the breakdowns, the chants – it’s a well-written song that delivers what I’d expect from most tracks on a Living Sacrifice full-length record. Unfortunately, with songs like “The Training,” a dated, turn-of-the-century vibe hits and turns the record rapidly South. The record kicks off with a stellar “Overkill Exposure,” but begins losing steam, track-by-track, only arbitrarily getting hit with a defibrillator in places to shock it back to life. Portions of “Nietche’s Madmen” show the band’s creativity in songwriting and technical skill – and I want more of it. The blessing and the curse (that bands like Living Sacrifice and ZAO deal with) is the expectation that with age comes quality. And what may be truest of all is that that’s not true at all: Veterans can still write a record, but with that title, it may be harder than ever to write an incredible one. [Solid State] David Stagg

Gwen Stacy
A Dialogue
I wasn’t overly excited to listen to A Dialogue after the first riff sounded like I was about to roam down an Underoath record. But as the first track (and progressively, the album) went on, I was more and more intrigued; the tracks kept giving me a reason to listen. The Indiana-bred quartet wasn’t writing cookie-cutter songs or riffs; I had to work to keep up with parts of A Dialogue. The dynamics of their sophomore release make the plot interesting, pulling the listener in, rather than re-hashing the same old formula. For example, instead of go to the breakdown as a core song element (the easy way out), the first real breakdown doesn’t come until the very end of the second track, “Profit Motive.” For inhabiting a tired genre (“screamo” or whatever you want to call it), Gwen Stacy has composed a record worth checking out. [Solid State] David Stagg

Before There Was Rosalyn
The Fuhrer: An Allegory of a history of deception
Creating a concept album about ruthless tyrannical governments must come from a band with boldness, dedication and heart for a devoted message. Houston’s Before There Was Rosalyn proves to be just that band by releasing their sophomore album titled The Fuhrer: An Allegory Of A History Of Deception. “Fuhrer” is the German word for “leader” and was the infamous title Adolf Hitler bestowed upon himself. Using this term as an album title yields ambiguous interpretation, but perhaps this was the exact shock reaction the band was seeking. And with each of the 11 songs named after a particular type of leader such as “The Deceiver” or “The Revealer,” the band proves to make a statement for the listener to decipher. Ultimately, this message just might be too intricate and should be lost in the cracks on most ears, so it’s fortunate that music suffices. With a heavy emphasis on grudge riffs and melodic choruses, the quintet pumps out a thick brew of toughcore heavy enough for stout bikers, yet evoking enough for singing-along swooners. The band seals their mark as an artistically evolving band with the last track, “The Deliverer,” which morphs into a climatic soar repeating: “How great is our God?” – a chorus so beautifully delivered you’ll wish it never ends. [victory] Dan Frazier

Deas Vail
Birds and Cages
Those of us that have seen Deas Vail live know what they are capable of and with the release of Birds and Cages they take another step towards defining their sound in the studio. This band has always continued to move forward and this release is their best yet. Fans of Mae and beautifully done alternative pop will love the melodies and arrangements of lush orchestration, cool guitars and ethereal vocals. “Birds” and “Dance in Perfect Time” are two of the stand-out tracks blending the piano, guitar and swirling vocals over memorable hooks and enough artistic creativity to keep the indie-alternative crowd happy. Lyrically they’re miles ahead of their competition with intelligence and artist originality. This may be pop, but it is not pop psychology. It’s moving, emotional and it makes you think. [Gotee] Dr. Tony Shore

Rocks Into Rivers
Your reaction to Seabird’s Rocks Into Rivers will likely hinge upon how you feel about the Coldplay-ization of popular music. Coldplay deserves a lot of credit for letting Brian Eno produce them; his credentials are unquestionable. But Coldplay – even with that added Eno coolness factor – is still wimpy. Chris Martin, with all his piano plunking and overly sincere singing, too often comes off like a soft handshake. 11 songs into this 12-track release, electric guitars introduce the aptly titled “Finally Done Right.” And while keyboards and sweet vocals also find their place, it’s just so darn good to hear something at least a little gutsy. Yet there just aren’t nearly enough jubilant moments. This disc’s title track sounds like Leeland-meets-Chris Tomlin at a Hillsong concert. But even so, Hillsong would have even rocked harder than this – and Seabird is the one on the alternative rock label! Coldplay turns alternative rock into an oxymoron because that band is neither of those things. Similarly, it’s hard to tell the difference between Seabird and adult contemporary music – and that’s just plain wrong. It’s a shame because songs like “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” could have been great. Had someone like Switchfoot taken it on, for example, with an added power guitar riff, it would have carried the emotional punch it so severely lacks. Not all is hopeless, however. Seabird has far more lyrical depth than Coldplay, and has a lot of overall potential. If there’s the equivalent to assertiveness training in rock & roll, would somebody please sign up Seabird? [credential] Dan MacIntosh

The Fold
Dear Future, Come Get Me
After a couple albums and one EP on Tooth & Nail, the Chicago-based The Fold decided to go their own way (or perhaps it was vice-versa) to craft their latest disc, Dear Future, Come Get Me. And it’s easy to find the emotions involved in such changes as Dan Castady lets the listener in on the process on tracks like “Neverender,” “Head Held High” and “Hold On.” Sonically, the band took cues from recent Relient K offerings with its pop-punk leanings that expand to impressive fringes. “Head Held High” stuns with a softer synth delivery and a sweet electronic backdrop on “Dear Future.” As the band takes their sound into their own hands, their sensibilities have only gotten stronger. And in the end, the lyrical and musical punch is much stronger this time around. [Truck Treatment] Matt Conner

Take It Back!
10 songs. 26 minutes. You already know what you’re getting before ever listening to Take It Back!’s latest, Atrocities. The Facedown band delivers fast and loud on this sophomore outing and the only real atrocity is that it’s not enough. Powerful anthems like “New Empire” only leave you wanting more. The guitar work on Atrocities is unflinching one minute, supportive the next – playing the hero (the guitar, get it?) on the 10 songs present here. Combined with Nick Thomas’ tenor cries, it’s an intelligent assault on our broken world and hard rock fans alike. [Facedown] Matt Conner

The Emptiness
Alesana continues their penchant for dark, mysterious themes with the telling of the shadowy murder of Annabel on The Emptiness. Creepy male and female voices weave the narrative, while each song flows into the next, enticing the listener to get lost in the story. Vocals drive the tracks – a surprising fact considering this is a six-piece. The songs remain accessibly structured, even more than on Where Myth Fades to Legend, with enough time changes to avoid redundancy. Early cuts like “The Lunatic’s Lament” suffer a bit from too many repetitions, though by the middle of the album the tension of the unwinding story is enough to keep you invested. The band effectively avoids the tendency to throw in breakdowns haphazardly, instead peppering screams throughout to keep the songs constantly moving forward. “The Murderer” highlights the band’s songwriting with varying tempos culminating in a climactic breakdown that fits well. The album builds to a chilling confrontation on “To Be Scared by an Owl” and, by the end of the final track, you’ll feel like you’re leaving a movie theater after seeing a gripping thriller. To get the full effect, listen to it in order. [Fearless] Corey Erb

Starflyer 59
Ghosts Of The Past
Starflyer 59 has been at it a long time now, since the early ‘90s, so it’s not surprising the band has two CDs’ worth of b-sides and obscurities. It’s especially fun to hear band leader Jason Martin taking on cover songs for a few of his primary musical influences. He plays the role of down-in-the-dumps Morrissey on The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” and he also slows down and quiets The Church’s “Under the Milky Way.” Best of all, however, is how he re-imagines Bread’s “Guitar Man” as a shoegazer anthem. And while there are no Starflyer 59 songs on Guitar Hero (yet), make no mistake about it, Martin is a guitar man. So whether he’s taking the acoustic approach, as with “I Love You like the Little Bird,” or amp-ing it up during “Minor Keys,” Martin and Starflyer 59 consistently create heroic guitar music. [Tooth & Nail] dan MacIntosh

Saving Grace
Saving Grace finally might justifiably be known as more than just “that really hard band from New Zealand” with their second album Unbreakable. Having already established their presence with an EP, split and debut album, the Kiwi quartet returns with another lethal dose of brutallic: harsh guitar chugs, beat-down drums and grumbled vocals all sparsely slathered together. While it might lack any hope of dynamics, Unbreakable delivers a satisfying quench for authentic heavy metal fans – especially those who miss twirling their long black hair. [Strike First] Dan Frazier

Half-handed cloud
Cut Me Down & Count My Rings
ADD sufferer? Intrepid miniaturist? Either way, John “Half-Handed Cloud” Ringhofer is one prolific sancti-indie art-pop cat. As a fruitful branch of the tree planted by Danielson Famile and Sufjan Stevens, H-HC specializes in lo-fi pop snapshots packed with scriptural metaphor and an innocently shambolic, kitchen-sink production aesthetic. Cut Me Down & Count My Rings collects 46 such nuggets – in 78 minutes – recorded before and between bigger projects. If the effect is one of a mostly jovial, elongated medley, it’s also a nutritious rush of deliberately, delightfully unrefined sugar. [Asthmatic Kitty] Jamie Lee Rake

Shapes Stars Make
These Mountains Are Safe
Vocal-less rock is a challenge, but like Mogwai before them, Shapes Stars Make superbly layers shoegazing dynamics ripe with contrast and emotion while only using vocals (just like crystal and china) on special occasions. The songs on their debut, These Mountains Are Safe, often start off as a flicker to light the flame, but the crescendo builds and gradually ignites into a bonfire. And as the music carries your thoughts, the lyrics are untraditionally absent, which gives the freedom to interpret the music’s message with your own free will. [Dreamt] Dan Frazier

Abandon Kansas
We’re All Going Somewhere
Solomon was, of course, right in saying that there’s nothing new under the sun. But sometimes a band combines familiar elements in such a way as to bring something original out of the familiar. So it is with the major label CD EP debut by Abandon Kansas. Though it sounds like these four fellows may have taken in copious amounts of Switchfoot’s sunkissed anthemics, Franz Ferdinand’s disco-punk and an array of proggy/poppy recombinants from The Fixx to MuteMath, with some pop-punk thrown in for good measure, the results bristle with freshness. Their lyrical diversity should put them in good stead with both church youth group kids and commercial alt-rock radio’s prime demographic alike. Instrumental interplay is fluidly tight, and Jeremy Spring’s clarion baritone already sounds classic. Don’t let me down, guys; your six songs here have primed me for more goodness to come. [Gotee] Jamie Lee Rake

Joy Electric
Favorites At Play
Thank Joy Electric’s Ronnie Martin for re-igniting the debate over what constitutes “Christian” music. The electro-pop mainstay who once recorded an album called Christiansongs now tackles nine faves from general market alt rock, hip soundtracks and – why not? – Nelly Furtado. The JE spin on the latter’s “Say It Right” starkly accentuates the La Nelly’s latent melancholy. Elsewhere, Martin undertakes exercises in extensive renovation (All American Rejects) and giving synthy mirror images of songs’ feelings with which  he seems already sympatico (Fiest, Blink 182, The Killers). But Martin’s take on Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” pales next to the live re-contextualization of the Chris Martin gem I heard from The Pet Shop Boys in concert. If his  Ronald Of Orange side project and this possible tribute to his iPod energizes him for another original Joyous stunner, he could spend his time and fans’ good will in far worse ways. [Tooth & Nail] Jamie Lee Rake

Inter Armas Silent Leges
Nephesh nearly define multiculturalism unto themselves. The Columbian band with a Hebrew name (“being alive” or “life breath”) and Latin album title imbue Scandinavian black metal with the bluster of Germanic romanticism. And lyrics come in Spanish and English apart from the aforementioned dead Italian tongue. Orchestral keyboards and touches of sternly swelling choral vocals bring to mind Richard Wagner as much as the metrically shifting blast beats and ornate guitar recall Dimmu Borgir. But their dual vocals – a regurgitory gonad pinch in a higher register and the lower handled in a manner akin to Cookie Monster (sorry about the cliche) after a couple of diction lessons – keep Neph’ from the confines of the grand concert hall, though handily leading the mosh pit of their choice. Instrumental prologue and epilogue bracket what may be a concept album or more individuated onslaughts of aural darkness proclaiming the Light. Either way, Inter Armas Silent Leges stands as rather undeniable first salvo from an act with an already mature aesthetic. [Nockternal Hemizphear] Jamie Lee Rake

The Blind Boys of Alabama
The Blind Boys of Alabama sure choose some odd duet partners! And while Lou Reed is no vocal match for these gospel greats, his “Jesus” is still one of the best unlikely hymns in rock history. Whether it’s country (Randy Travis), reggae (Toots Hibbert), or blues (John Hammond) almost every gospel-(fill in the blank) combination is represented. Their friends are great, but these gospel powerhouses don’t really need any star power; yet it’s still fun to musically mix and match. [Saguaro Road] Dan MacIntosh

Number One Gun
To the Secrets And Knowledge
Despite losing its entire original roster, primary member Jeff Schneeweis continued the Number One Gun moniker with 2008’s The North Pole Project and now is back again with a fourth release titled To The Secrets And Knowledge. While utilizing the same elements as labelmates Anberlin (melodic soars accented by edge, but without the ‘80s nostalgia) and Mae (evocative lifts marinated in emotion, but without the electronic glitches), this album has hopes to finally carry the act into mainstream success. And the cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” surprisingly feels very appropriate. [Tooth & Nail] Dan Frazier

Family Force 5
Christmas Pageant
These guys freaked me out with this album. I figured it wouldn’t be a typical Christmas album, but I was expecting FF5 to stay stuck in their crunk ways. Not so. It’s all still crazy, but it sounds like they leaped with both feet in the direction of The Lonely Island or 3OH!3. Yeah, it’s kind of bouncing with smooth hip-hop… After the shock wears off, it’s mostly lots of fun. The boy band vibe they take in “Angels We Have Heard On High” is not so fun, but a minor road bump in a pleasant trip. [TMG] Doug Van Pelt

Thin Skin and an Open Heart
Variety is not just the spice of life; it’s also an element that helps keep CD reviewers from taking their own lives. And the variety expressed throughout Pacifico’s Thin Skin And An Open Heart is a true lifesaver. “Friends & Lovers” begins with a country lilt, before wonderfully harmonized vocals kick in. This one is followed by “Stop!,” which is driven by an irresistible power-pop electric guitar riff. It’s hard to find a lot that is overtly spiritual on this offering, lyrically speaking, although “Salvation Army” hints at Christianity’s role in a person’s life. But then again, it could just be about hitting rock bottom and shopping at thrift stores. Yet it is primarily the sounds, and not the messages, that make this such a fine effort. One song is titled “We Are The Easily Forgotten,” but nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the band Pacifico. [Allalom] dan macintosh

Divide the Sea
If Maylene and the Sons of Disaster had a baby, and old-Norma-Jean/Luti-Kriss had a baby, and somehow, by the grace of God, those two babies got together and … had another baby – well, by golly, Divide The Sea’s fantastically produced Man would pop out with a bloodstream carrying a worshipful flare. Although I might not give them mad props for “most original band of the century.” By combining great musicianship with a powerful frontman, you’ve got a solid signing here. What kind of musical classification does a band like this put on their MySpace? “Heavy-as-an-elephant-meets-southern-metal-meets-chaotic-turned-melodic-turned-back-into-hardcore-meets-slow-jam-meets-guitar-solos-meets-slug-chunky-breakdown-chant-praise-madness?” As “Saved Alone” rejoices, “It is well with my soul…“ (Give it a listen, you’ll understand). [Blood & Ink] Levi Macallister

For Those Who Wait
The already convinced should be thrilled with the forthcoming For Those Who Wait, yet another compendium of female-fronted rock (or is that rawk) songs intended for action movies and sports arenas alike. If anything, this latest is merely a continuation of Unbreakable, the band’s breakout sophomore album that earned nods from Billboard and high-profile placements all over television. The title track pulls a slow burn before rising to its final crescendo as Dawn Richardson gives those barely holding on an anthem to cling to. “Desperate” and “Core of My Addiction” tread predictable ground both lyrically and musically, speaking to familiar themes in the genre, and the guitar work from Justin Cox and Glenn Drennen remains strong on both. Ultimately for those who waited on this disc, you’ll find more of what you loved on the last. [Flicker] matt Conner

The Whirlwind
After Neal Morse’s conversion to Christianity, he told me there wouldn’t be another Transatlantic project. Thank God he was wrong. I have been yearning for some classic prog rock and The Whirlwind does not disappoint. Transatlantic is somewhat of a progressive art-rock super group featuring members of Dream Theater, Marillion, The Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard. This is their third album and it holds up well with the first two. It is easy to discern that this band is largely driven by Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) because it sounds a lot like Neal’s last few solo projects that they both play on. However, the addition of Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Pete Trewavas (Marillion) does make a difference that brings this up a notch. In epic classic prog fashion The Whirlwind is a single piece of music that is almost 78 minutes long. Not to fear though, it’s broken up into 12 separate tracks. Prog fans really have a reason to celebrate this one because musically it is even better than you would expect and lyrically Neal is at his best. You have to get the limited edition version, though, because it comes with a bonus disc that has 4 more new studio tracks and 4 cover songs. [Radiant/Metal Blade] Dr. Tony Shore

Frank Schweikhardt
Life But No More
Sounding like what comedian Steven Wright might were he to sing, Frank Schweikhardt reveals a weary soul all too aware of his sinful shortcomings on his latest longplayer. Those who enjoy the lightness of Denison Witmer and the dramatic weariness of Bon Iver could find favor in Schweikhardt’s personal observations and personalization of certain Christian doctrines in his minimalist folk-pop. However, accompanying himself in at least a slightly less samey manner than he does throughout most of this, Schweikhardt might raise himself a notch or more among folkies appealing to alt rockers. [Crossroads of america] Jamie Lee Rake

It Is Well
This Kutless worship album opens with the hymn “It Is Well,” introduced by a scratchy recorded version of the song, before going into full-on rock & roll. And this release follows with that general pattern – part worship hymn, part rock & roll – the rest of the way. Of the 12 tracks, the band had a part in writing half of them, which gives the CD a good new/old balance. And while the music doesn’t rock as hard as typical Kutless work, it is nevertheless still tough. Best of all, there aren’t too many overly familiar praise songs. Only about three, “Hungry,” “Redeemer” (a medley of “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” and “There Is A Redeemer”), and “God of Wonders,” have been recorded multiple times. It’s also a treat to hear a guitar band, such as Kutless, on a piano-backed song like “What Faith Can Do.” Yes, all is well with Kutless’ worship. [BEC] Dan MacIntosh

If you thought that the chin dipping, word rapping, gut singing hybrid chug rock was dead, Stria is here to prove you wrong. Like Linkin Park’s little step-brother that was rejected by Wind-Up Records, Stria delivers on their debut album Chimera a strong nostalgia for the late ‘90s hard rock that rivaled bubblegum pop on the airwaves and filled arenas with a baggy jean and black t-shirt clad audience. But after hearing Stria’s multiple tracks consecutively filled with the same clichéd formula, you’ll quickly remember why you grew to hate this music the first time around: because everyone discovered something better. [Raging Storm] Dan Frazier

VB-Cover200The Violet Burning
Sting Like Bees and Sing
The Cure-y electric guitar work on “More,” which was recorded live along with nine others at Cornerstone Festival in July of 2007, may fool you into thinking your dream of finding the Robert Smith of Christian music has come true. (But fans of Mike Pritzl have always known this). The Violet Burning have never sounded more aggressive – especially during “Do You Love Me?” – and this new concert collection finds the band at their absolute best. [thevioletburning] Dan MacIntosh

Hearts Of Saints
If the name Special D rings a bell, then you’re slightly ahead of the learning curve regarding new modern rock act Hearts of Saints. After signing to Grits’ new record label, Revolution Art, the Kentucky quartet ventured toward a more dance rock oriented sound and changed their name in the process. And now, the band’s self-titled becomes the label’s attempt to branch into the rock and roll market. Hearts of Saints is largely a solid entry to begin with. The band’s clearly at home in familiar radio rock territory and they execute their craft quite well. Accessible riffs match equally accessible melodies for a pleasant rock sound buoyed by harmonies and the occasional synth work. “Breakdown” and lead track “The Secret” deliver the highlights, although there’s no real weak spot among the bunch. Nothing spectacular, but a solid debut nonetheless. [Revolution Art] Matt Conner

The Crucified
The Pillars of Humanity
You already know this is a ridiculously good, must-own album for the hard music enthusiast, because you already have it (the original release on cassette or CD, with the lame 2-dimensional artwork). What you need to know is, “Did the remix by Jason Martin and Steve Dail make a sonic difference?” You’ll be glad to know that the answer is a resounding YES! For instance, the galloping riffage in a tune like “It’s All About Fear” receive an extra spark and edge that sounds more alive (like it might come right outta the speakers and throttle you) than it does some old analog recording. It’s bright yet thick. Don’t hesitate to add it to your collection or, better yet, get the boxset. [Tooth & Nail] Doug Van Pelt

First Watch
Overlooked in terms of the numbers they sold later after leaving the secular label for Christian music stardom, this debut album by Guardian stood above most of its peers. Yes, it’s time-stamped squarely in the ‘80s with production (handled by Stryper’s Oz Fox), guitar fills, bent notes galore and vocal histrionics galore, but it’s the real deal – not a cheap imitation. And check out how the finger-plucking intro to “One Of A Kind” pulls it into the “timeless” song mode. [Retroactive] Doug Van Pelt

What’s this old frontman named Blackie Lawless up to now? Can he be taken seriously? What would you say if I told ya he found a way to do his fanbase proud by sounding hungry and energetic with a lyrical theme drenched in biblical prophecy? While I was never a fan of his vocals and anthemic style, I have to say this album has caught my ear. Their cover of Deep Purple’s “Burn” is frightfully good, too. [Global Music] Doug Van Pelt

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
This triple-disc collection (2 DVDs & a CD) showcases BRMC in all their black & white coolness. Unlike many CD/DVD live album combinations (take HIM or Muse, for example), this one sounds better than it looks. While the live performance is shot professionally with great cameras, I find myself enjoying the energy of the tunes with my eyes closed more than locked in on what’s shown. It’s almost as if the 48-page booklet captures their aesthetic better than the high-end video cameras did. [Abstract Dragon] Doug Van Pelt

Full Circle
Scott Stapp reminds me of our quarterback in high school. His name was Dusty West and people called him “lil’ John Elway,” partly due to our mascot being the (Kern Valley) Broncos, but I bet he started the nickname himself. That’s right, he was full of himself … but he had talent. He was a hotdog water skier that ruled the nearby waters. Seemed like everything he touched went All-District. The people at Lake Isabella even tapped him for their commercial, filming him spinning in a stand-up position down their long steel slides culminating with a one-and-a-half into the water. One weekend his ego got the best of him and he called us linemen “worthless,” hinting that he didn’t need us to win. In the course of our game against the lowly Lone Pine Eagles that next Friday, he yelled at us in the huddle, muttering that stinging judgment, again. Marty, Pat, John, Steve and I all looked at each other and nodded. We then let the eager Lone Pine linemen opposite us straight through the line for an easy sack. He did his best to outrun them, but he spun right into a spearing helmet that left him bruised and bleeding. We did this for two plays in-a-row until he apologized in the huddle. “You know what, guys?” he said, flipping his mouthpiece and sending a huge wad of blood that had filled the molded cavern splattering towards the ground… We all stared at that coagulated mass of red liquid as he continued on about “deserving every lick he was getting.” We looked back at his eyes as he said, “I’m sorry. I’ve been a total (bleep) to you guys. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t throw another block for me the rest of the season.” One of our guys stuck his paw out and settled the matter with a handshake that made its way around the huddle. Dude learned his lesson and the team re-grouped and supported him. “Humble pie tastes like (bleep),” he said after the game, and I think that Creed’s lead singer can relate. They’ve rallied together – like our Broncos did that game with 28 unanswered points – and written a solid album that makes those that can remember almost forget all about that Weathered album and all the Stapp drama that followed. There’s a lot of us-vs-them language in these songs, but nary a pitiful word in the bunch. With the experienced production touch of Howard Benson, the sounds have more youth and urgency in them than you’d expect from a bunch of old guys. Not a classic, but not bad, either.  [Wind-up] The Kern County Kid

Green River Ordinance
Out Of My Hands
Few places exist more suitable than the current touring slot where Green River Ordinance resides, opening for American Idol winner David Cook. The Texas five-piece melds the best of most modern pop/rock acts around them to create a fantastic label debut, Out of My Hands, that bears no throw-away tracks front to back – a startling testament in today’s single-driven age. Third Eye Blind, Counting Crows, Our Lady Peace – every act appears in some influential form on Out of My Hands and show vocalist Josh Jenkins and company are fans, first and foremost, of a great melody. “Outside” should sweep its way to the top of the charts if given half a chance and the title track enjoys an Augustana-like structure. The same could be said of every other song, honestly. And that’s a good thing for the guys in GRO. [Virgin] Matt Conner

Sincerely Paul
When Sincerely Paul released Grieve in 1991, the world wasn’t quite ready for such gravely honest Christian music. This double-disc reissue’s CD notes tell of an embarrassing early band church gig, and that combination (dark rock group and conventional church) was clearly not a match made in heaven. Fortified by four bonus live cuts on the set’s second disc, this new package provides your second chance to hear James Preston’s desperate, before-its-time vocals. It’s a reminder that Sincerely Paul’s record deal with Blonde Vinyl was truly its only heavenly match. [Slide Music group] Dan macintosh

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Night Castle
Reading other reviews, you get a real mix of “love it/hate it” about this release. Being TSO’s second non-holiday album, it tells a story – in 21 songs (plus 5 non-story bonus tracks), on two discs with a nice 68-page booklet. At first listen I was less than impressed, especially when compared to previous releases. Upon subsequent listens though, the songs and the story continued to grow more enjoyable. While there are a couple rockers, this release is a bit more theatrical and melodic, ending up having more “opera” than “rock” for this rock-opera release. The 21-song length can begin to feel a bit long-winded for a story that could probably have been told in one disc; but it is what it is, and if you love it, you’ll love having more, and at a good price too. If judged as a stand-alone project, it is quite enjoyable. [Atlantic] Jeff McCormack

Queens Club
Nightmarer EP
This band can’t be pigeon-holed into one of these disparate musician stereotypes: leather-jacketed hedonists straddling Harleys, chicks on one arm and Strats in the other; ultra-cool, tortured artistes irresistible to brainy, beautiful women; and nerdy misfit techno-geek-knob-twisters who have no women but really cool gear. Instead, Nightmarer rocks and bleeps with a cool amalgamation of all three, fused with quirky evocative lyrics. Queens Club, who even looks like mutant offspring of the above, bring on your full-length – I’m ready to wake up screaming again. [Tooth & Nail] Carey Womack

Dark Circus
Third release shows a now well-established darkwave band, featuring heavy guitar-driven metallic music with a dark-sounding modern rock feel. Vocal styles here differ from the almost Rob Zombie feel of their last release, in places now giving a more mainstream alternative sound, while mixing in some death growls as well as an almost punk-like barking in places. Overall, a very solid release leaping large bounds over their previous two, and should garner them even more attention. [Youngside] Jeff McCormack


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Heaven's Metal: An Oral History of the Genesis of Christian Metal

Heaven's Metal

When rock emerged from blues and 'heavy metal' began to surface, faith-based metal acts also rose to start their own journeys. Initially shunned by both believers and non-believers, they were fighting for their spot at the table, ultimately building a legacy that would go on to change the genre forever. HM presents an oral history of the beginning of Christian metal music, featuring Guardian, Tourniquet, Holy Soldier, Whitecross, and, of course, Stryper.


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