- Fact or Fiction
- Worthless Offer
- Reason to Fear
- The Search
- The Seeker
If you’ve picked up an album by any “metalcore” band in the past five or so years, you know before you even press play what to expect. Ever since Underoath, Emery, and As I Lay Dying (among others) started taking the heavy music world by storm, there has been something of a predictable pacing to the genre which features the occasional double bass drum, a heavy singer, a clean vocalist, and plenty of old-school chugging along the way. The newest release from A Past Unknown is no exception to this rule. However, in a scene filled with hundreds of bands that sound “almost exactly like” August Burns Red or The Devil Wears Prada, A Past Unknown brings a passion and level of technical mastery that promises that the listener will continually find something fresh and inspiring, even if it doesn’t completely set them apart.
Vainglory starts with the aptly titled “Separation,” an acoustic or instru-metal track that serves to both set the atmosphere of the album and to showcase the musicianship of the band before breaking into the powerful screams of “Cursed.” “Cursed,” then, begins to unfold thematically what turns out to be a powerful journey through faith and trials, the pains of this world and the promise of the coming glory. Both vocally and musically, Vainglory is top-notch. While the album does little to separate itself from the “tried and true” sounds of its encompassing genre, it doesn’t need to, either. A Past Unknown brings to the table a mastery and precision that matches and sometimes even exceeds the best of what their peers have to offer.
It is in the passion and depth of the lyrics that A Past Unknown begins to set themselves apart. Like For Today and A Plea for Purging, A Past Unknown comes with a relentless heart that beats for the King in every aspect of their message. From the opening notes of “Cursed” to the closing promises of “Cured” the Gospel message is preached in a way that brings the struggles of this life and the glories of the next into disheveled harmony with one another.
Along this journey, Vainglory provides plenty of powerhouse moments. “Fact or Fiction” tackles the deception of this world and the questions and doubts every believer has to face in this life. As the world proclaims “There’s nothing more than what we see,” the listener is challenged to hold boldly to a reasonable faith in the King who both exists in this world and yet is also transcendent beyond it. (Updated Oct. 1, 2012) – And how could I have neglected to mention that Ryan Kirby from Fit for a King is the guest vocalist on this track? Shame on me. Ryan brings his usual passion and power to “Fact or Fiction” that certainly ups the ante and should make us all salivate for another FFAK album.
This theme is immediately carried into “Worthless offer,” which boldly proclaims that this world’s offer of riches and glory is nothing compared to the joy of being in the presence of Christ eternally (and NOW!). “This won’t be my end, I have just begun to know what it means to live… There is more than what this world will tell us to live for.” These words flow with a passion that is matched by the heavy guitars and pounding drums. “I will never die” becomes the battle cry of the song, encapsulating a theme which has been prominent in recent releases such as For Today’s Immortal and War of Ages Return to Life.
In terms of raw musicianship and bleeding-heart passion, however, it is the song “August” that shows what sets A Past Unknown out from the crowd. “August” is both brutal and beautiful all at the same time. While it never produces a soundscape that would earn it the title “pretty,” it does beautifully transcend from the brutal to the sublime and back again with ease. Starting out fast and heavy, the song moves through its moments of serenity with almost celestial harp-esque moments before it slams skillfully back again into gut-wrenching brutality. Anyone wishing to sample what the band has to offer must start here.
Where “August” ends with the proclamation “You are God, forever reign;” “Divided” takes a look at the Body of Christ in division. Taking Jesus’ words to His disciples that “This is how they will know that you are My disciples, that you love one another,” the track points to the sorrowful division in Christianity and challenges the Church to get back to the business of loving. “They will see the difference, they will see love.”
As the final track, “Cured” perfectly brings together the musical and thematic threads weaving through Vainglory. Just as the title suggests, the cure is offered through a passionate spoken word presentation that walks the listener through a modified version of the Romans road. The final words of the album are a Gospel presentation that point the listener back to the exact cure this world needs.
Overall: Vainglory is a powerful and passionate exploration of the eternal plight of mankind. While it doesn’t break new ground musically, the level of artistry A Past Unknown brings to the table is undeniable. Fans of harder music will find an album that is a great balance of brutality and serenity, deserving a serious listen. But, it is the bold and faithful message of the album that will keep you coming back for more and discovering new depth with each subsequent play.
RIYL: Underoath, As I Lay Dying, August Burns Red, For Today, The Devil Wears Prada