“But I’m still dirtier than I thought I’d ever be. I keep hiding from the cross cause deep down I don’t want to be free. I wanna hold on to this darkness; scream it loud so I am heard. If I’m gonna be honest, it’s the same song I just rearrange the words.”
Words like these found in Empty Words, are generously scattered throughout this quietly brilliant album. If you haven’t given this album a chance yet, you owe it to yourself to immerse yourself into this album of self-reflection.
Although this is the first album from Rival Choir, it’s not the first album from this group of guys. Before Rival Choir, they were Mouth of the South. However, after feeling that the band had changed significantly enough, and that they were in a different place in their lives, they decided to rebrand themselves as Rival Choir. The results of this rebranding are palpable.
“I Believe, Help My Unbelief” wastes no time getting started with Poured Out. Stuck somewhere between some beautiful blend of Underoath, Norma Jean, and influences from hardcore, Rival Choir delivers packing here. “I’m getting sick of this. It’s all starting to feel like home. No matter how far I run my mistakes follow me wherever I go.”
The theme flowing through the album, simply put, is the title of the album. The voice of the lyrics has belief in God, but is clouded with doubt in God’s strength, and trust in Him. He also sees the mountain of his own sin, and stumbles over seeing his own worth. These words from the song Quiet Life are the peak of the album’s theme: “I am the barricade standing in my own way. I am the end of the path getting caught in my trap. I am the fake. I am the fiend. I am the king of false humility. Have I been cut off? Is this all undone? Have I gone too far to find my way back home? Are the lights turned off? Would guide me back? And if I make it alive will there be anything left?” Guitarist, Christian Prince takes over the vocals for much of the song. The break in the action of chaotic screaming is a welcome one to add even more substance to the album. Prince’s vocals are unique, nearly yelling, but still maintaining melody.
The beauty of this album is that it’s not just 40 minutes of self-wallowing, all dark and depression. Track #9 titled Sojourn begins the journey back. Vocalist Josiah Lyle lets loose, “And now that you’re gone I can see the gap so clear and I’m starting to realize…I am Barabbas, I am the criminal. Hang me from the tree. I deserve the death that you died, I am far from worthy. I am Thomas, I feel my doubt constrict, I am too blind to see. Show me the holes in your hands, I believe, help my unbelief.” During this song, an earnest plea for God’s help is heard.
The change in theme continues to the end of the album in a near poetic conclusion. The first track screams “No matter how far I run, my mistakes follow me wherever I go.” The final song on the album titled I Believe, counters with, “No matter how far I run you follow me where I go and you lead me back home. I can see I will fall on my own. I believe, I will follow you home. Lead me into the waves so I can see you standing over them. I want to feel the oceans tremble. I want to fall in love again.”
Rival Choir has crafted an album out of brutal honesty from the depths of troubled believer’s heart. There’s so much in this album to sympathize with, to understand, to say “I feel the same way.” With the way it ended, delivering hope, and changing the theme from just a hopeless believer to a person actively searching to be closer to God despite his doubt. The album deserves more attention as it’s a near masterpiece.
While this review focused heavily on the words of the album and not the music, I should add that the music serves the message’s purpose perfectly. You can hear the desperation and the longing in the words. It’s as if the words in their natural form belong in this format, screaming out to God.
“Here I go, here I go again pleading for the freedom that you freely give. Shouldn’t once be enough? Shouldn’t I be free? Oh God, what the hell is wrong with me? You never went anywhere. I turned my back on you. Despite my pride and my running away. I hear you calling, screaming out my name.”
RIYL: To Speak of Wolves, Norma Jean, The Chariot, Corpus Christi