- Like a Trainwreck
- Horse Apples
- The Banks of the Otara
- Was:Is (Feat. Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant)
- Anthem of the Underground
- Temple of the Snake
- The Man Who Painted the Pavement
- The Urgency
By all accounts Facedown Records had an utterly amazing 2013. Powerhouse release followed after powerhouse release with little to no chinks the label’s armor. Then, as if to simply put icing on the cake and light the candles, the final two releases (by Everything in Slow Motion and My Epic, respectively) provided the knock out punch, ending the year with two of the best releases of any label, period. But, that was last year. Can Facedown somehow find a way to keep such impressive momentum going into 2014? If Saving Grace’s newest heavy hitter is any indication, we’re all in for a white-knuckled ride.
Having formed in their home country of New Zealand in 2005, Saving Grace is to NZ hardcore as August Burns Red is to “American” metalcore. They are, in many ways, the godfathers of their country’s scene. The band has won the world over through relentless touring and an above average work ethic. Any listener with a penchant for heavy music need only sample their past work to see why such accolades are deserved and why they were able to break into what is the New Zealand equivalent of the Billboard Mainstream charts.
The Urgency follows directly after 2011’s theological treatise The King is Coming. However, where The King is Coming brought an incredible look at the hope of the returning Christ that rightly abstained from too much personal introspection, The Urgency gives a grizzly and often anger-filled look at life that is from the chest. In this respect, it is a more intimate album unafraid to reach into the messiness of life, death, and the unyielding struggles between the two.
This is an album that deals with the realities of hell and the victory of heaven. It is brutal and edgy, yet deeply spiritual and theologically grounded. It is influenced by some pretty harrowing real life events, as well. The current (January 2014) issue of HM Magazine features a fantastic interview with the band where they talk about a normal everyday walk forever changed by seeing a man slashing at his wrists in order to end his life.
Musically, the band brings a hardcore or European metalcore sound that ventures even into some death metal flavorings at times. It is influenced (as is the band) by artists like Slayer and Arkangel which brings a grittier evolution from their last album mixed with a dash of August Burns Red’s heavier vocals. The guitar work is complex and the drums are often blisteringly fast-paced. The sum of these parts serves to ecentuate the often darker lyrics and tone to leave the listener wanting more and, consequently, finding new depths with each listen through.
The album begins with “+0,” a theological look at those who would try to add works to the redemptive grace of Christ. The point of the song is that Christ’s death “plus nothing” is what we need to be saved. While the band (see the HM interview again) acknowledges that a loving relationship with Christ should produce good works, there is nothing we can do to add to Christ’s death to earn heaven. Musically “+0” starts the album with aggressive screams and those blisteringly fast drums. In terms of setting a tone, “+0” establishes the heavy and often in-your-face tone that follows throughout the rest of the album.
“Like a Trainwreck” presents a fairly straightforward hardcore track that rails against our attempts at living life “medicated” and trying just to get by. “But, I can’t leave you here to die. I can’t just leave you to burn.” The guitars focus a little more on the classic “chug” in this track, but also show some of the complexities that really start to shine later in the album.
“1994,” the first track released for preview off the album, begins with the promise that “we are here to burn your world to the ground.” It follows up on this promise with some really slick guitar work that includes a definitively strong lick towards the end of the track. Lyrically, “1994” seems to be something of an anthem for the band as they proclaim “we are far beyond driven.”
This passion carries into “Descent,” which proves an introspective and unrelenting experience. This is one of the “dark” tracks that takes an honest look at what it means to want to give up, but still finding the will to fight. It looks at grim realities of questioning faith and even the contemplation of suicide screaming, “I am the apocalypse…betrayal on my lips,” before proclaiming a William Wallace sized shout of “freedom… I walk free from the chains of a dead man.” Once again the guitar work is slick and the drums pound like battering rams.
“Horse Apples” (which is slang for horse crap) incorporates some classical hardcore pacing and some of the most strained heavy vocals of the album. It continues the themes established in “Descent” with a focus on facing hard truth. Facing truth in the midst of tragedy also becomes the focus of “The Banks of the Otara,” which is a river found on New Zealand’s North Island. Tautuhi screams out; “You wait for me. I come to You. Another day, I live on…I never thanked you… or (said) that I loved you…that I miss you… but, I wish you were here with me.” The background to the track is the story of the singer’s cousin, who was tragically killed in a car accident. In this, Tautuhi presents an emotional exploration of grief and words left unsaid.
“Was:Is” incorporates spoken-word preaching (focusing on false prophets saying “everything will be peaceful and secure”) set against harrowing and pain-filled screams. As the title implies, the track presents a before and after of sorts.
Unfortunately, the catchiest moment comes in the “before” section with the lyrics “embrace the devil” repeated loudly. Even more unfortunately, the impact of this song is ruined for me because every time I’ve listened to it, that one unfortunate lyric has stuck in my head on repeat. Let me be clear, the band is not encouraging satan worship (as the constant prayer spoken in the background seems to assure), but for me, I can’t listen to “Was:Is” without that line taking anchor by itself, and therefore the track as a whole is one I’ve begun skipping. Updated: After speaking with Vasely Sapunov this morning a bit I was relieved to find that I simply heard the track very wrong. The line I mentioned, spoken in the song by Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant (whose influence is certainly felt in the track), was actually “embrace the downfall.” This certainly immediately reverses any negative impact the track had, and knowing Tommy is the one spitting the lines actually elevates the track to new heights.
“Ceremony” provides context to “Was:Is” as it begins from a demonic perspective (“I exist to bring you despair. I exist to usher your destruction”), yet serves to unmask (“there is no surprise. No more lies. No more deceit. I have come to end it all”) this unholy spirit and reminds this spirit that the army of the Lord is coming over the hills to bring its downfall. The track closes with a chanted “behead the serpent. Dig the grave. Bury the body. Walk away…smiling.” in this, “Ceremony” provides a great transition from dark to light, death to life, and brings an awesome final lyric (quoted above) that I hope will both figuratively and literally behead the problem lyric from “Was:Is” that lodged itself in my brain on repeat.
“Anthem of the Underground” picks right up where “Ceremony” closed out with a rousing chant of “Fight until our dying breath.” In looking at the brokenness of this generation, it challenges a return to truth “at all costs.” Overall, “Anthem of the Underground” feels like it would fit perfectly with Sleeping Giant’s style, even including spoken-word and crowd/gang chants like, “This is more than a scene or a temporary vision statement…until our dying breath.” Overall, this track was one of my favorites on the album and it will certainly prove a great track for the band to play live. It is simply made for a crowd.
“Temple of the Snake” brings a more brisk pace to the lyrics and instrumentation, moving in waves of brutality. Thematically it seems to take a step back from the last two tracks as it proclaims, “still making the same mistakes, still walking away from grace… I spent my days in the temple of the snake.” In this, the track would be misplaced (better to fit around “Was:Is”) if it were not for the clincher, which follows after a very For Today-esque “eeeeouuuugh” moment and points to hope again. In terms of guitar work, “Temple of the Snake” provides some of the most memorable licks of the album. The complexity of the guitar work throughout is high, but it shines in the more daring moment of variation, such as this track provides.
Likewise, “The Man Who Painted the Pavement” (the most direct reference to the attempted suicide the guys witnessed) would seem to fit better earlier in the album. If I could comment on the flow of the album, I would personally have switched “Temple of the Snake/The Man Who Painted the Pavement” and “Ceremony/Anthem of the Underground” around. In this, the darkest moments of the album would more cleanly break into the most rousing and the build up to “Ablaze” would have been more direct. Still, this is a haunting song. Knowing the back story makes the words, “How long were you hurtling towards this… violent act? This violent act of misery?… you look exhausted. You look ruined…” sink in all the deeper. As it should, “The Man Who Painted the Pavement” ends completely unresolved as it fades away.
“Ablaze” is (as the band themselves have admitted) the most commercially viable and “T.V. friendly” track on the album. Thematically it is an echo of Saving Grace’s buddies For Today and their track “Seraphim.” Though it is certainly different in execution, the imagery of being on fire for God with passion resounds in similar fashion. “We are the burning ones” is simply traded out for “ignite the fire and I will burn.” That being said, “Ablaze” is a great song. The similarities to another great song do not detract from it. Rather, “Ablaze” provides the most dramatic counterpoint to the despair that resonates through many of the previous tracks. It is the moment on the album that gives but a flittering glance to the pain behind as it clenches bloodied fists around the hope ahead.
Musically, it has another great European-influenced guitar lick in the midst of waves of chugging guitars and brisk drumming. Lyrically you already know what to expect from the description above, but this does not take away from the fact that this is a solid anthem. This power then bleeds into “The Urgency” which, as a true closing track, ties up the loose ends by reminding the listener what the entire experience has been about (through a sermon snippet) as it seeks to leave them with a sense of the true urgency we should have in Christ to reach such a broken world.
Overall: Saving Grace usher in 2014 with a powerful look at life, death, and the battle that lies between. The Urgency is heavy lyrically and musically, but it continues to point the listener towards the hope found in Christ. It is a much angrier and darker experience than some of the band’s past work, but it will also prove more intimate and accessible for some. Most importantly, despite following an overwhelmingly great set of releases from their label, Saving Grace has kept Facedown’s momentum going strong into 2014 and set the bar for everything that follows it this year.
RIYL: August Burns Red, Slayer, Arkangel, Colossus