Album Review :
Severchain - The Petals and the Thorns

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Artist: Severchain
Album: The Petals and the Thorns
Label: Tate Music Group
Release Date: 10.21.14
Reviewer: Lee Brown

Track Listing: 

  1. Get it Started
  2.  L.I.F.T.
  3.  Deliver Me
  4.  Outcome
  5.  Through the Field
  6.  Dwelling
  7.  Paradise
  8.  The Petals and the Thorns

My first personal experience with Severchain was at a little show in Moore Oklahoma. Kentucky-based worship pastor Darrin Early stepped before a select crowd and poured his heart into songs that he had personally crafted through his own experiences, pains, and passion. Far removed from the spectacle of corporate-sponsored mega-tours, this small event served to showcase what is pretty much at the heart of the “indie” part of our site’s name.

While venues and mega-tours spend sleepless nights fretting the decline in physical music sales, the death of rock and roll, 360-degree label partnerships, merchandise sales, and how to grab the average teenager’s attention for long enough to have them “like” a band; Darrin poured his heart into a craft he wasn’t making a living off of, but is completely passionate about. When I think of what many “indie” bands are all about, Darrin really exemplifies what that term speaks to.

Like so many bands, Severchain is fighting to be heard. They are up against the zeitgeist of culture in which even rock-n-roll legends are proclaiming rock to be dead. Like other bands, Early is fighting an uphill battle against a cultural mindset that music should be free… or at least come with a very small premium attached. The moral of this story is that in an era where music sales are down across the board and even some of the more popular indie artists are getting paid laughable royalties by streaming services and the like, passion is all that remains.

Yet, as I listened to Darrin give life to the songs he birthed as a proud father, neither the glitzy mega-tour nor the death-of-music-as-we-know-it routine seemed to have any power.  As long as there are people who are passionate about creating new expressions of audio for others to hear… as long as there are people passionate enough to pour their hearts into their craft the way Early did that night, music will survive and we’ll all be just fine.

If the name Severchain seems oddly familiar to you, it may be because we featured them on our free Passionate Hope Vol. 3 compilation two years ago, in support of their then-current self-titled debut album Severchain. Fast forward two years and Early returns with The Petals and The Thorns, an album that has influences ranging from metal to electronic to classical. Prior to listening to the album it was described to me as “Depeche Mode meets Skillet.” I find this to be an apt description of what Petals holds in store for listeners, though I would add a little to that.

As I tuned my ear to the brief eight tracks that encompass The Petals and the Thorns, I did take note of the “Depeche Mode meets Skillet” style. Specifically, I noted some inspirations that seemed to resonate with Skillet’s Invincible-era albums. However, the electronic and industrial flourishes that bring that parallel also remind me, in select moments, of Wyrick’s Aggressive State of Christianity album. But, these are merely vague parallels. The wonderful thing about music that is produced solely from the heart of a passionate artist, and not through a corporate system that is clinging to the “old guard” while trying to churn out the next “sound” it can force on bands, is that uniqueness exists. So, while Petals has moments where it reminds the listener of other similar sounds, the total experience is fresh and new.

Vocally, Early brings a welcome confidence. One would expect that a person serving as a worship pastor should also have a strong singing voice, yet most expect this sort of voice to fit better with “How Great Thou Art” than “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night.” My sense is that Early is more than capable and comfortable with either. Often times hard rock singers are able to hide mediocre voices behind bravado, that certainly isn’t the case here. Early brings solid vocals across the board that are perfectly fit to the blended hard-rock/alt-metal/industrial style employed. In fact, a few songs incorporate a stylistic strain on certain vocal elements that reminds me faintly of Mark Salomon (Stavesacre), especially in the pay-off moments of “Deliver Me.”

Album Breakdown:

Fittingly, the first song is “Get It Started.” “Get It Started” incorporates the industrial alt-metal sound with electronic flourishes that parallels Invincible-era Skillet or even a bit of Nine Inch Nails. Lyrically, the song begins to set some spiritual over-tones in place, but mostly incorporates something of a crowd-starter style. With both it’s place on the album and tone, this is the track that revs you into the album.

“L.I.F.T” follows and serves as one of the more catchy moments. Serving as a positive and empowering anthemic track, “L.I.F.T.” challenges the listener to “live your life in full throttle.” Musically the track blends industrial metal guitars that lead to Wyrick-styled vocals. Tonally, “L.I.F.T.” is positive and uplifting with lyrics that challenge you to “give your all” and break through barriers. As before, the spiritual overtone set in place speak not to empty self-empowerment, but to finding this strength through a God who gives us true life.

“Deliver Me” begins with a welcoming vocalization (Ah ah ah…) and Biblical imagery of Jesus and the beggar near the pool of Bethesda. Just as the beggar exclaims his reliance on others, which turns to reliance on God, “Deliver Me” speaks of being “bruised and battered, broken and shattered,” and needing Jesus to “deliver me.” Musically, “Deliver Me” is somewhere in the Depeche Mode meets Stavesacre vein, and not just because the big “Deliver me eh eh eh” moment around the 3:07 mark is eerily reminiscent of Mark Salomon’s style. For those wondering where to start to get a taste of what Severchain has to offer, I recommend going here, first.

“Outcome” leans more heavily into the industrial style, which once again reminds me a bit of Wyrick’s Aggressive State of Christianity in some ways. Lyrically, “Outcome” follows “Deliver Me” in presenting a case for giving Jesus your hurts, pains, and sickness as He has born the sting of death for us on the Cross. As before, “Outcome” has a nice catchy industrial element that grips you throughout.

“Through the Field” shifts gears a bit by telling the story of a lost love one. In the album’s overall narrative of giving life’s deepest pains to a God who cares, this track may hit home the most for many listeners as it covers loss, devastation, and pain. Stylistically, the industrial elements of the previous songs are stripped back as Early employs more acoustic guitars and djembe styled drumming, along with a bit more of a singsongy vocal style. Not only does “Through the Field” hits some nice emotional notes and bring some deftly pleasing vocal harmonies, but it also serves as a nice pace-breaker that helps bring more range to the overall album.

From the heartache of “Through the Field,” “Dwelling” brings back both the industrial alt-metal sound and more uplifting assurance that Christ will be “a warm blanket in this cold and barren land.” The song starts with a more sombre tone, which creates a nice bridge from the previous track, but builds to a more explosive outburst of “You will always be my dwelling place.” Lyrics such as “I will not be shaken, because I know Your name” capitalize on the positive energy created in “L.I.F.T.” nicely, as well as the overall theme of devotion Christ.

“Paradise” is more of an evangelistic track by nature. It speaks to the exclusivity of salvation through Christ, while warning the listener of “missing paradise.” Just as “Through the field” brought a different energy and tone, so “Paradise” brings a more unique element to the album. While the message of the song is fairly straight-forward, the musical execution is varied and dynamic. Post-modern listeners will likely be challenged by the track’s nod to “black and white” issues with no room for gray, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing as the track is meant to challenge our preconceived notions and turn our faith back to the only source of salvation available.

The album closes with the title track. Thematically, “The Petals and the Thorns” bridges the two divergent themes of pain in life and hope in Christ, choosing to hold both closely to the chest. Employing Paul’s famous diatribe that “to live is Christ to die is gain,” Early presents the reality that life, like a rose bush, contains both the flowery and the thorny moments in balance. The payoff to the song, then, is also the payoff of the whole albums message that, “I’ll take all the petals and the thorns.” Musically, the track follows more of a piano rock sound, which does a great job of setting itself apart and also closing the album out with a distinctive mark.

Musicianship: Severchain has a style that bears several comparisons, but is unique in execution. There are several various elements present on this album, ranging from piano work to electronic, from grungy guitars to djembe styled percussion. Each element is handled and blended together well.

Lyrical/Spiritual Content: Early brings together two distinct threads in this album; that of the pain of this world and that of Christ bearing our thorns. Both have a satisfying pay-off. The album also has a positive and uplifting vibe throughout, but most blatantly in songs like “L.I.F.T.”.

Lasting Value: Here is where I don’t have as much of a statement to make. Harder music, whether hard rock or more towards metal, as a whole is in a phase of both a decline in popularity and a struggle to find itself. The lasting value of this album, therefore, becomes tied to the way in which it blends a distinction of styles. Since there is less of a “core sound” in harder music as we speak, unique expressions such as this have the double-edged battle in that there is more room for distinct styles and simultaneously no “core” sound to contrast themselves against. As always – and as it should be – the lasting value then falls squarely on the listener.

Overall – Kentucky based alt-metal/ hard rock band Severchain follow up their self-titled debut with a reflective piece that looks at both the joy and pain of life and dares to hold them in the same hand. The style of the album is a blending of Invincible-era Skillet, Wyrick, and Depeche Mode, with just a hint of Stavesacre in some of the vocal moments. At just eight tracks, The Petals and the Thorns is a bit brief, but it is an enjoyable experience that anchors to a core sound, yet is also unafraid to bring in varied elements. In an era where hard music is facing an identity crisis, Severchain stands tall with a unique sound and a personality that is at the heart of “indie” rock music.

RIYL: Skillet, Depeche Mode, Wyrick, Stavesacre

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