Album Review :
The Unshakable Tour: For Today, Impending Doom, Sleeping Giant, Texas in July

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Artists: For Today, Impending Doom, Sleeping Giants, Texas in July, Hundredth
The Unshakeable Tour, presented by World Vision
The Chameleon Club, Lancaster, PA
Concert Date: Friday, November 9, 2012
Reviewer: Eric Pettersson

About a year ago, I stepped down from my writing position here at IVM to pursue my own blog, Explore Reading, which seeks to promote the life and culture of my city, Reading, PA.  Yet as much as I love that project, sometimes I miss covering the Christian music scene, and I just had to sneak back in here to review The Unshakeable Tour.

This tour wins three awards in my book: 1, most crowd surfing I’ve seen at a single concert. 2, most people I’ve seen injured in the pit. And 3, most preaching I’ve heard from stage.

Those who are familiar with For Today will not be surprised by any of these awards. I took my cousin who has probably seen about a hundred metal shows, including multiple performances by As I Lay Dying, Lamb of God, and Slayer, and he said For Today was hands-down the heaviest show he’s ever seen. The two of us have seen them twice before—once with Impending Doom, once with Texas in July—and the five-piece metalcore outfit delivered yet again.

Unlike many shows where only a handful of people care about the opening acts, The Unshakable Tour had the house moving from beginning to end. Unfortunately we made it a little late and missed Hundredth, but we arrive just in time to catch the start of our local boys Texas in July. Hometown shows always have a special energy to them, but what really impressed me was the precision with which these guys played. Even though this was also my third time seeing Texas in July, I was still struck by how tight their sound has become. They played through favorites from 2011’s One Reality, including “1000 Lies” and “Magnolia,” along with several songs from the new self-titled album, released just one month before the show. Vocalist Alex Good and bassist Ben Witkowski dove into the crowd for the final breakdown, and I have to say he was probably lucky to get his bass back after that rowdy ending.

Sleeping Giant’s lead vocalist Tommy Green started the night by asking the crowd to join him in prayer for his friend’s daughter. He got a message earlier in the night that she was found floating in a swimming pool, not breathing, but after 20 minutes of prayer he got another message that the girl was alive. He asked us to pray with him for total healing before launching into a hard-hitting, fast-paced set. Members of Hundredth filled in on bass and guitar, but I would never have known from how well they played. Green stopped after each song to speak for a minute or two about issues of faith, emphasizing again and again that they wanted to offer hope and support, not judgment and condemnation. Before singing “Jehova Shalom,” he criticized so-called worship music that is “all about me, me, me, me, us, us, and not about Him.” “Worship is about a relationship,” he said. “It’s about singing straight to Him, not to me or you, and that’s what I’m doing on this song.” Later he shared his testimony, including a past riddled with abuse, divorce, and thoughts of suicide before accepting the divine forgiveness that allowed him to forgive others too. He led the crowd in saying the classic “sinner’s prayer” for any who wanted to share in that forgiveness. Before launching into “Eyes Wide Open,” he guided everyone in symbolically declaring freedom from bondage to anger and fear, challenging everyone to live their faith more fully and publicly.

Many people in the crowd seemed energized by this preaching, but when we decided to take a break from the pit for Impending Doom and head up to the bar, we met a guy who was less impressed. “I had to get away from all those speeches,” he shared with us, “I feel for him, but I’ve been through a lot of that stuff too, and I wasn’t really coming here to think about it and get depressed. I wanted to hear some metal and party.”

Impending Doom gives this tour some musical variety. Their guttural growls and thick bass shook the house, adding some death metal to a more hardcore-leaning lineup. After their set, a representative from World Vision came forward to share a little about their Christian humanitarian work, pray for the crowd, and encourage people to become sponsors. Those who pledged received a commemorative tour t-shirt.

Next another guy came up and shared his testimony before For Today finally came out and played, but I honestly didn’t catch who he was or much of what he was saying because by this point about half the crowd was done listening to people preach from stage and had all turned to their friends for conversation while waiting to get back to the music.

As the guy left, the lights went dark, and “The King,” the opening track off For Today’s new album Immortal, played while the guys took their place on stage. The song flowed right into “Fearless,” and the crowd sang along from front to back. Even though frontman Mattie Montgomery chose to preach between almost every song, he also seemed aware that people were getting antsy and chose to keep it short each time, always apologetically saying, “Bear with me one minute. I just have something on my heart right now that I need to share with you guys.” Through the course of their time on stage, he spoke boldly about the potential of this generation to initiate a Christian revival in America today by living out powerful faith that can’t be denied by “the media” or “doctors and scientists.”

They played several other new songs, as well as heavy-hitting sing-a-longs from their previous record, Breaker, such as “White Flag,” “Arm the Masses,” “The Advocate,” “The King,” and “Seraphim.” Sleeping Giant’s Tommy Green came back out to lend the guest vocals he also performed on the recorded version of “Under God.”

As I listened to Mattie preach, I couldn’t help but think of Charles Finney, the foremost evangelist of the mid-1800s. Finney let people know going to church wasn’t enough to be a Christian; they had to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus. He did a lot of things that make modern evangelicals a little embarrassed—he invented the altar call and unfortunately gave his share of fire and brimstone sermons—but he also pushed new believers to join the abolitionist movement and saw the gifts of the Spirit show up at his intensely emotional revival meetings. Finney, just like Mattie Montgomery, stirred up some controversy (especially among old-school Calvinists) by preaching the old Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection, claiming that we can be totally free from the power of sin in this life. He is no stranger to Christian rock, either. Keith Green claimed Finney’s writings as a major influence on his own thinking and preaching.

As can be expected at any concert these days, the band ended a song and abruptly walked off stage, keeping the lights low and waiting for the obligatory “one more song” chant to begin. For Today didn’t keep us waiting long, and returned for a bone-crushing performance of “Breaker,” a song with one of the heaviest breakdowns I’ve ever heard.

Overvall: The Unshakeable Tour puts a modern twist on the Spirit-filled hardcore that got this whole scene going back in the 1990s. All of the bands put on really solid shows, and they fit together well. It was also great to see World Vision connecting with people, offering prayer at their booth and speaking about their political advocacy to end human trafficking and sex slavery. My only complaint is that I wish The Chariot had been on the whole thing instead of just the first half, but we listened to their new album One Wing on our way down to the venue, so I guess we made up for it the best we could.