Artist: Thousand Foot Krutch
Album: Oxygen: Inhale
Label: Independent (Fan-funded)
Release Date: 08.26.14
Reviewer: Lee Brown
- Like a Machine
- Untraveled Road
- Born This Way
- Set Me On Fire
- Give It To Me
- I See Red
- Light Up
- In My Room
Thousand Foot Krutch has been a revolutionizing force in music for over a decade now. From their amazing breakout albums Set It Off and Phenomenon all the way through their recent resurgence with The End is Where We Begin TFK has proven to be a fan-favorite, and with good reason. Although the boys from Canada seemed to hit a bit of a slump around their 2007 release The Flame in All of Us, they proved undoubtably that they are still more than a force to be reckoned with their 2012 album. Having blended several nuances of rock, rawk, hard rock, pop, and hip-hop across their now eight proper albums as TFK – not to mention their work as pop-punk side-project FM Static – the boys in Thousand Foot continue to earn their mettle with each passing release in new and diverse ways. So, when we come to 2014’s fan-funded Oxygen:Inhale fans knew before they laid down their kickstarter money that there was no telling what to expect from the brothers from the Great White North, only that it would be worth it.
If there were a recipe used to cook up Oxygen:Inhale, I would say it is roughly two heaping cups of The Art of Breaking, one cup FM Static, and one cup The End is Where We Begin, with just a dash of Manafest, a pinch of Lynard Skynard, and a splash of Carrie Underwood (yep!) for seasoning. Now, that recipe may sound like a bit of a chaotic mess. Truly, in lesser hands, it would have turned into a complete jumble! However, switching from a baking analogy over to a gardening analogy; what makes Oxygen:Inhale work is the band’s ability to hold tight to their core sound while also allowing for their branches to grow wide.
Oxygen:Inhale is not a perfect album. It does suffer from a lack of overarching cohesiveness in style, even while pulling off the mixture I mentioned above quite nicely. It will also likely be a bit of a shocker for those having just come off an addiction to the raucous The End is Where We Begin to find this new album so much more mellow and subdued (save for a few raucous tracks near the start). However, this album grows on you more and more with each listen. Truly, it may even provide deeper waters than their popular 2012 outing.
In this respect, I have to compare it to The Art of Breaking. When that album came out in 2005, I really didn’t know what to think of it. It was a bold style change from its predecessor, Phenomenon, which was then (and still is to this day) one of my favorite albums. It was also a much bolder palette, utilizing a rawk sound mixed with some older rock elements and high falsettos. In the same way, The End is Where We Begin is haled as TFK’s best modern album. Oxygen:Inhale finds itself following that album in the same way The Art of Breaking followed Phenomenon. The similarities are apt, even striking, as this new album even switches up the sound palette for a more laid-back rawk-infused sound (very raw rock in nature with an intentional focus on being production-light), frequently utilizing Trevor’s higher vocal range.
It is also more immediately apparent how Trevor’s musical partnership with Carrie Underwood (who came out and sang with TFK on-stage during WinterJam this past year for a one-off appearance) has influenced both the writing and style of the album. Trevor and Carrie are working together on a country act entitled Two Story Road, for those who did not know. In this, much of Oxygen:Inhale comes across as Americana rock in the vein of Lynard Skynard (or, as TFK has described it, Americana by way of Toronto) with some shared country roots. That is to say, there is no distinct “twang” to be found, or the old “lost my dog, lost my wife, lost my truck” aspect, but when you hear lyrics like, “there’s nothing left but the sound of my heart, there’s nothing left but the strings on this guitar,” (“I See Red”) you do immediately tend to think more Taylor Swift than TFK.
Still, Oxygen:Inhale has quite a bit of meat to chew on. In fact, paralleling our need for God to our constant need for oxygen in our lungs, O:I becomes one of TFK’s most devout albums ever made. Wanting to produce more of a raw rock feel in both sound and lyricism, O:I is honest, exposed, and unafraid. Songs like “In My Room,” picturing a broken young person who wants to reach out to God, but is overwhelmed by His immensity, asking Him “could you meet me in my room, a place where I feel safe,” are truly holy moments. In fact, not since the song “Lift It” have I heard TFK produce such blatant love songs to God. “Set Me on Fire,” “Light Up,” and “Oxygen” all seem to belong in this hallowed category and all inspire a deep passion, yearning, and reaching out to our loving Father in powerful ways. “Untraveled Road,” and “Glow,” in similar fashion, are inspirational and faith-affirming to the core. They take the faith expressed in the previous set of songs and put real flesh on them.
For those wanting the more raucous TFK, “Born This Way” (especially) and “Like a Machine” provide that barn-burner element that are sure to be the opening tracks to any upcoming concerts. In fact, “Born This Way,” while intentionally empty in meaning (when compared with tracks like “In My Room”), is one of the more infectious songs I’ve heard in recent memory. It’s catchy, it’s got some great guitar licks, and it would certainly be a “Guitar Hero/Rock Band” favorite, were those respective series still around.
The album begins with “Like a Machine.” As mentioned above, this track is more raucous. It feels very much like The Art of Breaking era TFK, and works as something of Lynard Skynard rock with some of Trevor’s rap-rock stylings thrown in. The song is not overly deep in the lyrical sense (at least on the surface), but it certainly works as a great concert song to get the crowd chanting.
My favorite track on the album is actually “Untraveled Road.” Holding closer to a lighter-toned version of what was found on The End is Where We Begin, “Untraveled Road” begins to show the seriously spiritual depth offered on this album. The theme of being set apart and taking the road others fear to travel blend nicely with the spiritual theme of lighting up the darkness and “waking sleeping giants.” The phrases “light shines brighter in the dark… we walk where no one wants to go on this untraveled road” paint a beautiful word picture of our calling to go and impact even the darkest the world brings through Christ’s light and love.
“Born this way,” is the prototypical “Americana (by way of Toronto) Rock.” From the screaming guitars at the outset, to the cadence and rhythm Trevor gives his vocals, the listener immediately feels a bit like he is hearing a new rendition of a 70’s rock track. The key distinction, of course, would be the blend of rap-rock vocals that set the track apart from the old style. Lyrically the track is fairly self-aggrandizing and slightly empty, but dang is it a fun song (see the embed, below).
“Set Me on Fire” begins to slow things down just a half a notch as the album starts to trend closer to FM Static territory, musically. As mentioned above, this is a great love song to God akin to the band’s “Lift It” from way back in the Set it Off days. One minor quibble is found in the fact that the lyrical repetition feels more akin to a direct worship-formatted album as opposed to the more worship-by-way-of-rock sound of tracks like “Lift It.” or “Breathe You In.” That said, “Set Me on Fire” is a beautiful and devoted track that, like the album itself, has grown on me with each listen through.
“Give it to Me” returns back to the Americana feel of “Born This Way,” only toned down a notch from that more high energy and faster paced track. This is a great example of where Trevor plays in the higher end of his range, vocally. The theme of the song seems to be God offering to take our hurts and baggage if we would just simply give them over to Him. This is also another track where a Guitar Hero play through would be rather fun, were this just released in its heyday.
“I See Red” feels very akin to the style (both musically and lyrically) employed during the Phenomenon era of TFK… at least at the outset. I have come to divide this song in two. The first half of the song (roughly) is exactly what is mentioned in the last sentence (and makes me both very happy and very nostalgic). The second half of the song, however, is the aforementioned switch over to a more Taylor Swift styled “there’s nothing left but the sound of my heart, there’s nothing left but the strings on this guitar.” This is not to say that the song is poor. In fact, I have come to like it quite a bit, but that one line seems to stick out like a sore thumb.
“Light Up” is distinguished by the persistence of a high falsetto used throughout. In terms of style choices, I think that this could have been used a little more sparsely. My wife, while listening to this in the car with me, even described it as a little whiny-sounding. While I wouldn’t go that far, it certainly has a little higher range at times than I think should have been used as a constant. To his credit, however, Trevor’s voice holds that range rather well. Lyrically the theme of “I light up when I see you,” could easily be interpreted by the listener as a romantic feeling towards the opposite sex; however, in the context of the rest of the album’s theme, seems to be another great love song to God moment.
“In My Room” is a brilliantly honest look at a broken soul coming trembling before a holy God. The lyrics are beautifully stated and brutally real as the soul yearningly sings out, “I’m not sure if this is a good time, or even if You’re home, it’s a long long way from Your throne, but can You meet me in my room, a place where I feel safe.” I am repeatedly bowled over by the poignant vulnerability this song presents from both the lyrical and musical standpoint. And, though it is certainly not one of TFK’s typical party-starter sort of tracks, “In My Room” may be one of the best songs the band has produced in the latter half of their amazing career.
A similar thing could be said for “Oxygen,” which continues to boldly and specifically name God as our source of life, while simultaneously admitting a very real and continuous need for Him just as we need oxygen in our lungs. Just as “Lift It” remained a favorite worship song of mine for around a decade, I could easily see “Oxygen” being a favorite in modern worship settings. As with “Set Me On Fire,” the style is closer to a worship style with a little heavier repetition given to the main chorus.
The album closes out with “Glow.” Much as “Untraveled Road” opened up the main theological discourse of the album, and “Set Me On Fire,” “In My Room,” and (especially) “Oxygen” present an increasing devotion to God, “Glow” reaffirms that seeking and yearning while catalyzing the message that we only glow when we are lit up by God Himself. “So burn me bright or let me go, make me stronger on the inside. Hold me tight or just let go, cause I don’t want it if I can’t glow.” In terms of that blend of styles I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, this is where the Carrie Underwood influence is most directly felt. The song ends with a very distinct country music style about it.
Musicianship: Oxygen: Inhale is a much more stripped back album than what TFK has ever produced. Intentionally eliminating many production elements so that the album feels like it is just the instruments, the vocals, and you, forces the ear to hone in on the amazing talent the band has to display. Stylistically, the album also moves nicely between TFK’s more rap-rock and rawk styles, but also adds in a healthy dose of Americana rock and even a little country twang.
Lyrics/Spiritual Content: While the band has always included a healthy thread of faith through their albums, complete with complex spiritual themes and a outright love for Jesus, it has rarely been as outspokenly displayed as it is here. While each album would feature a song in the vein of “Lift It,” Oxygen: Inhale is more direct than anything the band has produced. In fact, tracks like “Untraveled Room,” “In My Room,” and “Oxygen” are some of the most devoted tracks the band has ever produced.
Lasting Value: I mentioned in the opening paragraphs how this album reminds me quite a bit of The Art of Breaking, and I feel that is very apt. My first impressions of O:I were not overly strong. This parallels my experience with The Art of Breaking when that album first came out. However, the longer I spent with The Art of Breaking, the more I grew to appreciate and even deeply enjoy it. The same journey has happened with Oxygen: Inhale. While I fully expect many listeners to have a colder reception to this album at first (especially those won over by The End is Where We Begin), I also know that if they spend a little time with it, it will grow on them in powerful ways. I know our friends at JesusFreakHideout had the opposite happen, but I can say with joy that this album has grown more meaningful for me with each listen.
Overall: Canadian rockers Thousand Foot Krutch follow one of the greatest albums of their career with a more somber and devoted set of tracks that strip back all the hype and production and dare to be incredibly exposed and vulnerable. With a more Americana, classic rock, or even a more “raw” rock vibe, Oxygen: Inhale brings ten tracks that are unafraid to explore both brokenness before God and utter dependence on Him. O:I may not be as immediately accepted as 2012’s The End is Where We Begin, however, I argue that there are possibly even deeper waters to be found here.
Preview the entire album, on iTunes (for a limited time).