Review Summary: A spectacular album from what might be the best Christian metal band ever.
Christian metal has been going downhill for several years, although arguably not that much more than their secular counterparts. Part of this is just due to the fact there is an extremely small ratio of Christian bands versus secular ones, making it a bit harder to find artists that are either talented and/or unique. Then there's the recent metalcore trend, and the fact that the main label for Christian metal - Solid State Records - keeps signing boring band after boring band, whether they be metalcore or not. Even if it's an exaggeration to say so, at least part of the subgenre's demise can be blamed on Living Sacrifice calling it quits. While I personally believe original vocalist D.J. Johnson's awful moan ruined whatever the band had going on for them, their last three records were all terrific. Ever since they disbanded, both the Solid State label and genre as a whole have gone downhill, and the bands they heavily influenced (As I Lay Dying and Demon Hunter, among others) have yet to really come close to LS's last three albums.
This is not an essay on the current state of Christian metal, however, it's a review of Living Sacrifice's last album. If the band members happened to be on bad terms with each other during the recording, you'd never guess while listening to it. Conceived in Fire
has no truly weak tracks, the only bad moments are one (or maybe two) bad riffs (plus a couple clean vocal parts), and the best songs are as good or perhaps better than the highlights on Reborn
and The Hammering Process
. The album also feels a little hard to classify: it comes closest to metalcore, but there's a lot metal than 'core' here, and it's probably better than 9/10 metalcore albums (which admittedly might not say much).
The performances on Conceived in Fire
are pretty spectacular to say the least. Both guitarists fill the album to the brim with spectacular riffs, and there's only a couple parts (like the intro to "Separation") where the guitar parts sound awkward or bad. There's also at least four short solos, two of which (found in "Symbiotic" and "Separation") fully 'bring the shred', exhibiting the technical skill of lead guitarist Rocky Gray. Also, the duo help make instrumental "Into Again" a standout track, playing clean, melodic and intertwining parts that elevate the song above most instrumentals.
Bruce Fitzgugh used to be one of my favorite vocalists, and even though he'd no longer make onto a personal top 10 list, the man is still a force - or voice - to be reckoned with. His shrapnel-laced booming roar sounds almost unhuman at times, and coupled with better-than-average diction makes the vocals a definite positive of the album. Even when he's just doing a sort of whisper, it still sounds fairly cool.
The more unique aspect of the band, however, is the rhythm section. They boast two drummers: Lance Garvin, who plays normal drums, and Matt Putman, who plays tribal percussion. Unlike Slipknot, who can boast a drummer and percussionist, Living Sacrifice fully utilizes both members to give their music a driving, rhythmic aspect.
The problems are quite small in the long run, but they are surely there. Like so many other metal albums, the bass is quite hard to hear, and it's a shame since Arthur Green doesn't always just follow the guitarists. Also like many metal albums, Conceived in Fire
can feel quite monotonous during the first few listens. However, this is helped by several factors, the first being the soft instrumental "Into Again" (which effectively splits the album in two). There's also the running time (42 minutes), which means the album isn't stretched towards boredom that would likely ensue from, say, a 60 minute album. Lastly, while the music is certainly heavy, it's also fairly melodic, and a couple of the songs have sections with said melody that makes the music more interesting.
Conceived in Fire
has plenty of great things going for it, and it's truly commendable that the band can make an album this good 13 years into their career. The genre falls somewhere smack dab between metalcore and melodic death metal, with much more quality than an average album from the former. Each performance ranges from great to excellent, and there's no real filler tracks to be found here, just songs that are better than one another. The few problems are forgotten quickly as each song continues to pummel the listener into submission while simultaneously being melodic and enjoyable. Although it might not be the band's best album, it makes quite a strong case for Living Sacrifice being one of Christian metal's best bands (if not the
best). Anyone who is put off with the current bands "rocking for God" needs to give it a chance, and Conceived in Fire
will prove that yes, Satan, we can
rock harder than you.*
Send Your Regrets
*Please forgive that cheesy line, which I pretty much stole from BallToTheWall's Mortal Treason review. I hope it's the only real weak part of this review.