Review Summary: Powerful and emotionally moving (post) rock with thoughtful and poetic lyrics. And they're a Christian band? Wait, that doesn't add up. Where's that one I forgot to carry?
When we were growing up, our mothers always taught us not to judge a book by its cover. Eventually, librarians taught us it's the other way around, and that while you certainly shouldn't grab a book from the shelf because of its pretty colors, generally the text on that flap will do a decent job of helping you decide whether or not you want to read more. In any case, this is an album that at least deserves the flap-read, if not a thorough listen and a reflection worthy of your freshman poetry class.
But say you're lazy and you're not sure it's worth your time to play through and skip around a couple of tracks. The cover's not the greatest sell here. After all, it seems to show more of the band's theistic ideology than anything else. A Crusades-era etching featuring a paladin's horse and a monk carrying a caduceus can really only give off one of two impressions: that you'll soon be tuning in to some awesome black metal or that you're in for a pseudo-musical sermon. Yet oddly enough, it's neither.
Sure there's a bit of a lacing of some Christian ideology in here, but, (ironically) thank God it's only slightly more prominent than that of the spirituality in a rapper's grammy acceptance speech. Granted, opener "Rejoice" and outro "And Again I Say Rejoice" frame the album with a chorus of allelujahs, but they both are not only easily forgettable, but feel forced on the rest of the album, which otherwise starts with an interesting fade in followed by a burst of emotion and an emotional fade out that rounds the album out perfectly. Not that there's anything wrong with a little hymn and piano, but in this case, the bookends come off as a bit tacky.
Aside from that, the "preachiness" factor extends to a few choice lyrics which are actually highly intelligent and very well constructed. In other words: you've got to be running with an agenda to hold it against a band who, for all intents and purposes, use the word "God" and its associated terms far less than, say, Iron Maiden. And when the subject is broached, it's handled with a great deal of tact. The lyrics are filled with colorful and majestic metaphors that examine life without the kind of rose colored glasses you might expect from a group that touts its faith. Take, for example, lyrics to "Light is a Metaphor:"
I received your love letter
It read like the stars in the clear summer weather
I was more than a chorus, I was a whole song
We were a season, and it stormed for far too long
You were the mountains and everything in between
But I was dancing in the valley and could not see
Everyone is water - clear and undisturbed
Everyone's a mirror - tall, strong, and pure
This is the kind of poetry you don't often see in modern music, and what's better is that it's delivered with the emotion it deserves. Vocalist Micah Boyce's gruff, but passionate baritone voice fuels these inspired lyrics with an uncommon energy that empowers the overall sound of the album. That's not to say that it doesn't stand on its own musically, however.
Quite the contrary - Beneath Our Noble Heads
is filled with excellently orchestrated musicianship and plenty of instrumental breaks that showcase it. The drumming manages to showcase speed, precision, and groove while contributing to the overall atmosphere from somber indie/post-rock tones to power rock while the bass lays down a steady, often leading groove that catches a lot of attention (see the groove in "Remove Your Limbs"). Guitars provide subtle, but integral leads and rhythm throughout, creating what can only be described as an aggressive, post-rock-oriented sound through extensive navigation of the fretboard at a pace that sounds just right. So many light strums highlight what can be a heavy rhythm that they're easy to gloss over, only to later realize the rich sound they add to the mix. The sound is furthered by the occasional somber violin section that manages to highlight and bundle the emotion of the pieces on which it's featured. No instrumental sections clearly stand out as groundbreaking, but they function as completely precise, on-point parts of a whole. While no one piece shines over another, they come together to create something dazzling that simply would not be without all
of those pieces.
It's worth noting that the band does a good job of making this emotion flow from stage to stage flawlessly and that transitions between tunes are executed with a fluidity most concept albums would kill for. Especially of note is the transition between "Pilgrim" and "Harlot," which feels more like a slight change of movement than a change of song and clearly demonstrates the group's talent for putting together a solid work of art.
When you put everything together, the book you've got, cover and all, is nothing short of the sort of infectious indie post-rock you'd expect to stay in your head for days at a time. If you come to Beneath Our Noble Heads
expecting the common "Christian rock" sound, you'll be left stunned. If you come to the record expecting something intriguing, well-crafted, and emotional, you'll still come out impressed. Read the poetry and forget that it's bound in that tirelessly boring Norton anthology along with "related materials of the time." So Long Forgotten stand on their own here, and they stand tall and proud.