Review Summary: Pillar's brief bout with originalityWARNING: ANECDOTE AHEAD
I had first heard of Pillar through ads for Battlecry, a Christian tour of sorts that was a three day event with a bunch of motivational speakers and bands. I remember being hooked immediately by “Frontline”, an anthem that spoke to the somewhat militaristic tendencies and parallels of Battlecry. At the time, my foray into music didn’t go much farther than the radio and Wow Hits CDs (anyone remember those?), and the crunchy guitars, driving riff and catchy chorus spoke to a type of music I hadn’t explored before. Needless to say, I thought songs like “Bring Me Down” and “Staring Back” were the pinnacle of heavy music, and they provided a crucial stepping stone into later, heavier bands. Sadly, much of Pillar’s music hasn’t been able to catch up with my progression, and their earlier music now just sounds dated and immature. The Reckoning
sought to change that, and surprisingly it succeeded in many areas.
Pillar has never been a band interested in pushing conventions in music, and their fans have always been fine with that. From their nu-metal leanings on Fireproof
to the more straight forward hard rock on Hypnotize
, their sound has been derivative and formulaic. Vocalist Rob Beckley is a capable singer, if not somewhat generic, being comfortable in the nu-metal standards of rapping and screaming. Guitarist Noah Henson follows much of the same pattern; he’s not a brilliant guitarist, but he fits the music and aesthetic well, with a few catchy riffs and memorable leads here and there. In the rhythm section, bass player “Kalel” plays his mainstream role to the letter. He never really shines or does anything more than support the aural low-end. Drummer Lester Estelle is easily the most talented of the group, however, and lets his gospel chops shine through consistently. He’s always present in the mix, but never overpowers it, striking a nice balance with the rest of the band. It’s a fairly simple recipe, and Pillar has always been able to stick with it.
The most immediately apparent change in The Reckoning
comes with the opener “Everything”. In the guitar especially, there is a distinctive southern rock flair – think Disciple meets Chevelle. This sound permeates mainly just the heavier songs, and is the main focus of the title track. While it is refreshing to hear a new angle introduced to a stale norm, one can’t help but wonder if it was truly a product of their heritage, or if it was another case of simple trend-hopping with the likes of Disciple and The Showdown. In any case, this new-found southern rock leads to some of Noah’s best guitar work. Most all his riffs are memorable, and he isn’t afraid to make them jam every now and again, or even throw in a solo or two. The band as a whole seems to have taken a step back and actually put some effort into the music. Rob sounds dedicated to the songs, and gives an emotional performance most every time, pushing his singing like he hasn’t in the past. This makes album highlights “Awake” and “Chasing Shadows at Midnight” shine all the more. Both are more mid-tempo and make good use of dynamics, never making the verses simple preludes to a chorus, nor providing a lackluster crescendo.
The main issue with The Reckoning
, is that for all its expounded aspects and refined songwriting, it ultimately comes across as a disjointed effort. Songs like the borderline metal “Crossfire” and “Tragedy” sound like they should be on entirely different albums from the likes of the ballad “Angel in Disguise” or the almost pop-punk stylings of “Sometimes”. The flow of the album just doesn’t work well outside of the first few tracks, making it seem all too top-heavy, though many of the best tracks actually occur in the latter half. In addition to this, Rob’s voice hasn’t aged incredibly well. His voice is certainly still serviceable, but many of his screams come off forced and hoarse. This would be a trend that continued well in For the Love of the Game
, and sometimes gives the impression of a grown man trying a little too hard to fit into the scene of his youth. Overall, however, The Reckoning
is definitely the crowning moment in Pillar’s discography. They still clung a little too stubbornly to some of the conventions of their past work, but all in all managed to create an album that could appeal their fans (even if modern rock Christian kids aren’t terribly hard to please) while giving the band much needed room to grow and improve. It’s too bad that they never went back to experimentation and instead fell back into their old ways and stagnant hard rock. Oh well, the kiddies will still buy it and I’ll still sneak a listen when no one’s around and my last.fm is logged out…
Chasing Shadows at Midnight