Review Summary: Bleeding a deeper, rawer kind of blood.
"There is no name for this," vocalist Kevin Young croons: "Worse than a hypocrite / All the things I said 'I'd never,' / I've broken every one. / What have I become / What happened to the son / that said he'd rather die than walk away from You?"
Few Christian rock albums begin with that kind of honesty, and those that would like to make that claim usually only do so under a layer of intentional vagueness as to prevent crossover non-appeal. With the possible exception of anomaly Southern Hospitality
, Disciple is anything but vague. If you're not in the market for a firmly fundamentalist Christian album, then Disciple really is not seeking your approval or acceptance. "We embrace our rejection," Young screams one track later. Yep, there's the absolutism and confidence we've come to know Disciple for.
But Long Live The Rebels
still demonstrates a slightly more introspective Disciple. After something as unabashedly evangelistic and - dare I say it? - traditional as the excellent Attack
, Long Live The Rebels
probes deeper into the very real struggle of biblical Christians that don't neatly fit into the politically and culturally-defined "evangelical" religious organization but still run counter-culture to modern and postmodern philosophical shifts. For every fist-up anthem ("Leave me in ashes, I'll rise up in flames"), we also get a genuine look at the internal battles ("These sins that have fallen from me keep calling out 'can you remember the high?'") these guys face. In an uncharacteristically "metal" lyric, Disciple even goes all-in on the delicate subject of war in "Spinning": "The bullet that slayed is the same bullet that saved / And the world keeps spinning around / The blood of thousands spilled / The greatest nations built... Wish the world would just stop spinning for a moment." But, as a throat-shredding scream indicates in "Underdog Fight Song," Disciple doesn't care what you think anymore. Long Live the Rebels
is only better for it, too.
But we're not really here to discuss the philosophical musics of a metal band that subscribes to and performs specifically for a mainline religious group, are we? We're here to talk rock and roll, and Long Live the Rebels
leaves us with an impressive list of talking points to go over. This marks the first time that the band has worked with renowned producer Aaron Sprinkle, who has worked wonders in the studio with Anberlin, Demon Hunter, Emery, The Almost, Project 86, and many others - and his care and attention really shows. There's a wonderful consistency in tone and atmosphere from start to finish; yet, nothing is degraded to lowest-common-denominator simplicity to achieve this. Guitarists Josiah Prince and Andrew Stanton riff, chug, and solo incessantly throughout - stylistically, it recalls the focus of Scars Remain
, but takes everything up a level with a touch more "heaviness," and much
more "shrediness." Stanton is, surprisingly, old-Disciple-mate Brad Noah's equal, no doubt a result of his experience in the hair-metal-influenced group I Am Empire. Songs often contain more than one soaring and technically impressive guitar solo in addition to regularly tasteful background lines and motifs. When the songs call for a little bit more chug, the riffs show Prince's skill and finesse as well as his undeniable chemistry with drummer Joey West, who frequently employs blistering fills and double-bass pounding in unique, interesting ways. Together, the band audibly combines multiple influences to craft a nearly-comprehensive rock record - relentless thrash hurries "Underdog Fight Song," melodic power metal carries the bridge of "First Love," djent-like rhythmic licks send off "Secret Weapon," deep and dissonant breakdowns underscore "Black Hole," harmonizing lead guitar invades the power-balled "Erase," and even some pop-punk double-timing shows up in the choruses of "Forever Starts Today."
It pleases me, then, to report that Disciple also takes the opportunity to try something new in the form of "Come My Way," the clear album highlight, an absolutely massive apocalyptic industrial-metal track relying on huge, chromatic guitar riffs, distorted synths, bit-crushed drum lines, searing screams, soaring melodies, and haunting noises. When Young screams "Can you feel my fingers on the chalkboard of your soul," you really can.
It's such a success, in fact, that it threatens to undermine the thematic and musical integrity of the rest of the album. The tension this track puts on every subsequent track is, frankly, palpable - upon first listen, I kept waiting for another "Come My Way" to happen. It didn't.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing, because repeat listens reveal that "Come My Way" is just one more musical style that Disciple can absolutely nail in addition to their ever-expanding genre repertoire. Are there other missteps on this album? Sure - the straight-to-CCM-radio "God is with Us" feels out of place here, even if musically and lyrically it stands far above other contemporary offerings. And, if I'm honest, the album begins to lose steam with "Spirit Fire," which sees Disciple falling into a bit of a repetitive slump that borders on self-plagiarism from their (admittedly massive) back-catalog. At least the album ends on a surprisingly strong note in the form of "Empty Grave," which brings in acoustic guitars, overdriven organs, Southern-Gospel duets, boot stomps, and claps to create the most genuinely Tennessean track since "Lay Our Burdens" hit the airwaves in 2009.
Long Live The Rebels
is not for everybody. But after 21 years of music and three full lineup changes, it's amazing to see a group still so musically cohesive and yet so on-point with current trends and tastes. It's an old-fashioned rock record that has evolved with the times, and to see personal growth be so central to its thematic construction is refreshing in 2016. This is Disciple's strongest work yet; the kind that, when prior sub-cultural discretion regarding Christian metal passes, will be remembered both as artfully crafted and immensely entertaining.