Hillsong United



by instantradical USER (59 Reviews)
April 24th, 2015 | 6 replies

Release Date: 2013 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The most overrated album in worship music history? It's more likely than you think.

Hillsong United practically reinvented worship music in the mid-2000s, redeeming it from the bland repetitiveness of Chris Tomlin and his ilk in favor of a more musically aggressive style that went far beyond other early 2000s artists. Despite being the product of a megachurch, Hillsong United felt "indie" and had the credibility to draw a hipper audience than most other worship artists.

But by 2013, things had changed. None of their following albums could live up to the incredible standard they'd set on their outstanding albums Look To You, United We Stand, and All Of The Above. They were being quickly eclipsed by Jesus Culture and Bethel Music - themselves virtually the American equivalent of Hillsong - and they seemed on the verge of irrelevance. Worship was increasingly moving away from fist-pumping power anthems, as church musicians began following the trend of big beards, banjos, and acoustic guitars. In the meantime, holdouts to arena worship seemed more passionate than United - particularly Jesus Culture, with their near-psychotic levels of passion and enthusiasm.

Zion is, for better or worse, an album that completely redefined the band. It ditches all traces of the thrashy post-punk guitar riffing of their best upbeat songs and replaces it for a synth-heavy sound that seems to have absorbed a panoply of Pitchfork-acclaimed chillwave bands. This is a novel approach that builds on Aftermath's stylistic changes. The problem isn't that this is a bad idea: it's actually a really good one. It's just that Zion's songwriting is not very interesting.

Zion has one outstanding song (Oceans) and one above-average song (Relentless). The rest are a hazy, hushed collection of tunes that certainly aren't bad, but simply lack anything particularly memorable about them. The writing distances itself from Hillsong's trademark catchy style, which has certainly been criticized in the past; but this reviewer, for one, has never found that catchiness to be a bad thing at all. Despite the fact that the album received glowing reviews, I've never heard a single one of its tracks besides Oceans played in church worship.

Fortunately, the new singles from United's upcoming album Empires suggest that the band has considerably refined their approach, taking Zion's good ideas and melding them with some better songwriting as United continues to transform from Bloc Party The Worship Band into a slick, avant-pop group with a fresh approach to worship. If Hillsong does become, once again, at the forefront of modern worship, it will be because of the seeds Zion planted, even if Zion itself isn't a great album.

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user ratings (22)

Comments:Add a Comment 
April 24th 2015


avg 3.9

12 votes

Most overrated album ever

April 25th 2015


isn't all of the shit in this genre the same anyway?

May 26th 2015


Album Rating: 4.5

Great review. Now that Empires is out, I'd love to hear your opinion on it. United has completely ditched the interesting and impressive guitar leads and "rock" for lack of a better word, for synthesizers and layering that is nice to listen to but is completely unmemorable. Empires, after one listen through, seems to be very similar to Zion in that it takes the synths and puts them on steroids, leaves the guitar, both electric and acoustic, behind, and tries to capitalize on the success of Zion's Oceans with each song generally being long and drawn out. It's also kind of subdued and so introspective that it's hard for me to get through in one listen through because it's just not upbeat at all. I don't know...I'll give it more time, but I'd love to hear your opinion on the new album...

June 3rd 2015


Album Rating: 4.0

I totally disagree with you, but I loved how you backed up your opinion. Personally, I felt Zion was such a breath of fresh air with its indie sensibilities brought to a genre severely lacking innovation in its big names, but your perspective is really enlightening.

June 3rd 2015


Album Rating: 2.5

This review is spot on actually

August 19th 2015


Album Rating: 2.5

Ryan - Actually I love Empires. I think it took the good ideas from Zion and gave them much better execution with far better songwriting. And I think there's some nice musicianship in there, with some good clean guitar playing. On top of that, the lyrics are some of the best the band's ever done - I'll write a review of Empires soon.

Jacob - I agree, it was a very fresh and original approach to worship when it came out. I just don't think the songs were very good. Fortunately Empires fixed that.

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