Top critical review
Official IndieVisionMusic(dot)com Review
on November 22, 2014
Almost exactly two years after 2010’s Eternal, War of Ages blasts back with their latest title Return to Life. Ever since the announcement came that the Leroy and co. would be re-signing with Facedown, anticipation has been growing and growing for the follow up to what many consider War of Ages’ strongest effort yet.
Even with a cursory glance at the track names from last year’s record it was easy to discern that the theme of Eternal conveyed a sense of brokenness and serving Christ through the pain of the world. Immersing oneself in the messages from songs like “Collapse,” “Failure,” or “Your Betrayal” revealed a struggle against the world that could even end in feelings of defeat and failure. Enter Return to Life. In almost every way Return to Life serves as a counter-point to the more solemn messages found in Eternal.
Starting with the always amazing WOA cover art, this record delivers a message of rebirth, renewal, and restoration in every phrase, stanza, and every beat of the drum. If Eternal admitted that life can be hard and full of disappointments, Return to Life reminds the listener that we are dead to the world, and that Christ has conquered the powers of this world. Between this powerful message and War of Ages’ signature flavor of metal, the listener is practically forced to their feet, sword in hand, ready to reclaim what the enemy has stolen from us. This is exactly the message so many people need right now.
If you’ve followed War of Ages across any of their last 5 albums (counting their “rare” self-titled album), the musical style and sound of this new effort will not surprise you. Finding many similarities in tone and style to Arise and Conquer, this new album is distinctly WOA, though there are several points in the record where I was reminded of former label-mate No Innocent Victim (which is not a bad thing). Musically, there are few detours to be found this go-round. Whereas in Eternal there were elements of an updated form of rapcore provided by Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D. and some dual harmony on the AILD-featured tracks, Return to Life is straightforward in its presentation.
Don’t be misled by this, however, WOA always features some intense guitar work and inspired drumming, and Leroy’s passionate and often guttural vocals are always exactly what each track needs. Musically, they are always a cut above a large amount of other metal bands out there. That said, I would have loved to see a little more experimentation on this album to add that last little kick in the face of goodness. Though the message is strong and WOA is a cut above the pack all around, this album does not do enough sonically to distinguish itself from their past efforts.
Return to Life opens in “Immortal” with a snippet of a sermon speaking to the expectation of joy at the return of Christ which quickly bleeds into heavy guitars and the grand message, “We rise!” As an opening track, the style, intensity, and message of “Immortal” is more than fitting to give the listener an introduction to what they are in for across the album’s 10 tracks. “Redeemer” opens from the perspective of God asking, “Will you remember Me? Arise! Arise! Only truth will set you free.” “Redeemer” complements “Immortal” very well tonally and thematically.
One of the highlights of the album is the track “Silent Night.” Though it is not the post-hardcore reconstruction of a classic Christmas tune that I was hoping for when I first saw the title, the track itself is a standout with an ethereal lead-in to WOA’s classic pattern of challenging the listener to follow Christ with passion and fire. “M. E. B.” is the album’s “take a break with some instru-metal” track. “Song of Solomon” restores the pace after the brief break, and serves as one of two tracks which bears the name of a book of the Bible.
“Final Act,” carries an almost 80’s guitar metal styling meets WOA feel, which works quite well. The song itself ends abruptly with the battle cry/promise “We’ll never walk alone… God will bring rest,” which leads the listener into the “final rest” of the song “Unite.”
“Unite,” thematically, reminds me of the song of the same name by the O. C. Supertones, as it serves to light a fire under those who have been hiding in the darkness of the world’s shadow. As the final track, it encompasses the overall theme of the album, and is unrelenting in its challenge to the listener. What better way (and more fitting to War of Ages) than to end this album with a battle cry?
Overall: Return to Life doesn’t break much new ground musically for fan-favorite War of Ages. But, is this a bad thing when you’re ahead of the pack? As mentioned above, the message of this album is welcomed, needed, and well executed from start to finish. Fans of any of their past work will find a comfortable home in this new album and will quickly and devotedly find this as their new musical addiction.
Quick note: If you’ve been following IVM’s posts about the change in review scores, then, you’ll understand why this album is scored as it is. The score is a number. It represents that this album (musically) is on pace with other WOA albums, and other albums in this genre. Should you buy or not buy the album based on the review score alone? No. Read above, to get a better picture for yourself if this is a day one purchase for you or not. It certainly will be for me.