on August 18, 2011
I originally posted this song-by-song review/album analysis on my blog... in three parts. If you want to get to the main point look at the last paragraph, but if you want the details of exactly why every song on this album is amazing, please just read on. I hope you enjoy the review!
Right from the start, Vessels hits you hard with "The Healing," which, in my opinion, is the album's strongest track, and the best song the band has recorded to date. The dual guitars come in full force and unbelievably epic vocal harmonies between Jeremy Gray (Ivoryline's lead singer) and guest vocalist Jason Vena are, quite simply, unmatched. I don't think I've ever heard two voices come together in a rock song as powerfully as they do on "The Healing," and when you add in the fantastic lyrics, it's a simply phenomenal track. The chorus simply repeats, "You didn't earn My love/ no you never could" over and over again, while the verses seem to be an encouragement to have faith in God and "live a life worthy of the calling you have felt inside." That chorus is such a powerful reminder that we can't do anything to earn God's love, and of course the music hits you so hard that the point is forcefully driven home.
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2: 4-5)
"With the Daylight" is next, and is probably the most encouraging song on the record, exchanging hard conviction for singing purely about hope with a chorus that sings, "Though grief is heavy tonight/ joy will break out with the daylight." I also love some of the other lyrics in the song, especially when they say, "Even now, your whole life's being fought for/ by the one who calls Himself I AM." It's an amazingly encouraging song, especially if you're in a hard time in life, as it is a hopeful reminder that God is with you, and He alone can bring joy and peace that does not depend on circumstances.
"Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30: 5)
The third track, "Search Me Out," is one of the band's hardest musically, and lyrically it's fittingly honest and desperate. It's a desperate cry out to God to purify us from sin ("Get it out, get it out right now"). The song's most powerful line, though, is in the pre-chorus, which warns, "The greater you know yourself/ the more darkness you've missed/ you still find a trace of hell." How true is that! The greater we believe ourselves to be, the more we are missing the darkness within. It's in the humility granted by the grace of God that we can realize how wretched we are and how holy He is, and then beg Him to purify us of our sin so we can be more like Him.
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51: 1-3)
"Instincts can't keep me from falling." Song #4, "Instincts," is a strong reminder that we can't stay afloat if we live by our own instincts. Ultimately, God is in control; no matter how well we think we are able to do things, we are still prone to falling. For this reason, the lines, "Don't look left, don't stray right/ narrow is the gate that leads to life," fit in very well. When we take our eyes off Christ and turn from the narrow road, we tend to fall. But when we focus on Him, see with His eternal perspective, and trust in His power to help us, He is faithful to work for His glory and our good.
"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3: 2-3)
Following four loaded rockers, Vessels quiets down for a moment with "Hearts Open," a contemplative and worshipful piece that focuses on our need for God with a chorus that sings, "Everyone here can be sure of one thing/ we're all in need/ our souls are aching but our hearts are open/ we're all in need." It acknowledges our need for God's help in the chorus, while the verses focus on our actions and attitudes that are in need of changing, all while giving the band a chance to show that they can write and perform calmer songs as well as heavier ones. But the best part of the song has to be the ending, where the band acknowledges that God is powerful and sufficient enough to fill that desperate need we all have. "Thank you, Father, thank you for who You are/ You're all I need."
"Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7: 24-25)
The title track, "Vessels," returns to the record's heavy roots with a chorus that blows the other songs to smithereens in terms of sheer force, while headache-inducing guitars simply floor you and Jeremy Gray begs you to contemplate, "What does it mean to be salt and light in a world that's tasteless?/ Salt and light in a world of darkness?" There's an evident desperation to truly be salt and light in the midst of the constant struggles against the flesh. Thankfully, as the band has already covered in the previous song, we serve a God who fills all of our needs and shortcomings and works through us despite our inability.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden... In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5: 14, 16)
The record's only romantic sort of love song, entitled "No One Else," is next. Surprisingly, but also not surprisingly, it's another heavy rocker, and really one of the most genuine and powerful love songs I've ever heard. The chorus reveals a sincere, burning desire to truly love despite the distorted image of love that the world offers with the lyrics, "You and I will not conform to this world of lust/ we'll live by love/ we decide to build our lives with foundations in trust/ we'll live in love." That sincerity and true picture of love make this song great.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Genesis 2: 24)
"Walking Dead" is loaded with more conviction and criticisms of our world today. This time our tendency to water down or avoid the truth is under examination: the band's conclusion? "A living, breathing generation of the walking dead/ believing nothing is wrong but everything always is." When we deny the truth of who God is, we lose the truth of who we are in the process, and in the end we are unable to have true life, which is knowing the one true God, and then we're just a society of "walking dead." There are several other potent lyrical moments in the song, including the bridge, which says, "All the things we think we need/ all the things we need/ have taken His place." We've tried to find satisfaction in things that are temporary, when God is the only one that can truly satisfy. Before the final chorus comes around, though, there is a cry out for help: "God descend, trade for flesh these hearts of stone." Only God can give us the new heart and life we need.
"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26)
A longing for Christ's return seems to permeate the next song, "Broken Bodies." The chorus sings, "Come back down, we're all ready now/ we're all drowning in our follies, broken hearts and broken bodies." This song matches what my heart longs for so well: to be delivered from this body of sin, for Christ to return and make all things new, and to live with Him forever and ever.
"He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22: 20)
"The Greatest Love" is mostly a song about Christ, plain and simple. It reflects on what He did on the cross, which in effect describes what He was willing to do out of His great love for His people. It is interesting, though, that parts of the verses seem to be about a more romantic sort of love... perhaps that reveals Jeremy Gray's desire to love his wife as Christ loves the church ("I will live my life with your pure, sinless heart as my guide"). Sounds familiar... My favorite line, though, is definitely from the bridge: "Make yourself known in all your glory / and steal our breath / Our eyes now opened to the story / we've been made to live."
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5: 25)
The shortened version of the album ends with what might be the record's most poignant track, "Made From Dust." Until the last couple minutes, it's actually a quieter track, and Gray's voice shines as he seems to simply pour out his heart in the beautiful lyrics. If I quoted all the lyrics I love from this song, I would end up with the entire song. That is not a joke, this song is simply beautiful. The lyrics that stand out most, however, are the ones that get repeated frequently: "The final time I close my eyes / I will open them in Paradise." In the midst of realizing all of our sins and shortcomings and longing to be rid of them, we can always cling to the hope of eternal life in Christ, because when we die, we will be with Him in Paradise. All you need to do is completely trust in Christ's sacrifice to cover your sin and make you righteous before God, and you can have that hope if you don't already. If you're going to listen to one song from Vessels, make it this one.
"And he [one of the criminals crucified with Jesus] said, `Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he [Jesus] said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23: 42-43)
What I prefer to call the real version of Vessels (what is listed digitally as the "deluxe version") includes two more fantastic songs that measure up to more than just tacked on bonus tracks that didn't make the cut; in fact I consider them just as much a part of the album as the rest of the songs. "Naked" is the first of these songs, and it returns Vessels to its heavy sonic blows for an epic musical ride. The song is about Adam and Eve and the fall of mankind, and about how God is the only one who truly knows us, and all of who we are is laid bare before Him. He knows even the deepest intentions of the heart, and there's nothing we can do to cover it up. But those who have faith in Christ to cover their sin can joyfully sing along with the bridge, which says, "One day I'll stand before you / and joy will flood my soul / and all of me will know / I am made whole in you."
"And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever." (1 Chronicles 28: 9)
The album comes to a close with the unique "You Bring Fire," which hardly sounds like anything else from Vessels. I actually didn't like it very much for quite some time, but in the past couple months the quality of this song has finally hit me. I love how the chorus describes the life God gives us when it says, "You bring fire to my bitter and drafty soul." Without the Spirit in us, our souls truly are bitter, drafty, and overwhelmingly cold. God brings "fire" to our cold souls that makes us truly alive. "You Bring Fire" closes the album out on a unique and unexpected note, while still delivering deep and honest lyrics.
"And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." (Colossians 2: 13-14)
After almost a year of owning this album (I'm pretty sure I got it literally the minute it came out), I can still listen to it and enjoy it just as much as I did the first time. I've never heard any other record that's so honest, convicting, encouraging, and powerful all at once, set to heavy hitting rock music that doesn't sound at all like screamo (sorry screamo lovers, I'm just not a fan of that style of music). I remember reading somewhere that the band's prayer in writing these songs was that they would be vessels to be used by God in some way; the final product makes it abundantly clear that God answered that prayer. Well, they have made an impact on at least one person's life. If you like the heavier side of rock music, I can't recommend this album enough.