The name Underoath has become a common one among... well, anyone who knows what Christian rock or metal is, and even those only familiar with the secular version of these genres. It's not difficult to see how such a talented band has gained the best of both worlds in today's music industry. And as most successful vocalists do, Underoath drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie created a side-project. But The Almost wasn't just any side-project. 2007's Southern Weather was one of the most successful side-projects Christian music had ever seen. And, just like Underoath, The Almost caught the eyes of those categorized by secular music, partly because of their Tooth & Nail/Virgin Records partnership. This year brings us another healthy dose of Almost, titled Monster Monster.
The opening title track has the fun guitars and vocals found the last time around. Except this time there's something different--it all feels like more of a band effort. Not only are the vocals and lyrics extraordinary (something typical for a vocalist's side-project), but the music is as well! "Monster Monster" exhibits these elements perfectly. Repeating everything in the chorus twice gets monotonous, but it doesn't take away from the song in any way.
One other thing that this first song demonstrates is the beginning of a concept album. The theme running through Monster Monster has to do with the dark side of our human nature. We all have a monster living in us that defies God's will for our lives and does what it wants for itself. But we can't let that monster win. Every day we have a choice to make: do we fight the monster or give in to its wicked desires? This is what Gillespie and crew structured Monster Monster around. In what may be the highlight of the album, he sings, "When I am a monster, You never wince when You look at me. When I am a freak, You never stare. When I am a leper, You never say 'unclean.' And when I am lost... You come and get me free." God loves us even when we do give in to the monster, and is waiting to welcome us back into His arms when we realize our mistake.
Other highlights of the album include the singles "Lonely Wheel," a punk-rock track that sounds born to be played on the radio, and "Hands," a song that not only has the catchiness and amazing lyrics to go with it, but the melodic piano fused throughout that gives The Almost a better chance to shine their musical talent. Without the piano in "Hands," I'm not sure it would even be the same song.
The diversity of Monster Monster is one of the things that makes it so enjoyable. From the punky, fun-loving mood of the opening four tracks, to the rougher and darker "Young Again," to the ballad "Summer Summer," all the way to the country tinge in "Hand Grenade," we can see that the monster that The Almost has created is definitely a diverse one. The closing track, plainly titled "Monster"--set up to inevitably be confused with "Monster Monster," the opening track--perhaps demonstrates the range and utter talent that this band is capable of the most. Starting off with just the acoustic guitar and Gillespie's voice sets the stage for something epic to unfold. Halfway through the song, it explodes with the rest of the band, with the main highlight being a guitar solo with a real blues feel. I wouldn't have been surprised if a harmonica had suddenly joined in. The band claims that the piece was recorded live, making an already epic track seem completely unbelievable.
The amount of effort and genius put into this sophomore album is above and beyond what I had expected. It's rare to find a band with the incredible gift to make such great music and still choose to label themselves as "Christian." Although the band isn't overly blunt about any of the Christian messages found throughout, their fame might cause some people to look into their background more, and hopefully through Tooth & Nail, discover God's love for them. I look forward to seeing what will happen with The Almost in the future with such a fantastic album. Best Christian rock album of 2009? We'll see...