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Pillar and Sarah Brendel
by Paul Landkamer
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When Pillar first broke into the national eye, they earned the label “rapcore”, but, with enough melodic vocals to keep the label from sticking. I’ve kept up with their music, and they’ve gone through changes. They’ve still got the heavy pounding music like they had in Fireproof, but, as evidenced in their latest effort, The Reckoning, seem to have dropped the rap from their vocals.

I want to call Pillar “heavy metal” but they’re not by any means ‘80s rockers. One could call them “Emo” but the consistent heaviness of the instrumentals don’t really allow that. “Screamo” could work, but the vocals are too melodic for that label. Pillar is a blend of contemporary extremes, but with just enough classic rock influence to even keep an old rocker like me interested in them.

The first few bars of the first track grabbed my attention with a pulsing classic plodding heaviness and crunching guitars like old Black Sabbath, Metallica, or, well, Pillar’s “Fireproof”. It’s theme is that “Everything” has a price. Are you willing to pay it? The theme of the second track, “Awake”, escapes me. Even with the lyrics, which are printed in a rather hard-to-read font, leave me with questions. Loneliness, backsliding, chasing the lies of worldliness all enter the message. Some bands don’t even print lyrics because they want listeners to pay attention, and maybe even hear different messages with each listening. Several songs on this album leave me with questions. “Thinking songs” could be a good label for them. “When Tomorrow Comes” today will be yesterday. The theme is that time is precious. Don’t waste it. The musical intensity is also a bit toned down from the first two tracks. Track four touches on a popular theme of responsibility. Quit trying to place blame and run from accountability, because “The Reckoning” will come.

“Tragedy” opens with more scream/growled vocals, which tones down by the end of the song. It’s a message of trying to save one’s self. It won’t work. Like with track three, “Last Goodbye” touches on wasting time. You never know when your last goodbye might be, so make the most of your time now. It’s a lot more ballady, and almost ethereal in the vocals. “Angel in Disguise” has a good classic heavy flavor to it. Themes of abuse, forgiveness and comfort enter into this “thinking song.” Track eight is an instrumental with touches of soft classic metal.

“Crossfire” is another thinker about confused loyalties. Musically intense, and quite interesting, it’s another favorite of mine. Song ten reminds us that foolishness, lies and fears are enemies. Make a “Resolution” to not befriend them and let them hold you down. Track eleven throws some punk flavor into the musical blend. “Sometimes” life can be confusing, and we shouldn’t hesitate to ask God’s help in trying to make sense of it. “Wherever the Wind Blows” is another thinker that hits on apathy. If we don’t seek God’s guidance, we’ll end up being taken whichever way the wind blows. Track thirteen could be a relational song, or one on returning to worldly lifestyles. I keep picturing 2 Peter 2:22 with this one.

The younger listeners love The Reckoning, and the classic heaviness also has an appeal for older listeners. Pillar is a good choice to get young and old rockers together.

I got this next CD free in the mail, though this one not for review purposes like the Pillar CD, It's Sarah Brendel’s self-titled debut CD. I figured since it was a thank-you for supporting my local adult contemporary radio station, it’d be a soft and mushy CD that would appeal more to my wife than me. I gave her a listen anyway.

Hints of Fine China, Benjamin Gate, Gretchen, heavy Plumb and even Ginny Owens seeped into the music. Sarah Brendel’s an instant favorite for me. Her CD delivers 10 tracks of ear candy with a message.

“Commodity” laments the aimless life where love is treated as a commodity. “Fire”, the second track, presents the popular message of more of Jesus and less of me. “Turn” shifts to a bit more ethereal and down-tempo feel. It’s got decent hit-quality in it, while still not trying to sound like all the rest of pop stuff. Sarah sings of the change when one receives God’s Grace. “Breathing In” is more pop-hit stuff, and it rocks a bit harder than “Turn”. “Breathing In” acknowledges that despite all the ups and downs in our lives, Jesus still loves and is always there for us.

Track five, “King I Love” takes on nearly a country rock flavor. It sings of Jesus’s omnipotence, and His almost oxymoronic personal love for us. A “Catherine Wheel” sheds brilliance on everything. Another country rockish tune, the sixth track says even though we might not understand God, and even feel distant at times, His light keeps shining on us. “Pardon Me” starts off suspiciously like The Beatles’ “Across the Universe”, but leaves the lyrical similarity behind quickly. It’s a song of how God’s Word can be comforting, humbling, and so much more. “Confused” ups the tempo and hardness to a message that even though we might be Christians, we don’t have all the answers.

“Babel Towers” features laid back instrumentals and ethereal vocals. It’s a message of our trying to build our towers, then admitting our wrongs. We need to give ourselves to God, getting rid of our fears “No More”, the tenth and last track, opens with a cello (?) solo and adds vocals other instruments until a rocking chorus. With Jesus, “No More” do we have to be afraid, be in pain, be alone, or even die. We are eternal, if we abide in Jesus. The song and CD ends with a spoken
“Jesus answered: You’re right in saying I am the King. In fact, for this reason I was born. And for this I came into the world to testify the truth. Everyone on the side of the truth listens to me. They flogged him, put on him a crown of thorns. They struck him in the face and crucified him. In him is life and the Light of men. The Light that shines in darkness.”
The song seems to beg silence after these lines. Sarah Brendel is an artist from whom I look forward to hearing more.

Pillar’s The Reckoning and Sarah Brendel’s self-titled CD are both intense in different ways. They’re both very worthy additions to a music collection.

As always, let your music help keep your focus on Jesus!

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