by Mark Allen
Halfway through As the World Bleeds, their highly anticipated (by Christian metal fans, anyway) third album, Theocracy sing about how God blessed humanity with the gift of music so they can return it to Him in the form of praise and worship. A valid theory, given the band’s evangelical inclinations, but it is quite possible that even the Lord Himself second-guessed granting Theocracy that gift as they severely test listener patience by opening the album with a dull, meandering, eleven minute track. Ballsy move or self-indulgent preening? You be the judge. (Hint: it’s the latter.)
Well, you can thank God or Mickey Mouse or your deity of choice, because Theocracy recover from this near-disastrous stumble and proceed to kick all kinds of melodic power metal ass (not sure they would use the word “ass,” but it fits and it’s in the Bible, so it must be OK) on their way to delivering one of the best albums in the genre this year.
Theocracy has been described as Edguy meets Dream Theater, a solid enough comparison. Add to that equation a little oldschool TNT, primarily in the lead vocal department, as founder and frontman Matt Smith often sounds like Tony Harnell, particularly when belting out those high notes. The band possesses an uncanny knack for merging heavy metal riffs with shimmering melody, making them one of the most melodic power metal bands on the scene today.
The song “The Master Storyteller” (which, as the second track, also serves as an apology for that atrocious opener) is an obvious example of this, tearing along at a thrash metal pace before erupting into a monster chorus built on goliath-size hooks and slathered with gobs of huge harmony vocals. This is Theocracy at their finest, playing ultra-catchy heavy metal, a style at which they excel.
Be thankful that this style is not listed in the canon of cardinal sins, because Theocracy would not be able to participate. The band is unapologetic about their Christian beliefs and their subject matter quite clearly reflects their creed. They mostly avoid the cheese (though “The Gift of Music” flirts with the kind of overblown Velveeta usually reserved for Meat Loaf), but anyone who thinks that heavy metal should only feature “Hail Satan!” style lyrics will probably want to give this a wide berth like a homophobe avoiding a gay pride rally.
The musicianship is top notch, from the shred-happy guitars to the soaring vocals to the cannonball drums to the burly bass to the crystalline keyboard flourishes. The skills on the instruments were paralleled by the skill in the studio, as the production and engineering sound flat-out fantastic. Everything is coated with the kind of sheen usually reserved for angel wings, making the huge hooks, technical tempo changes, and intricate progressive passages sound bombastically epic. In fact, this album sounds so good, even the devil himself is probably cranking it up on Hell’s stereo system right now, Christian message be…uh…damned.
With As the World Bleeds, Theocracy continue to show signs of improvement that should only further cement their place in the Christian metal market while upping the respect and accolades from the secular scene as well. The merging of heavy riffs and metal muscularity with slick, harmony-drenched melody is done masterfully, two dichotic components woven together with deceptive ease. The band’s contemporaries better keep watch, because Theocracy could very well be on the cusp of taking the crown and ruling the Christian metal kingdom.
Genre: Melodic Progressive / Power Metal
Matt Smith (vocals)
Val Allen Wood (lead guitar)
Jonathan Hinds (guitar)
Jared Oldham (bass)
Shawn Benson (drums)
1. I Am
2. The Master Storyteller
4. Hide in the Fairytale
5. The Gift of Music
6. 30 Pieces of Silver
8. Altar to the Unknown God
9. Light of the World
10. As the World Bleeds
Label: Ulterium Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.5/10