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Intersection of Life and Faith

Testify

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Testify
Sounds like … a return to form for the band, which means a return to the rapcore and reggae elements that became a signature of their earlier career.At a glance … though P.O.D. hasn't sounded this good since Satellite, the band shows little interest in developing a more distinct, forward-thinking vibe.Track ListingRoots in Stereo Lights Out If You Could See Me Now Goodbye for Now Sounds Like War On the Grind This Time Mistakes & Glories Let You Down Teachers Strength of My Life Say Hello Mark My Words

Years before Switchfoot, Relient K, and other faith-based bands started making a lot of mainstream noise, there was P.O.D. Since 1999's The Fundamentals Elements of Southtown and their 2001 breakthrough Satellite, the San Diego rockers have attained a level of success and artistry that outshines many of their rapcore contemporaries. At the pinnacle of their career, the hard rock heavyweights went through a transitional period, replacing a guitarist who'd left the band, adjusting to a new sound, and preparing for the next chapter after their multi-platinum success.

Then came 2003's comparatively disappointing Payable on Death. With expectations so high for a band trying to integrate a new guitarist while fulfilling their recording deadline, P.O.D. unveiled a softer and less exciting side that didn't quite satisfy their widespread fan base. Though certainly not a flop, selling little over half a million copies, the album left everyone wondering whether the band could rebound for the eventual follow-up.

P.O.D. seeks to kiss and make up with Testify, the band's fourth album for Atlantic Records. Interestingly, the disc nearly became another fiasco, as the group just didn't seem to get it together while recording in a lavish studio in Palm Springs. Once the inspiration fizzed, the foursome called on mega-producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette, Van Halen), whose keen ear for artistic direction gave them the push to rediscover themselves and to really rock again. (Lead singer Sonny Sandoval talks about that process here.)

And rock they do. Testify is easily the band's most ferocious recording since Satellite and the closest to the "P.O.D. sound" that became their trademark. Gone are the erstwhile artsy pretensions of Payable on Death, with the emphasis back on rapped vocals, searing guitar assaults, and a thumping rapcore foundation, plus the occasional reggae detours. Though the rap/rock thing sounds dated and irrelevant in light of the current rock landscape—do Limp Bizkit and Korn really matter anymore?—it's what the band does best. At least it's genuine, a vehicle for the band's message rather than an excuse for childish antics and hedonistic behavior.

Of the reggae-bathed tracks, the slow-burning "Roots in Stereo" and the Police-like "Strength of My Life" distinguish themselves the most, although they're not nearly as celebratory and insular as "Why Wait?" off the band's The Warriors EP, Vol. 2. On the rapcore end, "Say Hello" and "Lights Out" are the heaviest display of no-nonsense passion. No matter what persona they're exploiting, these songs are still a joy to listen to, signifying that P.O.D. is finally back on its feet after a season of indecision. Guitarist Jason Truby has also hit his stride, his method less concerned with prettiness and confinement than with a preservation of his bandmates' original vision.

Another highlight of Satellite was its melodic elements, and Testify offers them in spades. Regardless of what P.O.D. purists may say, the tandem of "If You Could See Me Now" and first single "Goodbye for Now" shines for its impeccable marriage of melodies and pensiveness. Interestingly, Katy Perry (nee Katy Hudson) is prominently featured in the tail-end of "Goodbye for Now," only adding to the pop appeal of the song. The ultimate shocker, though, is "This Time," a song so singable and breezy it won't be surprising if it somehow becomes a radio single.

And then there's the in-your-face faith of "Strength of My Life," a straight-up worship song with lyrics derived chiefly from the Psalms. Interestingly, the band is joined here by Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu, singing praise to the "Jah of Jacob" and the "God of Isaac." No harm there, but when Sonny sings something to the effect of the two of them looking forward to enjoying eternity together, it may raise a few eyebrows for listeners who believe that faith in a risen Jesus Christ is the only ticket to eternity. It's not clear whether Matisyahu, a self-described Hasidic Jew, has taken that step of faith.

At any rate, "Strength of My Life" is, at least lyrically, as close to a "CCM song" as anything P.O.D. has done to date. If anything, this outspoken spirituality is the most indelible mark on the entire album. In all, it's a very good one, but its insistence in remaining fixated on late-'90s rock keeps it from being truly memorable. There is nothing here we have not heard before, with the exception of "On the Grind," an off-kilter, hip-hop-centered track that indicts the allure of street life. Other than that, Testify is nothing more than an extension of Satellite, a nostalgic flashback that bears witness to the glory days when P.O.D. was rocking with the best of them—Christian, mainstream, or otherwise.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.