Sounds like … the melodic pop/rock of MercyMe, The Afters, and Sanctus Real, with some impressive nods to Maroon 5, Queen, and Electric Light OrchestraAt a glance … as has become the norm for Downhere after seven years, Ending Is Beginning again demonstrates the band's deft balance of artistry and ministry with songs that reveal new depths in music and lyricismTrack Listing Bleed for This Love Here I Am Cathedral Made of People My Last Amen Hope Is Rising Something Heavenly Coming Back Home All at War Don't Miss Now Live for You The Problem Beggar Who Gives Alms How Many Kings

Lots of people regularly complain how they've grown disenchanted with Christian music in recent years, and to some extent, I can understand why. I also miss those special artists who clearly express their faith without being too obtuse or obvious, and bands with an accessible pop/rock sound that isn't overly derivative or formulaic. Artists like Charlie Peacock, Steve Taylor, and the late great Rich Mullins are just some examples of classic Christian artists who deftly balanced their artistry with their ministry, rather than stray too far one way or the other.

That's precisely why I'm thankful a band like Downhere is still around after 7 years. Though they've never broken big (yet), they've still quietly amassed a following over three albums, and for good reason. Their songs are clearly faith-inspired, yet express that faith in ways that are fresh and relevant. The band has no aspirations of going mainstream, but then they aren't content with fitting the mold to preach to the choir either. What makes Downhere particularly appealing is the way they use their pop/rock to engage both heart and mind, with songs that are good for the soul in more ways than one.

At this point, Downhere has become predictable in their excellence, and Ending Is Beginning is no exception. As produced by Mark Heimermann (dc Talk, Michael W. Smith) and Stephen Gause (Derek Webb, Bryan Brown), the songs are by no means innovative as far a pop/rock goes. It's simply handled better than most because of the textures and variety. The same could be said of the album's message. We've heard similar hope-filled songs before, for sure, but there are layers and nuances to the belief that death leads to new life. It allows Downhere to explore the subject more fully, connecting the afterlife with ideas like putting an end to our selfish ways in surrender to God, or becoming closer to God through the depths of despair.

The album's opener "Bleed for This Love," written from God's perspective, sums up the ideas as well as any: "Just when you think the story's over/You'll know my love is strong as ever … And to pay your debt, I'll be the ransom/And to bring you life, I'll give it all." Again, nothing particularly unusual or innovative—just superbly crafted Christian pop. As is the ballad "Here I Am," which joins a declaration of obedience in the chorus with honest verses about our struggles and insecurities: "Overwhelmed by the thought of my weakness/And the fear that I'll fail You in the end/In this mess, I'm just one of the pieces/I can't put this together, but You can."

Greater depth can be found in the rock ballad "All at War," one of the band's best songs to date, smartly addressing the contradictions we feel inside wrestling with our sinful nature: "I'm learning to stand the more I fall down/It's the law of inversion, and it's all turned around/And I'm staggered by the clash inside my soul/So purposed for good, but inclined for evil." Though "Cathedral Made of People" has an odd-yet-obvious title, it goes beyond noting how the church is more than a building by also causing listeners to consider how they would respond to persecution.

In "The Problem," Downhere sounds like they've written a Christian folk-protest song, or perhaps something Johnny Cash could have performed (even if Marc Martel's tenor is the opposite of Cash's world-worn bass), offering a cleverly worded explanation for the pain in this life that eventually gets to the cause of original sin. And "Beggar Who Gives Alms" is best left to explain itself as a beautiful depiction of the relationship between Creator and created.

Downhere pushes new depths musically as well. "My Last Amen" stands out for mixing a little bit of Maroon 5 funk in the bass with a lot of Electric Light Orchestra in the harmonies and overall pop bombast, as Martel and Jason Germain both sing about the tension between this world and the world to come: "I could swear I have two hearts/One to stay, one to depart/This sad, tragic kingdom/And it burns me down to the core/Because I know there's so much more/It's just a pale reflection." There's something rather arresting about the art rock feel in "Live for You," while "Coming Back Home" depicts a prodigal's change of heart with an elegant pop shuffle befitting of Queen. And that rising melody in the chorus of "Hope Is Rising" is marvelous to begin with, somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay's "Fix You," but it only becomes more powerful once the choir and strings kick in.

Rather than go overboard with the hyperbole, let's just say that Martel and Germain are one of the best songwriting duos we've got in Christian music. Indeed, it's become increasingly hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins in the creative process. Plus their voices continue to play off each other superbly, Germain's warmth a perfect contrast to Martel's high-end acrobatics. But let's not leave out the rhythm section of bassist Glenn Lavender and drummer Jeremy Thiessen either—by now, Downhere would not be the same without their varied foundation to build on. They've all grown into a well-oiled machine.

Their best album so far? In many ways, yes, though each Downhere album has had its share of pop/rock highpoints. At the very least, Ending Is Beginning further cements the band's place in Christian music for their artful expressions of our faith. Downhere has hit their stride with this album, and assuming that their following continues to grow, it appears that we can expect continued excellence from them for years to come.

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