Invade My Soul
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Invade My Soul not only marks the national debut of Texas-based band By The Tree, it also serves as the debut for record label Fervent Records. Looking at the people involved, this album has all the ingredients to make it something of a summer blockbuster. The project was produced by the team who brought us the incredible City On a Hill album last year, Steve Hindalong (of The Choir) and Bob Wohler (who has produced Caedmon's Call and Third Day). The band also features drummer Aaron Blanton, who previously played with the original Sonicflood. But lest we forget the most important artists on this album, By the Tree is fronted by two 24-year-old songwriter/musicians, Chuck Dennie and Kevin Rhoads, opposites who became close friends in college after meeting at a Young Life camp, eventually becoming roommates in Nashville. Together this team worked to bring us Invade My Soul, an album that promises "to create a new sound for Christian music."
Both the concept and the album itself sound great … the only problem is that there isn't much new about this music. Welcome to this week's newest "worship artist," without a doubt the number-one Christian music genre of 2001. The concept of the "worship artist" was pioneered and exemplified by Delirious, Sonicflood, and to some degree Third Day—bands that took worshipful and vertical lyrics and married them to a modern pop/rock song structure and sound. Since then, we've had more than a few modern worship artist projects, at least eight this year alone. (I'm telling you right now there are many more on the horizon.)
Not that I have any problem with an abundance of worship music itself, but I do balk at the current lack of creativity behind it. I get the impression a band can get a recording contract if they can write worshipful songs, display a true heart for worship and sound as much like Delirious, Sonicflood, and/or Third Day as possible. The "creativity" lies in how much you appropriate each of those bands into your sound. In the case of By the Tree, I'd say they're three parts Sonicflood, two parts Delirious, and one part Third Day. As for the songs themselves, just follow the pattern set by previous worship songs. For example, in the song "Invade My Soul" By the Tree employs lyrics used in hundreds of other worship songs—"Holy are You, worthy are You/ You're worthy of the praise I bring to You/ I lift my voice to worship You/ Then You come, then You come." That's just one example. "There For Me" uses a variation on the same lyrics at the end, and "Open My Eyes" is completely unoriginal in its mere eight lines of lyrics. I think our Creator deserves more than rehashed worship lyrics and music derived from the sound of other bands, though I'm sure many will disagree and find By The Tree's lyrical content inspiring and their music original.
To be sure, By the Tree is not completely unoriginal or uninspiring—in fact, they can be quite artistic when they want to be. Though a little light on lyrical quantity, "Disillusioned Man" is dark and moody, perfect for its lyrical yearning to bring a friend back to Christ. The hit single "Reveal" has a little more depth, and musically it possesses an irresistible rock sound. Likewise, "Fall" highlights some simple but effective lyrics with exciting guitar parts and production hooks. "Wait" is a gentle and incredibly beautiful acoustic closer to the album (reminiscent of some of Delirious' softer songs), and it wonderfully segues into the old hymn "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus." I suspect the hymn was producer Steve Hindalong's idea, since the same segue-into-a-hymn thing was done on City On a Hill as well as many of The Choir's songs. My favorite track on the album, however, is "Wonderful Again." Merging a big modern rock sound with mandolin and strings, it sounds far more artsy and creative than the rest of the album. It also has the most to say lyrically, expressing a longing for spiritual renewal with poetry rather than rhetoric. Invade My Soul would have benefited greatly from a few more songs like this.
There's no denying By the Tree is a talented group and Invade My Soul sounds great (superb production by Steve and Bob). I also appreciate worship albums that are original, as opposed to those filled with cover songs, because this offers something new to worship leaders and youth groups everywhere to incorporate into their own worship services. My only complaint is its general lack of originality, which may improve for the band in time. By the Tree can potentially go far if they can break out of the clichéd modern worship mold.