- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jul
Earlier this year we reviewed a new Christian band by the name of 12 Stones, a group of young musicians from Louisiana who are off to a strong start with their hit single "Broken" and their high profile association with superstar act Creed. However, like P.O.D. and Lifehouse, 12 Stones is one of those bands whose members don't wear their faith on their sleeve, preferring to let their songs speak for themselves. Which brings us to Kutless, a band with a similar rapid start and Creed-like sound to 12 Stones, but with more overtly spiritual lyrics. The five members of Kutless met in Portland, Oregon, at college and their local church, and gained recognition in the Pacific Northwest almost as quickly as 12 Stones did down South. After opening for the likes of Switchfoot, Pax217, and the recent Supertones tour, BEC signed Kutless and slated Aaron Sprinkle of Poor Old Lu to produce their self-titled debut.
Kutless successfully fills a vacancy in Christian music for melodic hard-rock bands. Most Christian hard-rock acts are too busy trying to emulate the hardcore rap-rock sound of P.O.D. and Linkin Park, some more successfully than others. When a colleague recently asked if there were any Christian bands who share the melodic hard-rock sound of bands such as Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, and Creed (whose faith is the subject of controversy among Christians), we couldn't think of any obvious choices. Both 12 Stones and 38th Parallel come close, though 12 Stones often resorts to hardcore metal screaming, while 38th Parallel gives equal time to rapping and singing (ala Linkin Park and Incubus). Kutless is all melodic on their debut, only resorting to screams and rapcore on "Pride Away." There's nothing wrong with the screaming and rapping, except that every Christian hard-rock band seems to be doing it, and I think it limits a band's audience to hard-rock purists. Creed may be loud, but they're not "too loud," and it's made them hugely popular — even my mother likes to listen to Creed! As such, Kutless is a breath of fresh air that may well prove to be the most successful act on BEC's label since the Supertones.
Not that Kutless is doing anything new or brilliant, but you'll definitely love this band if you're looking for heavy guitars, strong drums, and a catchy melody. Guitarists Ryan Shrout and James Mead both are capable of hitting the screaming power chords in all the right places, and they're supported by the powerful rhythm section of drummer Kyle Mitchell and bassist Stu. Producer Aaron Sprinkle also does a terrific job of preventing the band from sounding too raw or overproduced, keeping the band's edge while still occasionally playing with effects and other instruments. The album's closing piano-based power ballad, "Grace and Love," is very effective, conveying passionate worship through the words of Ephesians 2:8. Then there's the band's lyricist and lead vocalist, Jon-Micah Sumrall, who sounds like a cross between Scott Stapp's (Creed) throatiness and Matt Scannell's (Vertical Horizon) soft alternative-pop edge. The Eddie Vedder/Scott Stapp style of singing is something of a cliché these days, but Jon-Micah retains his own vocal sound while emulating the popular hard-rock growl. Kutless's talents are impressive, especially considering all the members are between 19 and 23.
As for the songs themselves, most all of them are loud, catchy, and lyrically simple. The opening track, "Your Touch," is a basic recognition of our need for God's presence. It's followed by "In Me," a testimony to the effects of God's presence in Jon-Micah's life, and "Run," which speaks of God's desire to be present in our lives. Though we've heard lyrics such as these in several alternative bands before Kutless, these songs still are pretty good. Phrased differently, almost all of the songs are winners, though the homogeny of the sound gets a little tiring by the album's end. "Run" is a powerful rock ballad of the same caliber as Creed's "Higher." Fans of Nickelback will enjoy "Vow" as well as "Down," about a girl wrestling with self-esteem and beauty — the latter has an infectious chorus: "She wants to fly away from this … " The song "Dry" accurately describes the spiritually vapid times we all go through, while "Again" reflects upon God's endless love for us. These songs may not be profoundly worded, but they connect with listeners, particularly the teen audience for whom the music is aimed. In that sense, Kutless is a complete success — performing accessible hard rock while offering solid testimony of their faith in Christ.