Sounds like … the powerhouse, melodic modern rock of Tree63, Jimmy Eat World, The Juliana Theory, Luna Halo, and TaitAt a Glance … an impressively strong modern rock album from a relatively new band that bodes well for the future of Sanctus Real and Sparrow Records.
The formation of Sanctus Real is about as textbook a way to start a rock band as they come. Lead vocalist and guitarist Matt Hammitt met lead guitarist Chris Rohman while attending Toledo Christian School in Ohio. The two became fast friends and offered their services to lead youth worship at school and at church. They would go on to form Sanctus Real in 1996 with the addition of drummer Mark Graalman and bassist Steve Goodrum. It usually takes time for a band to gel and refine their sound, and Sanctus Real is no exception; they toured extensively for six years and released three independent projects. The hard work paid off. Matt and Chris shopped their most recent indie release, Nothing to Lose, to the Christian music industry at Gospel Music Week in Nashville. Soon, the Buckeye band started receiving numerous offers, eventually settling with the recording contract offered by Sparrow. The record label believes in the band so much, they landed a spot for Sanctus Real on the high-profile Festival Con Dios tour last fall … before the release of their national debut. The response for the band was enthusiastic, which suggests that Sanctus Real will be even better received in next spring's See Spot Rock tour, now that Say It Loud is available to the public.
It's easy to assume Sanctus Real is a long-established act upon listening to Say It Loud. This is a first-rate modern-rock effort with impressive production and musicianship. Produced by Pete Stewart (Grammatrain, Tait), the sound will resonate with fans of bands such as Tree63, Jimmy Eat World, The Julianna Theory, Luna Halo, and Tait. It's melodic and hook-laden, but also hard-hitting. Matt's a great lead vocalist, much like John Ellis of Tree63, as well as Cliff Young (Caedmon's Call), Kevin Max, and Phillip LaRue. Matt and Chris' guitar work is clear and aggressive, creating a sonic blast over the powerful rhythm of Mark and Steve. Odds are you've heard the title track and first single on the radio by now, a great rocker about leaving our sinful past behind and living to make today right. Good news – the rest of the album is just as good.
Of the other tracks on Say It Loud, I most enjoy the uplifting sound of "Inspiration," another strong rocker and potential single with a great melody and strong guitar production. The lyrics include: "Seems we'll never do enough to tell the world about God's love / But every soul is worth the fight / 'Cause we can change the world by changing just one life." Also terrific is "Won't Walk Away," a simplistic but killer rock anthem you can imagine the masses yelling along to at concerts. "Nothing to Lose" feels like another probable radio single with its terrific melody and reminder to love others as God loves us: "There's no better time than when I find You in a feeling, and know I'm doing alright." Inspired by Romans 7:18, "Sink or Swim" adds more of their modern-rock sound to their message about our struggles with our inherently sinful nature. "Audience of One," is much like the music of Jimmy Eat World, alternating fast rock with a half-time power chorus, while singing about leaving our sinful past behind and making God our focus. The powerhouse rock sound rarely lets up on this disc, scaling back for only three songs. "Hey Wait" is a soaring ballad in the same style as Tree63 and U2 that shares the hope we have in Christ. The gentle acoustic "I Love You" is an admittedly "simple way to praise" God. Say It Loud closes with the rock ballad "After Today," which builds to a big finale with Matt singing, "I've got a ways to go from here and vision doesn't seem so clear / But praise God, he's got a plan, understanding isn't my place."
Sanctus Real is so good, there's very little to pick apart or say beyond what's already been said. Their lyrics are good and deeply spiritual, but they're not as insightful as other artists' are. They have an excellent rock sound, but it probably could use a little more variation – obviously this was designed as an album of excellent guitar rock to blare through your car stereo. Say It Loud is well produced by Pete Stewart, though some rock fans may say it's too polished. They were clearly going for the power pop of Jimmy Eat World and Tree63, but they easily could have emulated the raw emo of Dashboard Confessional and Get Up Kids, or the garage rock of The Vines and The Strokes. As good as the writing and production are, though, the real success behind Sanctus Real is the skill level of their performance. As the press kit sums up nicely, Sanctus Real is aggressive and accessible, a tight and talented rock outfit that has pop appeal with their melody and lyrics, as well as rock appeal with their rhythmic flourishes, shifting feel, and blaring guitar sounds. They can handily compete with any of today's most popular mainstream rock acts. It's worth praising Sparrow in this case, for getting behind this band and for successfully embracing solid modern rock bands such as Lifehouse, Switchfoot, and The Elms to name a few. A label probably best known for their history and success with adult contemporary, Sparrow has successfully changed with the times to support artists with sounds that rival mainstream radio. Count Sanctus Real in that group.