Sounds like … a more youthful Hillsong live worship recording - imagine Lincoln Brewster or Sonicflood joining with Darlene Zschech, Reuben Morgan, and companyAt a Glance … Hillsong Australia kicks the volume up a notch for their latest, resulting in their most energetic live worship experience yet.
After 11 praise and worship albums from Sydney, Australia's Hillsong Music, you'd think you'd have heard it all by now. Their style of high-energy worship, led by renowned worship leaders Darlene Zschech and Reuben Morgan, are familiar to all who have ever heard their best-selling recordings. I didn't think it possible for Hillsong to come up with a fresh sound after all this time. Behold Blessed, the latest Hillsong live worship experience that features a fresh sound and offers proof that powerful worship albums are alive and well.
Recorded in early 2002 at the Sydney Entertainment Center with more than 11,000 worshippers, Blessed packs an astonishing 78-plus minutes of music onto a single disc. The change in venue from Hillsong's usual worship center is no doubt a contributor to the increased energy level of this album, which is readily apparent from the first track and rarely lets up. I've found it helpful in recent years to make the distinction between contemporary and modern worship; the former often refers to an upbeat adult-contemporary pop sound (many of Integrity Music's recordings, Michael W. Smith's Worship), the latter typically features more electric guitar-driven modern rock (Delirious, Sonicflood). With that in mind, Hillsong takes one giant step towards the modern worship sound and has never sounded more loud and bombastic, with the electric guitars more present here than on previous recordings.
Reuben Morgan wrote most of the album's 14 tracks, though the opening title track was co-written with Darlene Zschech. "Blessed" is a stunning modern-worship anthem that starts off strongly, only to get louder as the song progresses. The chorus' powerful melody only makes it more stirring and memorable, and I believe it's one of the best songs I've heard from Hillsong in a long time. It's followed by "Now That You're Near," which sounds more like Sonicflood than a typical Hillsong tune. It's so modern, I suspect it was born out of Hillsong's youth worship program. The same could be said of the intense rock drive of "Shout to the King," with Darlene more than prepared vocally for the style. Even the album's first ballad, "Made Me Glad," gets fairly loud in the chorus. I'd have to say that track five, "Through It All," is the first song I'd describe as gentle.
Fans of Lincoln Brewster may want to take note of this album since he co-wrote "Son of God" with Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson. Additionally, there's a thrilling rendition of "King of Majesty," which also closes Lincoln's Amazed album. That song, as well as "I Adore," was previously featured on the Hillsong youth album King of Majesty. "I Adore" is an especially dynamic ballad that swells from a gentle ballad to a contemporary praise chorus and eventually a heavenly orchestral drive. After a prayerful middle that's highlighted by "I Adore," the album resumes it's Sonicflood-like modern rock sound with songs such as the immediately catchy "With You" and "Most High." Closing out the lengthy album is "All the Heavens," a sweeping pop anthem that's a fitting ending to the worship experience.
As much as I respect Reuben Morgan's talents as a worship leader and songwriter, there's always been a bit of a cheesy post-'70s Earth, Wind, and Fire vibe to his arrangements on past albums. That sound is mostly absent from Blessed, even with Reuben writing six of the album's songs, and both strings and brass sections backing up the worship band. The closest sounding track to the Reuben's retro style is "All I Do," which sounds more like an intensified hyper dance celebration (e.g. "Turn the Beat Around") that's irresistible to dance to. There's nothing remotely cheesy on this album, which bears more resemblance to Sonicflood's Sonicpraise album than a typical Hillsong recording. Darlene and the other vocalists are typically impressive here, as is the worship band and orchestra. I suppose the album may not appeal to those used to Hillsong's more tempered adult contemporary sound, but it's not all that different – just louder. All of this to say that Blessed is the most exciting and intense live worship album I've ever heard from Hillsong Australia. Considering how energetic their worship albums typically are, that's saying quite a bit.