- reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jun
The testimony of Jonah33's vocalist and lead lyricist Vince Lichlyter is something we've heard before: a rebellious young man far from his parents' home gets a taste of life and dabbles in all the sin-ridden bounties the world has to offer, only to come back home and find Jesus, vowing to dedicate his life to ministry. Sounds familiar, right? In the case of Vince, though his old life has long resided in the past, the location where his days as a prodigal unfolded is something he takes pride in, as it was highly influential in the sound his future venture, Jonah33, would forge. Seattle was such a place, the iconic mecca that saw the genesis of grunge greats like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
The influence of these two bands comes through tamely on Jonah33's eponymous debut for Ardent Records, a one-man effort that was originally recorded by Vince with the help of outside players and the direction of in-house producer Skidd Mills, renowned for his previous work with Clear, Skillet, and All Together Separate. After the project was recorded, Ardent played the right cards to sign Lichlyter, added a couple of extra tracks to the already existing batch of songs, and rounded out the band's lineup with a couple of recruited members, thus bringing the biblically-named outfit into existence.
The result is an impressive, youth-oriented set that, aside from pleasing fans of the early '90s Seattle rock scene, should easily appeal to fans of Lifehouse's harder-edged moments and the big choruses of Skillet, sans the electronic industrial rock touches. The Skillet comparison is particularly fitting, considering John Cooper and his wife Korey had a hand in writing the three tunes that closed out the recording sessions for Jonah33's debut. The mortuary opener, "Watching You Die," is one such tune, depicting God's disillusion with our own self-inflicted death and his desire for us to realize that our blood is on him, that his death saves us from our own.
Already a Top 10 hit at Christian rock radio, the first single, "All For You," starts out with an industrial ambiance not unlike (you guessed it) Skillet and an almost conversational vocal that describes the last days of Jesus on Earth, later becoming an explosive, riffy plea begging the listener to understand that they are the only reason for his sacrifice. The recurring theme of death comes back on "Death and the Life," another Cooper- penned track that sounds like something Lifehouse would do if they wrote more blatant Jesus songs, especially due to Vince's high-register, Jason Wade-like vocals and the song's amped-up guitar sound.
On the ballad front, this album has a handful of well-written slow numbers that provide a nice balance to the album, considering the number of high-energy rockers on it. "Faith Like That" is an emotive rock ballad based on Hebrews 11 that recounts the story of those Bible patriarchs who had the faith to move mountains, and it expresses Vince's yearning for a faith that strong. The anthemic "God of My Life" is a terrific worship declaration a la Skillet's "You Are My Hope" (sense the pattern?), and the reason for the similarity is that Korey Cooper wrote the song, imbuing it with enough singability and drive to help it become a youth group worship staple. More surprising is "Working Man Hands," which is a well-written call to be missionaries in a dying world, summed up nicely in the line, "God forbid that I should stand before You/on that day, with unblemished hands."
Some details about this album aren't so bright, like the piano-driven "Who Am I," which seeks to become the typical show-closing, commit-your-life-to-God song, complete with a prayerful
lyric and a lighters-in-the-air feel not unlike Kutless's equally
recyclable "Saved." And although the scorching track "All That
Matters," with its sophomoric proclamation of devotion
"Everything is trash compared to knowing who You are," sounds
honest and heartfelt, it somehow violates the unwritten rule of
using the word
Now that Jonah33 is a full-fledged band and is getting ready to hit the touring circuit—they already joined GRITS and Justifide on last year's Scream Tour—we can only hope that the blistering riffage and studio-perfect rock sound of their debut can be replicated in a live setting. Teens will certainly love their sound and will no doubt benefit from the wayward son testimony of front man Vince Lichlyter, a man whose main goal is to share the gospel of Jesus with others. Though flashy and well made, the music is just the means of communicating that message in this case.