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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Life Outside the Toybox

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Life Outside the Toybox
Sounds like … hardcore rock as cutting edge as anything in Christian or mainstream music, appealing to fans of P.O.D., Project 86, and Creed. At a Glance … a strong debut that shows a surprising amount of maturity, lyrical relevance to their teenage fan base, musical eclecticism, and an overt spiritual message.

It's a hot summer day in the middle of Arizona, and brothers Jason and Sambo Moncivaiz are practicing their drums and bass. The windows are open, so that means the neighbors are subject to all of their rock fury, and the chances of their parents hearing the phone ring are slim to none. But instead of shunning these teens and making them stop their practice, over the years they were allowed to continue and grow in their music. Spiritually, things seemed to be well for the Christian family, and from a musical perspective, things were going great come the latter portion of the 90s. But then Jason and Sambo began experiencing family problems, and when their parents separated, the stress and frustration led the brothers to an intense party-filled lifestyle of alcohol and drugs.

Joey Avalos, the guy who would eventually become their guitarist, was partying right alongside them. He could identify with their family problems, particularly due to the fact that his dad was away from home throughout most of Joey's childhood. But in time, constantly getting drunk and passing out got old, and Jason and Sambo slowly weaned themselves away from their "rock and roll all night and party every day" lifestyle. Joey saw Jason and Sambo's example and felt God was telling him to make the same revisions. As the three friends left the wild life behind and settled down together in more God-honoring surroundings, they united as a band, hoping to use music as a medium to share their testimony.

Come 1999, the message was loud and clear throughout their music, whether it was played in a church or at a local club. As their bold sound—in vein of P.O.D., Project 86, and Creed—started taking off in the rock scene, Justifide started getting noticed by record labels. In particular, they won over Grammy-award-winning producer Billy Smiley, which gave them enough ammunition to sign with Ardent. The result is a hearty debut album with boldly Christian lyrics and a sound that can compete with any hardcore band in the mainstream market.

The vocals roar on the opening cut, "Change," while Jason incorporates a hip-hop-tinged rap bridge during "Our Little Secret." The band opens "Hold us Down" with distorted vocals, accompanied by boisterous drums and a catchy guitar hook, that level out by the chorus. On that track, the group can best be compared to mainstream act Staind, but unlike them, Justifide has a strong sense of what they believe. The lyrics proclaim, "We will fight until the end of days/ For what we believe in the right way/ People will doubt Him/ We'll let them say what they wanna say/ 'Cuz they can't hold us down/ They can't put us out."

"Still Cries" casts the band in a much quieter frame of mind as the lyrics speak of a girl who gets pregnant at a young age, only to be left by her boyfriend. The delicate topic is covered with tact and heartfelt emotion, enhanced by an orchestra section apparently simulated by a synthesizer. Also contemplative in lyrical structure but Creed-like in tone is the worship song "Why," in which Jason sings about God's grace and unconditional love: "Sometimes I sit around and wonder why/ Why you put up with all of this chaos/ When you could end this sinful world in one second."

The most enjoyable thing about this album is that each song incorporates a different genre chemistry, leaving Justifide impossible to pigeonhole. Very few acts in the Christian market have been able to do that, with the recent exception of groups such as Earthsuit and Pax 217. In addition, the fact that all three members are still teens allows them to reach out to their age group easily. Kudos to Justifide for defying categories and not being afraid to change up the pace throughout the project.