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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Still Means War!

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Nov
Still Means War!
Sounds like … a collection of Petra's rocking, battle-cry-themed anthems from their 19-album discographyAt a Glance … this is a decent summary of similarly themed rock anthems from the legendary Christian pop metal band, but do we really need another Petra compilation?

Petra is on a very short list of Christian artists still making music today who can say they were making music 30 years ago in the earliest days of the Jesus movement. In that time, despite an aging fan base and a regularly changing band roster, Petra has released 29 albums (including compilations and Spanish-language albums). Their brand of pop-metal is revered by some and reviled by others, but with more than seven million albums sold, there's simply no arguing that this is one of the most important and influential bands in the history of Christian music. Word/Warner Records seems to agree, releasing a number of compilations and anthologies that chronicle the band's music. It's surprising that a definitive boxed set or double-disc collection hasn't been released yet. Still Means War is the band's latest collection of hits. The concept this time is to collect the band's "best songs of conquest and victory," the rally cries that challenge listeners to be decisive and bold about their faith.

Though the songs are united by the same thematic element, you also could look at this 14-track retrospective as a best-of collection from the band's last 10 to 15 years. However, it doesn't include all the hits — you won't find much in the way of ballads on Still Means War. The oldest songs on the album come from 1989's Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out (the band's first gold-selling album). "The Battle Belongs to the Lord" is scripture-inspired worship that gives God praise in the midst of adversity. A similar Psalm-like quality is at the heart of "No Weapon Formed Against Us," a surprising inclusion considering it's less than two minutes long. The band's 1990 Beyond Belief album also provides two classic tracks. "Armed and Dangerous" is a fast rock shuffle about living for the Lord with confidence, and the decidedly '80s-sounding "Underground" takes on the idea of living "safely" in the Christian subculture. 1991's Unseen Power offers more songs than any other album represented on Still Means War. "Who's on the Lord's Side" is a rocking track that includes a gospel choir for the powerful chorus of "Where do you stand? / Who's on the Lord's side?" Petra sounds a bit like mid-'80s Def Leppard on "Ready, Willing, and Able," a challenge to be evangelistically active, as well as on the heavy rocker "Secret Weapon," about praying for a friend's salvation.

The bombastic "Sleeping Giant" represents the 1993 album Wake-Up Call, and as you might guess from the title, it's a call to action for the Church to get up and be active in the Lord's work. "Heart of a Hero" comes from the 1995 No Doubt project, rallying Christians to stand up for what's right by citing other Biblical heroes. The most impressive musicianship is evident in the fast driving rock of No Doubt's "Right Place," featuring some incredible guitar and bass work, as well as in the Psalm 112:7-inspired title track from their 1998 God Fixation album. The only track from 1997's Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus is their cover of Kevin Prosch's Vineyard worship favorite, "Show Your Power," which closes the album with the closest thing to a ballad on this compilation. Also included is "This Means War," surely one of Petra's most famous songs and the inspiration for the album's title. This particular version is the remake of the 1987 rocker that appeared on 2000's Grammy-Award-winning Double Take project, which reinterpreted several of Petra's greatest hits into a modern acoustic rock sound. Longtime fans also may be interested in the band's pop-metal take on the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers," taken from the Our Hymns multi-artist project from 1989.

Petra's music always has been about five years behind the times when compared with their mainstream contemporaries, but it's a little less noticeable on a retrospective such as this – there's no question that it's dated material now, and one simply could assume all the songs come from '80s albums. The CD booklet features comprehensive liner notes that offer a concise band history, including album-by-album song explanations of the tracks on this album. Though helpful, it's kind of humorous that there's so much detail considering how plainly spoken the songs are and that they're so similarly themed. The band history somewhat overplays the band's importance. There's no question Petra has played an important part in the development of Christian rock, but they haven't remained consistently relevant for all of their 30 years. Similarly, they may be the only rock band currently inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, but they surely won't be alone for long; it's fairly safe to say they'll be joined by the Newsboys in another 10 or 15 years. The question at the heart of Still Means War is whether or not we really need another Petra retrospective. They've had so many over the years, and this is somewhat similar to their Rock Block project. Still, it's a fair compilation that focuses on the most recent music of Petra, and a successful attempt in compiling similarly themed music within an artist's vast body of work.