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The Reckoning

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Oct
The Reckoning
Sounds like … heavy rock similar to Audioslave, Blindside, and Nickelback, with an emo-screamo bent resembling Kids in the Way or Spoken, some hardcore nods to Korn and Tool, as well as pop metal similarities to Kutless and Building 429At a glance … The Reckoning is sometimes too haphazard stylistically and vague lyrically, but the overall strength and variation of Pillar's spiritually inspired rock should still endear them to their core fan baseTrack Listing Everything Awake When Tomorrow Comes The Reckoning Tragedy Last Goodbye Angel in Disguise Elysian Crossfire Resolution Sometimes Wherever the Wind Blows Chasing Shadows at Midnight

It was only a couple of indie projects before Pillar burst onto the Christian rock scene at the perfect time, riding closely on the trendy wave of hardcore nü-metal that P.O.D. helped start in 1999 with The Fundamental Elements of Southtown. Six years later, the Oklahoma quartet's lineup remains intact and continues to draw a strong following in America's heartland through a powerful presence on the rock tour circuit.

But rapcore rock is now considered passé and nü-metal isn't the hot commodity that it was six years ago. Nickelback and Audioslave are still creating a stir . . . Korn and P.O.D. less so. Where does Pillar's sound fit in all of this today, and do they have what it takes musically to carry their message for the long haul?

That's what I'm left to ponder after their fourth full-length project, The Reckoning. Say this much for Pillar—they're smart enough to keep from being confined to a musical fad. 2000's Above bore a strong resemblance to P.O.D., but now the two bands only compare in decibel level. As with 2004's Where Do We Go From Here, Pillar has embraced melodic hardcore with an emo-screamo bent, heard on tracks like "Last Goodbye," "Resolution," and "Chasing Shadows at Midnight." Whether that's good for the band is debatable—it's not a particularly distinctive style and the occasionally whiny vocal from Rob Beckley is less impressive than his deeper growls.

Better are "Awake" and the title track, catering a healthy helping of meat and potatoes hard rock akin to Audioslave and Nickelback, and the more intense hardcore of "Tragedy," reminiscent of Tool and Korn. Here the band sounds more in their element—stronger, more confident. Many will also be surprised by "Sometimes," which resembles a heavier Jimmy Eat World with a kickin' power pop sound that's quite different for Pillar, yet they pull it off and add a new tool to their kit.

Then there are the pop metal ballads, like "Angel in Disguise" and "Wherever the Wind Blows," the sort of fluff you'd expect more from Kutless and Building 429 (or Winger and White Lion). It's at this point you have to wonder whether the range is too broad. I'm mostly glad to see Pillar continually trying to evolve with the times, but there's a fine line between eclecticism and losing focus. It does admittedly help every song gain its own character, but you have to wonder if fans are comfortable with a band that sounds Korn-y one second and toothless the next. Or do they welcome it all as one big monster pop/rock spectrum?

Also of note are the album's lyrical subtleties. You won't find explicit mention of God here, yet there's never a question where Pillar is coming from either. For example, "Wherever the Wind Blows" is clearly inspired by Billy Graham's famous message about feeling and seeing the effects of the wind as a metaphor for God's presence. "Crossfire" is particularly striking, insightfully noting how easy it is to catch heat from not only non-believers, but fellow Christians as well: "I'd rather take a shot in the chest than take a shot in the back/At least I'll see it coming and I'll know where I'm standing at/To get shot down by your own such a crying shame."

"Tragedy" recognizes how we're our own worst enemy through sinful nature and "Chasing Shadows at Midnight" examines our pursuit of meaningless and material things. "Awake" is more hopeful with a dreamful longing for heaven, and "When Tomorrow Comes" leaves the troubles of the past behind by looking toward the future.

But then we have songs like "Resolution," one of those vaguely leave-your-fear-behind encouragements that's generic enough for everyone while ultimately saying nothing: "Don't let the moment pass you/Don't let distractions blind you/Don't let questions stop you/Don't let the answers miss you." Even more frustrating is "Angels in Disguise," with a seemingly self-explanatory title, but an extremely imprecise redemption tale about . . . well, I'm not sure exactly. Does the father abuse his family physically or emotionally? Is the girl the victim or her mother? All that's clear from this story without details is the girl takes action and ultimately forgives daddy.

The Reckoning amounts to a Christian album that's capable of reaching the non-believer, though some of the songs are too abstract for their own good. It's a polished effort from a capable band, yet it never quite settles into a sound that's clearly their own. If there's a pattern to all this, it's that Pillar still feels more like a trend follower than a trend setter, and yet I have to believe the core audience will come away impressed. I'd still like to see this band start a wave of its own.

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