I have been working within the Christian music industry for well over a decade now and I can actually count on one hand in the past three or four years of the records that have released that have blown me away. I know that is just my opinion, but Christian rock especially has been disappointing over the years with only a few releases that have met or exceeded my expectations and more importantly, the fans of said music. The last one in recent memory would probably be Michael Sweet’s One Sided War. But with that exception, the genre has really missed the impact that it could easily have, especially with big name groups releasing records this year. Again that’s my personal opinion, but it’s something that I don’t take lightly.
While searching through some Facebook posts last month, I kept seeing this band called Theocracy come up in people’s conversations. These people were yearning for some serious rock and metal. So after reaching out to Swedish label Ulterium Records, I got my hands on a pre-release copy of Theocracy’s fourth record, Ghost Ship. Just a few songs in, I found out just what all the hype was. I was absolutely blown away!
The record’s opening track “Paper Tiger” with its double bass drum intro and blazing guitar shredding, makes it clear that the record is going to hit you hard from the very first note. Deep lyrics here conveying a sense of urgency to not allow the fear and “political correctness” that saturates today’s culture to seep into the church. The true believers of Christ must rise above the hypocrisy and stand up for Jesus, without worry of the backlash that is most undoubtedly going to come from the world.
The title track “Ghost Ship” is probably my favorite track on the entire record, both musically and message-wise. I love the verbal imagery the band uses in the song. It’s a song that calls all the “misfits” and ones who feel they have no place to “come aboard and leave your darkness behind”. The chorus is probably the most remarkable part of the song, illustrating Jesus as the Captain of a ghost ship, calling everyone aboard who hears His voice. The words of the chorus speak volumes:
Pay the piper, here we go
Got a ticket for a one-way journey (There’s revolution in the air)
Slay the viper, come follow even if you’re ordinary
There’s a place for you here (Though you were dead, come alive)
Raise the anchor, all aboard as the Captain calls His misfits
This Ghost Ship
Sets off to shake the world – Let’s go!
“Ghost Ship” is probably one of the most exciting songs I have heard in a very long time. If you have time, check out the music video for it as well at https://youtu.be/C9fpNQ67SaE.
“Wonder Of It All” is also a deep song theologically. We will never truly understand the ways of God. It is impossible. It is however to possible to be in awe of the wonder of His handiwork in Creation. With this song, Theocracy paints a picture of true reliance on Christ and not of our own will. Understanding that and following God’s will is the key to everything. While we don’t understand the ways of God, scripture makes it clear that His ways are not ours (Isaiah 55:8).
All shall bow at Your throne, for Your ways are not our own
That You would hear my call, in Your holiness
This is the wonder of it all
The track “Wishing Well” was the first track off of Ghost Ship that fans got a glimpse of prior to the release of the title track’s music video. The song to me portrays a call to action. You know the term “actions speak louder than words?” Well while we may mean well with our words and our “wishing”, it’s our actions that lead to true change. If as Christians we don’t stand up and speak to a lost world in the name of Jesus, then what more are we than passersby at a well ‘wishing’ we could do more, but sit back and don’t take action, afraid of the backlash and hatred that could follow? The Gospel requires action, stop wishing you could do something and get off the bench and into the Big Game.
“Around The World and Back” in my opinion paints of picture of putting your full faith and trust in Christ and not relying on your works to get you to Heaven. After all, works don’t get you to Heaven (Ephesians 2:9), even if you believe that you are putting your best before God. He’s made it clear that your best is as filthy rags to Him (Isaiah 64:6). Believe on Jesus, and you shall be saved (Acts 16:31). You truly find your rest in Christ (Matthew 11:28-30).
You will never reach as Heaven’s door
You could never build a bridge to Me
Your greatest acts are as filthy rags
But grace alone is free
So rest in Me
I always thought that when I accepted Christ as my Savior, my life would become easier, less stressful. Man was I wrong. Being a follower of Jesus is an everyday battle. But with His leading, it’s a battle we are guaranteed to win. “A Call To Arms” is a song that can easily put us “saints” in the mood and ready to battle the devil and all he can throw our way. I love the beginning of the chorus…
This is a revolution, this is a call to arms
So put your warpaint on, it’s time to sound the fight song
Isn’t that encouraging?
If musically it’s the glory days of thrash metal you are looking for – “Castaway” is the track for you. With a music track reminiscent of Metallica and the vocals of Megadeth and old-school metal, the song carries a message reminding us that although we live in the world, it’s like the old saying goes “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through”. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, but knowing that the ship of the Master will come back someday to take His people with Him to paradise, makes the worrying less stressful. I couldn’t help but to think of family and friends of mine who don’t know Jesus and the way they reject me for my faith. It’s difficult at times, but I realize my identity doesn’t lie in anything in this world, but rather in Christ.
The closing track “Easter” could easily be one that could be turned into a rock stage play. It’s beginning somber tone turns slowly into hope that though our Savior was beaten and crucified, on the third day, Hallelujah, He rose again! This song musically could have easily fit on a Trans-Siberian Orchestra record, but with a deeper message. The fast paced chorus says it all…
Glory! Glory! Hope is alive
And lifted up, before your eyes
Waking all the world, open gates to paradise
Now it’s done, life has come
Death has died
Easter glory, what an ending to the story
“My Son, Arise!”
Musically, Ghost Ship is amazing. There are so many inspirations you can hear on this record. Vocally, Matt Smith hints a little inspiration of Rush’s Geddy Lee, while giving similar style vocalists like Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy a run for his money (although Smith’s vocals are wonderful and bearable to hear, unlike Kennedy – Ahem! In my humble and honest opinion of course!). Musically I hear all kinds of hard rock and metal bands on here. Dream Theater is an obvious, as well as some hints of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera of the mainstream and even a little Tourniquet and STRYPER in the Christian genre.
Overall, I would say that Ghost Ship is hands down my favorite record of 2016 and definitely in my Top 10 of the past decade. Matt Smith’s soaring vocals are downright amazing and add a dimension to Ghost Ship that puts it above the rest. Guitarists Val Allen Wood and Jonathan Hinds’ shredding is not just about speed and distortion, but a wonderfully melodic tour-de-force that has been rarely seen in the Christian Rock/Metal genre. Jared Oldham’s thumping bass makes the bottom line stick out as well.
With a message and intricate lyrics that are so deep theologically as well as thought-provoking, the record puts the notion that a metal band can’t deliver a superb record without watering down its words to rest. If you are looking for a great album with superior (hard and heavy) musical craftsmanship, stellar vocals and most importantly a message of peace, grace and hope found only in Christ, look no further, for it has arrived: Ghost Ship is what you seek. I highly recommend you picking up a copy and hearing for yourself the masterpiece that is Ghost Ship! Well done Theocracy.