Metal Praise and Exhortation
Sardonyx’s 1992 debut Majestic Serenity was one of the best independently released “ministry” metal albums ever, in my opinion. Tom Denlinger’s eccentric, yet incredibly charismatic and convicting vocal onslaught combined with a bass-thick, mid-tempo crunch to create an unusual mix of “classic metal-infused,” progressively doomy metal. Moreover, with Scripture references galore, the lyrics were—and remain today—a veritable Bible study. Songs like the confrontational “Puppet of Beauty,” the scathing “Voice of the Prodigal,” the Christian apologetic “Holy Avenger,” the exhortational “Call Upon The Master” and, of course, the monumental “Corridor To Light” frequented the Christian metal charts back then for good reason. Majestic Serenity was remastered/reissued, along with the primo 4-song Rebel Of Reason demo, by Retroactive Records in 2007. Denlinger (Lightshine Ministries) was then and remains today all about ministry. Sons Of The Kingdom represents the first new full-length dedicated Sardonyx release since that seminal 1992 release. Instead of the more “in-your-face” evangelical approach of Majestic Serenity, SOTK has been created to challenge and edify followers of Jesus Christ – and man, does it ever accomplish just that … and more.
I have to say that I was both excited and a bit surprised when I heard about a new release in 2018 with several of the original members (Denlinger (vocals), Rod Feltman (guitars) and Chuck Turner (bass). Afterall, 26 years can change men’s hearts – not to mention their musical preferences and skillsets. Fortunately, not only is the core Sardonyx sound intact, these guys have not wavered in the conviction or intensity of their faith. Although, they have dialed back the abrasive confrontational tone a few notches in a good way. Denlinger is still an intimidating and charismatic singer, but the maturity in his faith shines forth from his vocal performance. He sings with plenty of power and edginess (his vocal phrasings have always been non-traditional), but the acid and angst have been replaced by a more exhortational quality. For reference, his voice sounds in an amalgam of Bruce Dickenson and Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation). And while he doesn’t possess the dynamic range of those singers, he makes up for it with passion and clarity. Chuck Turner’s bass guitar riffs were integral to the Sardonyx sound and his performances here parallel those on Majestic Serenity, especially on some of the more progressive tracks here. The guitar shred has been toned down in support of the vocals, so don’t expect a lot of solos from Feltman, but there is enough crunch to keep this squarely in the metal (and not rock) genre. Bill Pagaran is the new drummer (replacing original drummer Michael Anthony) and his performance/contribution is solid.
Sons Of The Kingdom doesn’t feature songs with the monumental impact of some of those great songs from Majestic Serenity, but there is a consistent quality here – both in song composition and sound mixing/production – which surpasses what has gone before. While the impact didn’t hit me on first listen, repeated listens reveal a complexity that exceeded expectations – yeah these guys are anointed and represent more than your typical metal praise band. The lyrics are drawn out of Scripture (with references once again provided, along with explanations behind each song), the emphasis on praising God and on the spiritual growth of believers, so everything here is both edifying and uplifting. Actually, as sad as this is to confess, it almost feels odd to have these wonderful, convicting and truth-filled words pouring out of speakers backed by the wall of metal sounds that we all love!
“I listen to a lot of metal and it is rare to find a band who can match the execution of the sounds with Spirit-filled words so beautifully and powerfully. You can really feel the Spirit’s presence in this music and it is just so refreshing.” – Doc
Even more so than previously, the vibe of Sardonyx is primarily about the words and the music is designed to enhance the effectiveness of the impact of the words. Therefore, Denlinger dominates the mix, but not in a bad way – there are plenty of instrumental nuances and it all works well together. I want listeners to experience this music without too much pre-conceived bias so I am NOT going to do a track by track analysis, but there are a few moments worth highlighting.
The title track is a dynamic opener that encourages us to embrace our place in the Kingdom. The chorus to “Greater Things” – a song which asks us to truly tap into the power of the Spirit – states “Don’t say that you love Me and not do what I say/Just live to represent Me/My signs will follow you today.” “Power And Love” is an extraordinary song both musically and lyrically. I love the powerful syncopated drum groove going on here and the chorus section is divine. “We are Your Body/Your beautiful Body/All praise goes to You/We worship together as brothers and sisters/All glory to You.” No sentimental drivel, just ethereal truth. Similarly, the chorus section in “Perfected” is so perfectly urgent – “It’s time to go now/It’s time to glorify the Son.”
The two most progressive songs here are “Awake” and “My Beloved Bride,” and they represent the pinnacle of Sardonyx power and beauty. “Awake” visits the issue of suffering – the opening monologue (Job 3) an intense emotional outpouring lamenting birth into the painful world of flesh. Queensryche-like guitars lay the backdrop to this lament as the song slowly builds in intensity. “Jesus authority moving inside of me/Everything else must bow to Your Name.” The most moving part of the song though comes in the concession that even if God chooses not to deliver, there is still resolve – “He is able to deliver me from your hand/But if not, let it be known that I will not bow down to you/Nothing can separate me from His love.” The song “My Beloved Bride” is a dialogue between The Bride (guest vocalist Kristen Anselmo Hertzog), Satan and Christ (bridegroom) as portrayed by Tom Denlinger. Chuck Turner tears it up on bass in this song – very reminiscent of the epic “Corridor To Light.” We even get some guitar shred on this one. My favorite lyric here is when Christ says, “Pure and Holy/They are learning to use my Spirit that embodied Me/Eternity in love, forever/Into My Kingdom to stay.” Again, this is just not something you can be encouraged by in listening to mainstream (or even Christian) metal these days.
Sardonyx obviously spent a lot of time in preparation and prayer with this release, their intent clear – to exhort “The Bride” with encouragement into action and perseverance in faith, and to hopefully to stimulate a metal revival. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you love metal – get this release. If you lead a metal mission or are in a band that desires to reach people with the love of Christ, you really need to allow yourself to be blessed by this music and this spiritual encouragement. Thank you, Sardonyx, for returning to the world of metal (if just this one time)in order to share your gifts, your revelations, your power, your passion, your encouragement and most importantly, God’s truth. Selah.