Worship music that aims for creativity is more rare than it should be, but when it's attempted, the results hit above the usual grade. Bellarive demonstrated this two years ago with the masterful The Heartbeat, and the follow-up Before There Was is here. Fortunately, the ingenuity wasn't in short supply, and their second entry on Sparrow Records is a prime piece of originality.
Just by the title alone, the average listener could detect a central theme to 2012's The Heartbeat. Indeed, heartbeats were the obvious connection that held the album together, but it was still used sparingly for maximum effect. Before There Was doesn't feel quite as cohesive as their previous record at first, but it takes more digging to find the inner connections. According to the band, Before There Was is inspired by Ephesians, which is a fairly open-ended book describing God's eternal purposes in detail. With this information in mind, however, the creative direction of this record is more guided than it seems.
The modern worship sound here feels very similar to The Heartbeat, but also like that album, the songs vary quite a bit in tempo and aura, giving the album depth that many worship albums lack. It feels purposeful all the way through, which is often not the case of live worship albums that meander from one song to another. One specific development since last time around is the vocal work; lead singer Seth Curran and background vocalist Melissa Mage mesh their voices together much more on Before There Was, which provides an extra dimension to the band's creative concept.
At their core, Bellarive is a worship band, but as has been the case for their short career, they sound their best when they avoid that stereotype altogether. So when tracks like "Your Great Love" and "Bring Us Back" follow a well-tread worship song pattern, their initial impressions are on the disappointing side. Thankfully, though, tracks like these are outliers, and they still sound fresher than the usual worship album. There's the overall feeling that the band isn't using these songs as filler, even if they are indeed the record's weakest inclusions.
Unlike The Heartbeat, Before There Was doesn't appear to have any tracks like "Taste of Eternity" that expertly walk the tightrope between corporate worship and artistic exploration, but there are several notable tracks here that keep the album especially memorable. Album opener "Let There Be Light" is the most energetic track here, and it sets up the album well thematically. Bellarive released "Lazarus" early on, but in the entire album's context, it serves as the showstopper. With elaborate atmospheric quality, the vocals fill the song's scope with energy and urgency. "Calling On Fire," "I Belong to You," and "Only You Can Raise the Dead" both serve as solemn praises that break the action effectively, while "Hallelujah to Saving Grace" works well as a modern hymn of sorts. "From the Very Start" is a reflective closing track, as well; while not as long-winded as The Heartbeat's "Stories," it closes the album by reflecting on God's creation.
After the hour-long album, it can be tricky to process everything the album accomplishes, but it's a worthwhile endeavor that reveals important truths with each successive listen. While perhaps not as ambitious as The Heartbeat, Before There Was takes itself seriously and provides plenty of surprises and standards uncharacteristic of the worship genre. A rich look at the gospel's power, Before There Was is a distinct highlight for this summer's playlist.- Review date: 7/20/14, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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