A lot can happen in four years. And a lot has happened in the last four years for the members of the band Emery. The rockers released their first album without Devin Shelton in their ranks; they left their home of almost a decade, Tooth & Nail Records; and they started a podcast called BadChristian, which has grown to include a ministry of sorts, several e-books, and an independent record label. Last summer, with the return of Shelton, the band launched a crowdfunding campaign for their first independent album since the mysterious The Columbus EP. You Were Never Alone is the band's sixth full-length studio album, and is the result of about a year's worth of hard work.
The thing about Emery is that, whenever they're on the cusp of releasing a brand new album, fans of the band know what to expect. Every album has an inescapable charm to it, with certain qualities that come standard with the rockers; indie rock with a touch of emo, a mix of tender and satirical lyrics, and some screaming when appropriate. The other thing about Emery is that, whenever they're about to release a brand new album, fans of the band really don't know what to expect. Though they're consistent with their sound, they're also not fond of doing things the same way each time. And with that mindset, You Were Never Alone is ripe with fresh material and experimentation. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of the most experimental (and strongest) songs of the bunch, "Thrash," for example. While it features some of the heaviest music we've ever gotten from Emery (yes, some of it is harder than anything from We Do What We Want), it also features some of the softest music they've ever produced (outside of straight-up acoustic songs and demos). The song blasts its way through the beginning with intense screaming and some double bass and blast beats, mellows out into indie rock through the middle, and culminates in an Alabama Shakes-esque style. It took some adjustment, but it quickly became a favorite of mine.
Speaking of favorites and doing things differently, "Go Wrong Young Man" is another track that's not quite like anything they've done before. It has an infectious energy and a solid groove, and the choruses (if you will) are sung at a very fast pace that matches the almost blast beat of the drums (though it's not heavy at all, just fast). Interestingly, there's also this guitar line that repeats throughout almost the entirety of the song; you'd think it would get old, but there's so much going on in the song, and so much progression, that you hardly even notice it. Everything comes to a screeching halt except the drums and Toby's voice, for a portion of the song that's very chantable and would be so amazing to participate in at a live show. If I heard this song on the radio, I'd buy the album immediately; the same can be said for "Pink Slip." It has a lot of classic Emery touches to it, including layered vocals, as Toby and Devin sing different lyrics and melodies over each other.
I could say a lot about the music, but Emery fans know that their lyrics always give us something to talk about. The band has been very vocal lately about false Christianity, confronting it not only with BadChristian, but also in their music. Bringing up "Thrash" again provides for a good example; near the end of the song, there is some intense screaming to match the convicting lyrics, which go as follows: "Your rigid throats proclaim the righteous written Word, but you cut out the veins and now you sleep with her, it's dripping from your mouth, it's pouring from your skin, the lust of power takes you and the stench has settled in." Wow. Emery knows it's time for Christians to actually step out and not just proclaim the Word, but act on it as well. But there's no superiority complex here; they know that they aren't exempt from the failure, as evidenced in lyrics like "I'm not an honest man, I was born for the grave" in "Hard Times." Some of my favorite lyrics come in "The Beginning," where Devin takes the leads and sings "Death was only a word, but to a jealous heart that's made its plan, it was the soil that gave it birth." Maybe I'm reading too much into it (and maybe I'm not), but it's a good analogy. Death holds no power over followers of Jesus, but jealousy in the heart allows it to have power.
It seems like such a long time ago when We Do What We Want came out, but the wait is finally over. Fans who have grown antsy due to Emery pushing the album back a few times will be more than satisfied with the finished product. It's hard to compete with nostalgia, and I love The Weak's End and The Question, but You Were Never Alone is absolutely in the running for Emery's best work. Strangely enough, the band is embarking on a tenth anniversary tour for The Question as this album releases, but if they play any of this new material, attendees will be in for a real treat. Make sure you pick up a copy of this album, pronto.- Review date: 5/16/15, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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