Saturday, March 30, 2013

Music Review: The Altar and the Door by Casting Crowns

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: So many powerful tracks
Cons: The worship tracks are still weak
The Bottom Line:
Challenges, encourages
With many powerful songs
Possibly their best

Casting Crowns Challenges Us to Leave the Land Between the Altar and the Door

When soft rock band Casting Crowns appeared on the Christian music scene in 2003, they quickly caught everyone's attention. Since their debut, they have been a top selling act. Their third release was at the top of my "to buy" list for this year. And The Altar and the Door was worth every penny I spent.

What amazes me about this group is their success despite breaking some rules. One of their members plays the violin. And, while most of the songs feature the standard rock band instruments, you definitely notice it in several songs per disc. Lead singer Mark Hall is backed by two women. And sometimes the women take center stage for a verse or two. And their lyrics are blunt. They call the church out on what they think it ought to be doing. And there's no hiding it at all.

For example, there's the disc opener, "What This World Needs." This rocker has a catchy melody and fun hooks. Yet behind all the fun, it gets right in your face, all but shouting the reminder the world needs Jesus more then the church to be 100% perfect. It's a brutal reminder that God cares more for the heart then the mind or the clothes. And yet, all too often, we focus on those two instead of what we should really be focusing on. And the spoken bridge really drives the point home.

The theme continues with the next track, "Every Man." The verses point out the people around us who are searching for hope and help. And the chorus is a powerful version of their plea. It's a mid-tempo song, but the drums drive it and really bring the point home.

The title of the disc comes from the idea that there is a disconnect in Christians between knowing and doing. The altar represents out time in the word or at church when we are convicted of how we should live. But, by the time we get out of the door, we have forgotten just how we should be living.

Obviously, that's the major theme of the title track. It's another fun, upbeat song that will have you smiling and tapping along. Then suddenly the words will hit you hard. And it so perfectly captures the struggle between the true repentance we feel and actually following through when we enter the real world again.

"Somewhere in the Middle" is actually the song that first used the phrase "altar and the door." (The title track was the last one written for the disc.) It's a slower piano based song that discusses the problems of being comfortable with our luke warm lives, ignoring how God really wants us to live. It's a call to leave the safe behind and live recklessly for God.

"Prayer for a Friend" is an old song from Mark Hall. It's a beautiful ballad that really showcases the violin I mentioned earlier. And the prayer for God to help a friend see the problems his current path is taking is powerful.

The one problem I have always had with Casting Crowns is their worship tracks. Maybe it's because their other songs are so powerful and challenging, but I find the pure worship tracks to be forgettable and rather bland. Maybe if they just did a worship CD, I could really focus on these songs. Anyway, "I Know You're There" and "All Because of Jesus" follow that trend. The songs are perfectly fine, they just don't grab me the way everything else does. An interesting note, however. "I Know You're There" is the first time that the females of the group do all the lead vocals on a song.

But we haven't yet talked about my two favorite songs on the disc. And they are right next to each other, packing a one two punch.

Up first is "Slow Fade." Written specifically as a challenge to the men of the church, it could equally apply to everyone. It is a very pointed call to guard your heart at all times because the path to collapse takes many slow steps. After all, "People never crumble in a day." It's a slower track. The verses are very quiet, but the chorus really wakes things up and pulls you into the song. And the melody, while not exactly catchy is very haunting. To top things off, Mark Hall's young daughter closes the song with the chorus "Be Careful Little Eyes What You See." While her voice isn't perfect (she is a child after all), it makes the song that much more powerful. It literally gives me goose bumps.

Following next in the play list is "East to West." No surprise, this song is about forgiveness. This is a quiet piano ballad about the struggle to accept God's forgiveness instead of wallowing in the blame of our sin. From the honesty of admitting "Today I feel like I'm just one mistake away from You leaving me this way," it moves on to asking to be shown how far apart the east and west are. I've been here way too often, and finding someone admitting it is refreshing and powerful.

I am absolutely in love with this CD. Which is no surprise since I've tried my best to wear out Casting Crown's first two releases. The Altar and the Door will certainly be suffering that same fate for many years to come.

CD Length: 51:31
1. What This World Needs
2. Every Man
3. Slow Fade
4. East to West
5. The Word is Alive
6. The Altar and the Door
7. Somewhere in the Middle
8. I Know You're There
9. Prayer for a Friend
10. All Because of Jesus

1 comment:

  1. Did Mark Hall write the spoken bridge in "The Word is Alive"? Or is that a quote from someone else.