Prime Cuts: Captain, Touch the Sky, Say the Word
Hillsong UNITED is arguably one of the most innovative Christian bands out there. In an unprecedented move to introduce their new album "Empires," the Aussie church team revealed their album cover 95,000 feet from space. And with a titular as recherché as "Empires," this new album is promised to be earth shattering. One listen to "Empires" is enough to cement in us that this is no trail-follower fixture of a worship record. In fact, one doesn't need to be a prophet or the son of prophet to know that this album is going to shatter many records, it's going to invite many other contemporaries to cover their songs, it's going to become the soundtrack of countless church worship services worldwide, and it's going to be just huge. Yes, the 95,000 feet drop of its album from space is not just a mere gimmick and it's not just hyperbole, it's prophetic.
Hillsong UNITED started off as Hillsong Church's youth group. With the encouragement of its worship pastor, Darlene Zschech, the youthful worship team was encouraged to record their own albums. Since then, the group has released eleven annual live albums, as well as four studio albums. Hillsong UNITED reached a new height with their 2013 release of ZION. The album gave them their No. 1 single "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" which also became a RIAA Platinum certified single. In 2014, UNITED was award five GMA Dove Awards including the coveted Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for "Oceans." They were also nominated for their first American Music Award.
Relative to their more mature counterpart Hillsong Worship, UNITED has a more experimental and avant grande approach to their worship which is the band's biggest appeal. Instead of blasting off the speakers with revved up percussions and guitars, "Here Now (Madness)" opens with a soft, whispery Mumford and Sons folky vibe. Eradicating all scaffolds of predictability, "Here Now (Madness)" speaks about how God's Spirit can invade our "madness" with stirring creativity and power. Breaking the mould of many worship songs these days, the team has incorporated a well-crafted narrative into a song like "Street Called Mercy" and they have waxed rich poetic imagery on "Prince of Peace." "Heart Like Heaven," with its booming congregational catered chorus, is reminiscent of their earlier anthemic Hillsong praise rousers such as "The Stand" or "Mighty to Save."
Among UNITED's cohort of leaders, Taya Smith is an exceptional standout. Responsible in part for making "Oceans" such a mega smash, Smith here takes the lead again on "Captain." "Captain" takes on where "Oceans" end. While "Oceans" speaks of how God challenges us to walk upon the waters with Him, "Captain" continues the odyssey with Jesus on the helm. Loosely based on the Sermon on the Mount, the gentle cum stately ballad "Touch the Sky," is self-denial at its best with the arresting line: "I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground." "Say the Word" (not the Beth Croft song but a UNITED original) is an ethereal ballad with an engaging undergirding EDM vibe. "Empires" is indeed a ground breaking album; never one to be built upon predictability. But more importantly, the songs here are so Christ-centered that they vim with a Holy Spirit energy that can topple the staunchest empire of unbelief.
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