Prime Cuts: One Thing Remains, My Heart is a Ghost, Mirror
Kutless' "Surrender" is prophetic, that is, it's not just an album to appease fans or just to merely entertain. Rather, it's one that speaks to our lives and our circumstances. On October 1st 2015, just two hours from where Kutless' founders and primary members, frontman John Micah Sumrall and guitarist James Mead, live, the shooting at Umpqua Community College happened. Eight students and an assistant professor were killed and eight more students were injured before the gunman turned on himself. Kutless' first single "Bring It On" was scheduled to release to radio the following day, yet became much more than that as regional radio stations began to play the song as a means of outreach to the community. "Bring It On" is just one of nine other songs here that speak to our lives and happenstances.
"Surrender" is Kutless' ninth studio effort. Over the years, Kutless has been known for their grunge rock sound where many have drawn the comparison between them and mainstream modern rockers such as Staind, Creed, and Incubus. Following 2014's highly successful "Glory," James Mead (guitar), Nathan "Stu" Stewart (bass), Kyle Mitchell (drums), Ryan Shrout (guitar), and Jon Micah Sumrall (vocals) are back with "Surrender." Whereas on their previous albums, the band has had often made concessions to smoothen their rougher edges with an amalgamation of Coldplay-esque type of grunge, "Surrender" is more or else a return to their early rock sound.
The band had never sounded more free and energetic with album opener "Tear It Up." With blazing guitars that recall Stryper in their 80s heydays and Sumrall's soaring screams and roars, "Tear It Up" speaks of our relentless hope in Christ Jesus. "Mirror" is a tad less abrasive but it's also one of the most thought provoking track. Utilizing the mirror as the song's leitmotif of trying to understanding the abiding omnipresence of God, the song is just a lyrical gem. "I Will Go," similarly, is lyrically also worthy of mention. Its ability to integrate allusions to the story of Moses in the book of Exodus to our own calling is a hermeneutical arch songwriters could learn from.
"Bring It On," the album's lead single, is by no means a career defining hit. But it speaks volumes to the atrocities we see around us as it calls upon Christ to return soon to build His Kingdom here on earth. Though lightning speed electric riffs and thundering percussions are the call of the album, there are also some moments of exceptions too. "Loved," though not really a standout, is a big ballad that rides on its wave crashing crescendos. With Kutless cutting a worship album a couple of years ago, it's refreshing again to see them do a cover of Passion/Jesus Culture's "One Thing Remains." But the album's most heart tugging song has to be "My Heart is a Ghost," a song that deals with regrets and shame, set against a bass-cum-guitar-heavy ethereal setting.
"Surrender," indeed, is a prophetic album. The songs have a contemporary edge that speaks on an array of issues from regrets to world violence to missions to God's presence. Though the songs are by no means perfect, they are for us today.