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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Label: Flicker Records
The fourth studio album by Pillar made its October debut with all of the fanfare you’d expect from a group that’s become, well, a pillar of the hard rock community in CCM circles. The Reckoning is a sturdily produced, forceful collection of songs in the general category of such major players as Blindside, P.O.D. or Switchfoot; the performances are tight and the sound is thick and appropriately heavy. Pillar fans should welcome this CD with open arms – so, why am I still left somewhat unaffected after repeated listening?
As I mentioned already, Pillar is a talented band that’s firmly entrenched in the CCM community (not that there’s anything wrong with that), having won no less that four Dove awards, and having a status of the ‘official’ hard-rock heroes of the more corporate aspects of the genre. Unfortunately, listening to The Reckoning, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about some of the afore-mentioned bands that Pillar can’t seem to keep from sounding just a little bit too close to. In fact, amidst much talk (in interviews and promotional material) about how the band is carving their own special niche in the music scene, bands such as P.O.D., Rage Against the Machine and Godsmack are referenced far too often, and only serve to highlight the fact that Pillar is sometimes a bit generic-sounding and does have a tendency to sound too much like their influences – the tenth song, for instance, “Crossfire,” might just as well be a P.O.D. track, from the music, to the vocal style, and even the lyrics. The unfortunate thing is that it sounds like P.O.D. without some of the power and passion of that band’s attack.
The opening song, “Everything,” is really quite good, and shows less of a reliance on other influences. The lyrics are compelling, the song has a good, strong guitar riff, the production (by Travis Wyrick and Pillar) is slick, but gutsy, and the mix (by David Bendeth) allows you to hear everything that’s going on in the thick wall of hard-rock sound. For me, this is the direction Pillar should continue to go in, especially since they already start to get imitative (P.O.D. meets Blindside) on the second track.
There’s no question – these guys can play. Any vocalist is subject to the particular taste of the listener, so I’ll say that Rob Beckley does a fine job hitting all of the right notes. If you like the sound of his voice and the particular inflections of his vocal phrasing, you’ll be a big fan of the vocals on this project, but, the style is more serviceable than interesting or unique. Lester Estelle does a wonderful job on drums, playing with appropriate power, skill and creativity (the drums are extremely well-recorded, by the way), Kalel (any relation to Clark Kent?) handles the bass with great solidity, and the guitars of Noah Henson and Joey “Cinco” Avalos keep the band firmly in the hard-rock genre with screaming chords and deft solos. The lyrics throughout are sometimes straight-forward, often interesting, but occasionally re-treads of what we’ve heard many times before (‘I can’t fly with these broken wings / wherever the wind blows – you will find me there.’), and often with the currently popular technique of singing key words in a falsetto and slipping down into your normal range to finish the line. Sorry – I’ve been listening to rock & roll for a long time, and the stereotypes are starting to become obvious.
Finally, let me re-emphasize: this is a talented band, and, basically, a good album. At the same time, my hopes for a more than ‘just good’ album were let down right after the excellent opening track, and raised again with the wonderful instrumental, “Elysian,” at track eight – this powerful example of what the band can do when it decides to really cook, musically, is a small treasure on the disc. I say, ‘small,’ because the song comes and goes in all of one minute and forty-eight seconds! In that brief amount of time, Pillar shows us that they can produce punchy, driving, tricky but accessible music without having to sound like anyone else. …. Although those guitars did sound like Stryper. Oh, well.
By Bert Saraco
TOCKS, I reckon. Add half a tock if you’re really into Pillar.