Downhere on the Altar of Love as reviewed in The Phantom TollboothIs it a Christian pop album or a collection of modern-day hymns? This is the question left with the listener.


Label:  Centricity Records

Release DateAugust 23, 2011

Duration: 12 tracks, 47:13


Downhere’s fifth full length album shows all the chemistry, great song writing, musicianship, and professionalism we’ve come to expect for this noteworthy Canadian band. The songs have heart felt lyrics, excellent instrumentation, and the album is well produced by Marc Hiemerman (DC Talk, Newsboys, Jaci Velasquez). What is confusing is the song-to-song mix of pop and modern day hymn. From the standpoint of growth, there is not much new in innovation or shift in style, but a move toward more of a modern day hymn-like approach on many songs.


The band’s well defined sound after years of collaboration seems to be lost in an effort to both have a pop feel on some songs and on others a deeper probe into praise and worship. The collection of songs is disparate without an overall theme. In its entirety, this CD is neither pop friendly nor can it be considered praise and worship. There is certainly some of each, but never a balance of one or the other. Here, the pendulum swings from one song to the next as pop /rock to modern day hymn and back again.


Altar’s opener, “Only The Beginning, a song about continual new beginnings of a Christian life is a bright spot. Here, the vocal qualities of Marc Martel and Jason Germain work well together. Conversely, “Rest” shows the dramatic difference in their vocal styles not always mixing well together. However, good lyrics and melody stay with the listener long after the song has played.  Powerful lyrics and dancing piano highlight “Let Me Rediscover You” which showcases the vocal gifts of Martel, sounding much like the late Freddie Mercury of Queen.


It is at this point that the pendulum starts to swing song to song from modern day hymn to pop rock and back again With “For Life” hymn-like, to “Living the Dream” sounding like an early ‘80s Chicago AM radio tune and “Seek,” a mild rocker to hymn-like offerings in “Glory By the Way of Shame” and “Holy.”


“For the Heartbreak" displays touching poetry with great vocals followed by “Turn This Around,” another hymn. Finally, the album’s namesake, “On The Altar of Love,” shines with great harmony and a change in Downhere’s sound as the song begins with a folky sound and turns with a hint of country as the tempo picks up with violin, banjo, strings, and good guitar work. Again, in the album’s finale, “Reveal the Kingdom” returns to hymns with a slow, slow burn sounding much like final song of an overly dramatic movie soundtrack as the final credits roll out.


Is it a Christian pop album or a collection of modern-day hymns? This is the question left with the listener. Clearly for Downhere’s founders, Germain and Martel, this offering was drawn from their inner-most faith. However, the continual jump from a slow, modern day hymn to a pop rock offering and back again just does not work. There seems to be parts of two albums here with an effort to include radio-ready pop with album-only praise and worship.


For fans of early Downhere, this album may disappoint. With mainstream Christian music’s flow towards cross over, the conservative praise and worship only album has lost interest to the larger, progressive Christian music follower. On The Altar Of Love is similar in effect to Jars of Clay’s Redemption Songs, good work but not what the broader audience needed or wanted.