Theocracy // As The World Bleeds
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —On the seventh day, God rocked your socks
Label: Ulterium Records
Websites: theocracymusic.com | myspace.com/theocracyband
Release Dates: Out now!

Here’s a band I bet most haven’t heard of and some actively avoided due to their “christian metal” tag. Well, its time you heard of them and stopped worrying about such silly tags. However, for those diehard, anti-christian, pagan warriors of Wotan, try replacing “christian metal” with “white metal” or “good metal.” Okay, that probably didn’t help AT ALL but the point is, Theocracy is a really good band and their third album  As The World Bleeds is an exceptional dose of progressive power metal. Once a one-man project helmed by Matt Smith, Theocracy is now a fully functioning band and these altar boys can really play! Sounding like a mash-up of Avantasia, Axenstar, Balance of Power, Eden’s Curse and Shadow Gallery, they deliver hyper-polished, super-slick, technical, proggy power with a ton of melodic hooks and a fair amount of heavy edge to boot. Songwriting is first-rate, musicianship is very impressive and heck, God will appreciate you listening to it. When was the last time you hordes of miscreants could honestly say that? Yeah, that’s what I thought, sinners! In all seriousness, this is a great power metal album, regardless of religious inclination. If you dig melodic metal, follow Steel Druhm through the desert of this review and he’ll deliver you to the Angry Promised Land.

Whether you cotton to their divine viewpoint or not, there’s no denying Theocracy have some serious brass by leading off with the longest track possible. “I Am” clocks in at a whopping eleven minutes and most bands not named Moonsorrow would be loath to challenge the listener so quickly. However, Theocracy has a guardian angel on their collective shoulder and it really works! This winding epic really draws you in and introduces you to their songwriting abilities and musicality without feeling overlong or tedious. As you would expect from such a lengthy piece, it’s dramatic, features a boatload of moods and textures and allows the band to flex their chops. What makes it work is a combination of great lyrics, excellent vocals and surprising twists and turns. Matt Smith’s vocals morph from commanding to soaring, soft and powerful as the story unfolds and it all feels natural and unforced. The guitars are upfront, plenty heavy and scatter rich, fluid solos throughout. Song highlights include the unexpected lurch into a jaunty Irish jig-like piece at 5:20 and the progression into thrash territory as things unwind (including a cool Voivod-like stutter step thrash riff at 7:45). After the epic opener, there are brilliantly catchy, power-prog nuggets like “The Master Storyteller” (the guitars and vocals are both addicting), a sojourn into the crunchy and aggressive with “Nailed” (big chorus and insane guitar-work) and compelling guitar twists, turns and tricks on “Altar to an Unknown God” (I love the mega-cool string thingee that first pops up at 2:00).

Although this is a VERY melodic prog-power outing, there are plenty of heavy moments interspersed. Even the most mellow tracks like “The Gift of Music” and the title track eventually segue into thrash metal segments. This heavy/melodic dichotomy enhances the impact of the songs and gives them valuable metal credibility. No song is completely soft and all have diverse tempos. Matt Smith’s vocals are stellar throughout and the extensive use of vocal layering gives everything a big, rich, choral sound like late-period Savatage (but thankfully, way less Broadway jazz-handsy). The guitar mastery of Val Allan Wood co-headlines with Smith’s vocals and the man makes those strings burn like hades fire. Every song is bursting with his big leads and inventive riff-work. The whole ensemble brings a formidable A game and this is a technically satisfying release from start to finish.

The production is crisp, clear and polished, as is the music itself. The lyrics can, at times, be a bit pious, a tad preachy and slightly judgmental but how many HAIL SATANs have you listened to this year alone? Stop drinking the Devil’s Kool-Aid and give the other side equal time, for Christ’s sake! Steel Druhm ain’t exactly the biggest church-goer in heaven’s green garden but the lyrics didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this excellent material, so they shouldn’t for you either.

These chaps have toiled away in relative obscurity for years and with As The World Bleeds, they’ve released their crowning glory (their previous two platters are also very good). This looks to be one of the best prog-power albums of 2011 and a certifiable Myrrh Record. You would be stupid to skip this because of some anti-religion mumbo-jumbo, so Steel Druhm demands you open your mind and listen. But, DO NOT download this illegally! Most of you are in enough trouble with the man upstairs as it is. Blasphemers!

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  • Thanks for this review!  I’m a Christian and I work as the youth coordinator for my church…but I’ve always been wary of listening to any music that labels itself as “Christian.”  Your review got me interested and  I’ll have to check this group out.

    Btw, going to see Korpiklaani live next week.  Massively excited.

    • Thanks for reading, Anibal. I’m jealous about the Korpiklaani show! I love those crazy Fins!

      • Finally got around to listening to this…totally blown away!  Christian metal doesn’t have to suck!

        Also, I saw Korpiklaani…they were good, but Arkona stole the show.  Something about an angry Russian hobbit-lady stalking around the the stage wearing a wolf pelt and beating a drum did it for me.

  • mike gager

    i like how you say a band ive never heard of sounds like a mash up of a bunch of other bands ive never heard of! helpful! lol

    • Sounds like you need to listen to more power-prog, Mike!

      • mike gager

        haha yeah possibly!

  • If you had left out the fact that they were Christian I wouldn’t feel so guilty about liking this. But it is pretty awesome. Dammit.

    • I know what you mean, its so “uncool” to like christian metal (because of Stryper!!) but damn, this album rocks!

  • Zadion

    As the resident Christian metalhead, I have to say I am very pleased to read this review.  Metal is seriously lacking in good Christian bands… and by “seriously lacking,” I mean there are none. Great to see there finally is one, and I’ll be checking this out right away. No promises on the downloading though!

    • CARLOS GASEB

       There are number if good Christian metal bands, have you ever heard of Tourniquet, they are simply the best Christian thrash band and are at the same level with the big four of thrash

  • Nathan Binns

    As a Christian myself I agree with Zadion completely: My metal collection is 99% secular because the vast majority of Christian metal sucks, or at best is listenable but not great. Either the music is shamelessly derivative of a superior secular band that they just aren’t skilled enough to imitate (in which case I’d rather just listen to the secular band they are cloning), or the lyrics are so preachy that even though I agree with them I still find them annoying! 

    Theocracy amazed me as one of make 2 or 3 Christian bands I have heard (and I have listened to dozens if not hundreds) that have 1) mad skills and 2) have overtly religious lyrics that don’t make me sick. Another example would be Virgin Black, although even then lyrically most of the time if you didn’t already know they were Christians you wouldn’t pick it just by reading the lyrics.

    • I’m with you 100%, Nathan.  Also, most of the big “Christian metal” acts are metalcore…which I hate.  I’ve never heard of Virgin Black, though.  I’ll have to check them out.

  • Zadion

    I’ve heard them and honestly didn’t care for what I heard.

    • Mark Nagy

      German Pascual’s solo output is good, and Divinefire is another good one.

    • Mark Nagy

      German Pascual’s solo output is good, and Divinefire is another good one.

  • CARLOS GASEB

    This  album deserves a 5 are you kidding me, this is supreme metal