Written By: Dagg

theocracy_theocracyOnce upon a time, Christian metal was completely devoid of bands talented enough to make a name for themselves outside their very small niche [Except for Trouble, of course. — Steel Druhm]. 10 years ago, Theocracy changed all that, and today the budding Christian metal scene boasts supremely talented artists numbering… well, it’s pretty much still just them. Sure, the scene has cracked out a few good releases here and there, but by and large, there’s not a wealth of quality. Despite the relative lack of bands to follow in their righteous wake, Theocracy has still been a pretty significant force in power metal over the last two years, with their highly acclaimed Mirror of Souls and As the World Bleeds albums.

To the wider community, Mirror of Souls probably felt like the band’s true debut, considering that the actual eponymous debut was a one man project, which sounded only a small step better than a demo recording, and was followed by a hiatus of five long years. As a result, Theocracy has been mostly ignored by all except the most devoted (and devout) fanatics of the band. With the 10th anniversary of Theocracy looming, vocalist Matt Smith (who also serves as guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player) decided to rescue the album from metallic obscurity, fix the numerous production issues and have drummer Shawn Benson replace the awful sounding drum machine used on the original recording.

Icthus” is still one of the catchiest power metal songs I’ve heard to this day, full of fast, melodic power metal with symphonic leanings. “Mountain” and the titular song, “Theocracy” are much in the same vein, with the former being a personal favorite of mine. The album contains a lone ballad, “Sinner,” which, despite feeling a bit obligatory, still packs some serious punch. Another point of interest are the longer, ‘epic length’ songs like “The Serpents Kiss,” “The Healing Hand” and “Twist of Fate.” While “The Serpent’s Kiss” was alright on the original release, the other two just seemed so flat. With the 10th anniversary edition, all that has changed. Hearing them in this re-recorded form, much closer to the way they were originally intended gives them a new life and makes them comparable to anything in Theocracy‘s later catalog.

Theocracy_2013What about individual performances though? This is metal after all. The drums are the biggest standout, not only because those familiar with the original recording are accustomed to the lousy drum machine tracks, but because they’re highlighted in the new mix. This makes sense, since Shawn Benson is a really talented drummer and showcases his impressive chops here. That said, the best instrumental moments revolve around the keyboards and rhythm guitars, though some songs are a bit sparse on inspiring leads. Vocally, Smith is stellar in the upper ranges, but when he drops down into the middle range, it can sound awkward occasionally. That said, if you’re a fan of vocal layering, you’ll absolutely love this album.

You can’t really review a Theocracy album without addressing the fact that they’re a Christian metal band. A lot of press describes Theocracy as great despite being Christian and a lot of fans won’t listen to or appreciate them because of the Christian bent to the songs (even if they aren’t particularly preachy). I’d propose however, that it’s Matt Smith’s personal convictions and strongly held beliefs that imbue his music with so much power and passion. That passion permeates every aspect of this record and makes it a worthwhile listen.  If you love European power metal played by talented musicians with an ear for sharp writing, you owe it yourself to move past the lyrics and check this out. [Santa demands it!Steel Druhm].
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  • Andrew Bennett

    If you’re looking for Christian metal, I really liked the new Stryper, though something this straightforward is not usually my bag.

  • Kalsten

    I really think that As the World Bleeds is one of the best power metal albums I heard so far in my life. It is so catchy, easy to listen, well made and full of energy that you can spin it infinite times BUT it is Christian. So all the messages about not listening to god, that humans are bad, inmoral and so on is really the big downside here.

    I really prefer songs talking about Satan. At least, you know that 99% of them is from people who are talking about something they don’t really believe in (like other bands make songs about elfs, orcs and dragons). But in this case, is from people who really believe in those things and that’s is sad for me.

    • “I really prefer songs talking about Satan.” Comments like this are why I love writing for a metal blog so much.

      • Guest

        You can deny that Satan, as a imaginary character, is much more attractive than God (talking about christian mythology, of course) :P

      • Kalsten

        You cannot deny that Satan, as a imaginary character, is much more attractive than God (talking about christian mythology, of course) :P

        • Mark Nagy

          Satan is only attractive because of Paradise Lost. In the Bible, he’s just a loser through and through.

          • Kalsten

            That is why I said “christian mythology” and not the cristian bible :P

          • Realkman666

            Always sully the name of whom you want to discredit so you can have power over them. See also Rogue States and Heretics.

    • Stasia98

      I don’t think i ever bother listsening to music lyrics … a band can sing about pink fairies for all i care as long as the music is good.

  • Brian Kelly

    their newest cd is really awesome, the ‘i am’ song is pretty amazing & has some great & cool lyrics. that would be a hard song to remember all the words to. i havent listened to any of their other cds yet.

  • Realkman666

    I find Christian stuff a bit creepy, but I’ll give it a spin. :$

    • Matus Dust

      Me too. Should I be scared that there are some kind of hidden messages in attempt to convert me? :o

      • BaboonKing

        I wouldn’t call them “hidden”, they are very open about their christian militancy. But even if I don’t share their religious stance, some of their lyrics are still top notch and quite moving.

    • Brian Miller

      I am a little creeped out by a “devout” band using the name Theocracy. Theocracy isn’t just a mild word…it’s a political system where people like me might be killed.
      On the other hand, the cartoon Satanists are pretty silly, too. So if I can listen to “Foaming Rivers of Blood” and the like I can listen to Theocracy, I guess. :)

      • Realkman666

        I think the point is that someone who kneels in despair praying to a God in real life is much more likely to be a nut than someone who celebrates anti-establishment and free thought in these so-called rivers of blood.

      • Mark Nagy

        Aha! There is actually a song about the very name of the band, on this very record.
        “At the center of my heart there sits a throne That the rightful occupant’s not always
        free to call His own
        For how can I give the King
        His place of worth above all else
        When I spend my time striving
        to place that crown upon myself “

  • The Metal Pigeon

    Got into the band through your review of As the World Bleeds few years ago Druhm. I do think these guys are criminally overlooked by power metal fans and perhaps its because of their religious beliefs.

    I am a tad disappointed that they spent their time this year doing this re-record instead of recording a new studio album, that’s what I’m far more interested in.

    • Actually, Dagg wrote this review. I also would have preferred a brand new album from these guys.

    • Mark Nagy

      This is a partial re-record. The only new sound is the drums, but the production improvements are so significant that it’s WELL worth it. Also, I know Matt has been writing songs since ATWB was released. The guy never stops.

  • sathriel

    Ok, will have to give a spin to this one. Sounds interesting.

    I don’t know much about christian metal scene but I would definitely advise anyone with an open mind to give a listen to Saviour Machine’s “Legend”.