Tooth & Nail 4th Anniversary Boxset
Artist: Various
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
As the sun dropped on 1993, I gazed out over the vast, empty desert of edgy Christian music.  A few hardy metal bands and adventurous alternative outfits toiled away, but it didn't look good.  And then...a cloud of dust began to billow in the distance.  It was Brandon Ebel starting the indie label Tooth & Nail Records, signing a multitude of seriously authentic punk, hardcore, and alternative bands of assorted styles.  Brandon signed music he liked and marketed his bands with professionally hip advertisements (the first non-lame ads for Christian bands ever), eventually making Tooth & Nail one of the most successful indie labels in the country.  It was an inspiration to a dozen other small Christian labels that cropped up in Tooth & Nail's wake.
Recently, Tooth & Nail has matured in their musical worldview, realizing that "Christian" music is an unhealthy misnomer with a load of problems. They allow their bands to be true to themselves, and to sing what they want.  They've borne the brunt of misunderstanding fans' anger for their change in direction, but I think it's a good plan.  Tooth & Nail is trying to put out quality music for the world to hear (not just Christians), and I say "right on" to that.  
So why am I taking so long to get to what's on this boxset?  Well, I figured it's kind of obvious, so why hurry into it?  We have five CDs here, marking Tooth & Nail's 100th release in four years of existence.  There's a song from every regular band album or EP, plus unreleased songs and tracks off assorted vinyl.  They're all here:  Focused, Plankeye, Sometime Sunday, Blenderhead, Havalina Rail Co., Luxury, Strongarm, Everdown, Joy Electric, Morella's Forest, Joe Christmas, The Supertones, Ghoti Hook, Starflyer 59, MxPx, Stavesacre, and on and on...52 bands are featured by my count.  And naturally, bands with more albums have more representation (hello MxPx and Starflyer 59).  There's also a nifty 40-page booklet with Bill Power's take on the label's history, lots of photos, and a gallery of album covers.

For someone like me, who's heard just about all of Tooth & Nail's albums, there wasn't much to savor.  I thought the fifth disc, with unreleased tracks and vinyl outtakes, would be the real gem here.  Unfortunately, Blindside had the only decent unreleased track (Pedro the Lion, Havalina Rail Co., and Training for Utopia were pretty bad), unless you count the preview of Marc Salomon's punk band Outer Circle (which rips mightily despite the unfinished production).  I was surprised to discover most of the songs from vinyl had been released on CD already (at least, they all sounded familiar to me).  Even though I understand this is a 4th Anniversary Compilation, I think they should have come up with some better "special" songs.  The compilation was still good for giving me a taste of some of the more recent releases I hadn't heard yet; even with one song I could tell if a band's sophomore release had improved over the debut (Bloodshed being one unexpected example of a huge improvement).  For anyone who digs Tooth & Nail but just can't break with the bucks to buy 100 albums, this box is for you.  To be honest, even though I love the label, I find most of Tooth & Nail's bands to be of the "heard one song, heard 'em all" school.  So the varied nature of the compilation was refreshing in that aspect.  Boredom never set in, because each track (obviously) changed style and kept my attention.
This is definitely worth the $39.99 (c'mon, it's only 40 cents a song!) for anyone interested in hardcore, punk, and non-commercial alternative. Tooth & Nail led the way in colonizing and cultivating what was a barren landscape of cool Christian music, and this boxset proves it wasn't just
a mirage.

By Josh Spencer