Judgement & Restoration 
Ethereal Scourge
Rowe Productions 
By Josh Spencer

There are few releases in Christian music that I have looked forward to as much as this one. Months in advance, it was said to be similar to Sepultura (one of my all-time favorite bands), and that was enough to get my blood churning in anticipation (hmmm, that's some interesting imagery--must be the influence of their CD pounding the walls as I write). After all, these days there are plenty of Christians making quality alternative music to feast on, while extreme metal fans are left to subsist on a few meals a year (unless we're willing to listen to secular metal or shell out $25 for import bands we know little about).

So, my copy of Judgement and Restoration finally came. Great title--that's the Bible in a nutshell. I popped it into the player, fingers trembling in anticipation, and pushed play. I skipped through all the tracks, listening to only about twenty to thirty seconds of each. It was good, real good in fact, but it was no Sepultura.

Actually, the main vocals are similar--that mid-range, understandable growling voice which death metal fans appreciate. The music, however, is for the most part slow to mid-tempo with occasional, and excellent, fast-tempo excursions ("Estranged From the Womb"). It's pretty doom-influenced, with frequent sprinklings of melancholy spoken words and two instrumental acoustic-type tracks: "Shroud of Mist" and "Subconscious." "Subconscious" has a steady waterfall going during the entire beautiful track. Though it works well, I think was it put in to cover up the hiss/fuzz in the track's production. Or maybe they really did record next to a waterfall.

Lead guitar is absent from the entire album, but the bass and drums weave in and out a tapestry of notes and rhythms among the heavy guitar riffs. All of the Ethereal Scourgers are top-notch musicians and, except for that one waterfall track, the production is flawless.

Lyrically, the album also rises above its Christian counterparts. These four men are enthralled by their Creator/Lord, and they let us know in easily understood lyrics made interesting by their poetic feel and imagery. For example, in "Through the Waters": 

    glide the mirror sea
    of placid aeons old
    flawless morning swan
    your graceful wings unfold
    lift your voice in song
    to the lover of your soul
    the source of all harmony
    his beauty unspoiled
and in "Refuge": 
    by christ the serpent's bane
    you are all the life I know
    be warm my heart of stone
    glowing by your hearth of grace 
The vocalist Jared Murray does a good job of conveying lyrics like these with exceptional mood and passion (in a death/doom sort of way).

Every song is strong, but my favorite track is the aforementioned "Estranged From the Womb," the fastest tune on the album. This song DOES bring to mind Sepultura, with its dominating, heavy, flowing riff and an end that hammers off into the distance like Metallica's "One." Unfortunately, it has a typically lame Christian death-metal lyric--"if it's life you're seeking, pray before you're reeking," but the music makes it excusable. "Warcry" is another standout. It begins with a slow rumbling guitar and actual singing, and then rips with a killer down-tuned riff and double-bass pedal fest. Right on. "Refuge" is a stoker as well--nice acoustic intro, then some frantic heaviness about belonging to Christ, followed by and wrapping up with a long, slower bass and drum-driven praise to God. 

It took me a few listens to get into this album (I had to get over my expectations of Sepultura), but I think it's now my favorite metal album made by Christians. The production is stellar, the musicianship superb, the lyrics inspiring, the vocals emotion-filled. This is one of the most professional and authentic extreme metal releases ever put out by Christians. Secular doom, death, and even thrash fans will dig it, and the usual Mortification, Living Sacrifice, and Paramaecium crowd will simply freak. Even fans of death-influenced hardcore like Six Feet Deep and Unashamed should enjoy some of this album. It's a keeper.

Copyright© 1997 The Phantom Tollbooth