Release Date: February 5th 2012
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Christian rock band Sanctus Real, from Toledo, Ohio, is one of my favourite bands currently, and from the calibre of their latest effort Run, it’s not hard to see why this quintet of 16 years is like fine wine- the band keeps maturing and release their best album continuously as time goes by. Since Pieces Of A Real Heart, the band has experienced many accolades and praises by critics, culminating in Grammy Nominations in 2010, as well as Dove Award nominations in 2010 for “Lead Me” (Pop Song of the Year and Song of the Year) and Rock Contemporary album of the year. Not to mention, “Lead Me” shot up to the top of the Christian Billboard Charts in 2011. Yet what also occurred during the 3 year writing and recording period were a few hardships. The band lead singer Matt Hammitt endured a tumultuous time with his son Bowen being born with a heart defect, which is still a long and arduous process (Matt has set up a website, dedicated to his son, and receiving immense support from artists, critics and fans). What also occurred was a fire in their bus, and this obviously has pushed back production on the album by quite a bit. Had the fire not occurred, then we could have seen Run (or perhaps another album title) around October or November last year. But Pete Prevost, the keyboardist, sums things up, with this pearl of wisdom- “…Every album, something always comes up. Even though the fire was awful, it didn’t really surprise us. We always expect something crazy to go down with Sanctus Real. But we just keep moving forward. It’s amazing how God has given us this ability to keep going nonetheless…”. Sanctus Real has had much adversity and chaos in their lives of late, but they have taken it in their stride, and chosen to ‘…run into the arms of Love…’ (“Run”). What has resulted is their best album to date.
Recording the new offering with 3 producers (Chris Stevens, Jason Ingram and Seth Mosley); Sanctus Real opens the album with the explosive and frenetic title track. Consisting of pulsating drum beats and a mesmerising guitar riff, the song (also a lyric video) speaks about running into the arms of Jesus in any situation. A near perfect opener, God’s love and affection for His children goes higher, deeper, longer and wider than we could ever imagine, and should be enough for us to realise that we can trust him with our lives. “Run” encourages us to give everything up to God, even when we’re not in a sticky situation. It’s a scary notion, but as Matt eloquently outlines in the bridge, ‘…don’t lose heart when you feel alone, when the road looks long and you don’t know, if you have the strength to make it home; you’re not on your own…’; we know that with God in us and with us, we can ‘…run into the arms of love…’ with no doubts in our minds. Also ending the album with an exclusive iTunes remix of “Run”, this potential single with epic gang vocals, as well as added synth and electronic effects that have me hooked. And the awesomeness does not stop there.
Sanctus Real has been described by many as the most consistent band currently, with the quintet time and time again releasing albums of high quality. The same can be said of this album. “On Our Own” has a haunting mysterious feel about it. With an enthusiastic electric guitar riff in the first few seconds of the track, then Matt passionately crying out to God admitting that ‘…we cannot make it on our own, we need You everywhere we go…’, the emotional melody of surrender seems poignant and timely. In this world we sometimes think that we can do things on our own, but Sanctus Real has reminded us all that if God isn’t in the thing we want to do, then it probably isn’t what we should be doing in the first place. God has to be in it, otherwise we shouldn’t do it. Plain and simple. Musically this track is lighter than most Sanctus Real material, but the acoustics in this track do the job of bringing the lyrics to the fore and making us listen to Matt’s somewhat prophetic words that we need God in everything we do. “Promises”, the first single and released as a music video, is based on Matt’s son Bowen’s journey with his heart, and is probably one of the most personal albums on the album. As we are drawn deeper into this pop/CCM radio friendly song, with plenty of passion and heart, we are once again reminded that God always keeps his promises, and ‘…His love is everlasting, and His faithfulness unending, oh if God is for us, who can be against us? So if you feel week, then hold onto the promises…Jesus is alive so hold tight…’. He is the only person is our life that will never let us down, due to God’s immense love for us. His Word is full of truth and reassurances, and as put by Matt, “…[a friend of mine]…would always tell me ‘cling to the promises,’ and that really resonated me because we had to dig deeper into the Word of God—and those promises—more than ever…”; we know in His Word that He is faithful, and thus we can rest easy and know that God holds us in His hands.
Through many songs on the album, Sanctus Real have shown their maturity. The piano centred potential single “Pray”, with plenty of drums and guitars as the song progresses, also contains a reflective message of relying on the power of prayer in our most dire situation. Matt emotionally declares the powerful lyrics ‘…You know my heart, You know my need, You know every part of me, so even if it’s just to speak Your name, I’m gonna pray…’; and reminds us that God is always moving in our lives, even if we don’t know it. In the world right now, someone is praying for us, which is extremely comforting for me. “We Will Never Give Up” has an acoustic start and gradually builds, as Matt fervently explores the notion of never giving up, and our determination to stand up for what we believe in, in this case Jesus Christ, for He is where our identity lies. The upbeat and guitar based ballad “Nothing Between” is one of my favourite songs, and speaks about putting God first and foremost in our lives. While the journey called Christianity isn’t easy, the song speaks about dedication, and always staying true to our beliefs, even when the chips are down, because in every situation, God teaches us and the outcome always is that He wants us to be close to Him. The declaration in the chorus reminds me of Psalm 23, and the story of Job when the devil stripped everything away from him, and can be very uncomfortable for some, yet freeing as well ‘…I don’t know what you want me to see, but I know where you want me to be- close to You, nothing between…’. While I may not be able to praise God totally in my sufferings, I, like Matt, long for the day when I can!
“Commitment” and “Keep Me Young” follow, and together with “Picture Of Grace”, speak to us about the subject of marriage. This seems like the natural progression of subject matter given the subject of fatherhood in 2010’s “Lead Me”. “Commitment” is a slow acoustic ballad where Matt takes on the role of the persona singing to his wife about their marriage and how it is a commitment, that they stay together, for good times and bad- the vow they made on their wedding day means everything. In “Keep Me Young”, a rocker with rousing guitars, the concept of marriage is further explored through Matt singing that his wife keeps him young, and that no one but her can ‘…keep me from a love that lasts…’- this song can also be viewed as us singing to God. A couple of songs later, the personal and moving guitar anthem “Picture Of Grace” further explores the messiness and complicated life of married couples, and how God’s grace can make a marriage last forever, even when it seems unfixable. With a similar theme to Luminate’s “Heal This Home”, Matt offers us all hope and assurance that God can fix the unfixable and that marriage always needs trust, in each other and in God to make it work. Sanctus Real have stepped out of their comfort zone a bit, yet they have written gems here, and this trio of songs about earthly and heavenly unions give us confidence and optimism about our connections with people in this life. We are also given courage to fight for things even when signs are pointing the other way, because God always has our backs. Well done Matt and co. for these heartfelt, honest and daring tracks.
The remaining songs on the album are “Better Than This”, “One Of Those Things” and “You Are God”. “Better Than This” is very upbeat, and contains plenty of exotic instruments, inclusive of brass instruments and a saxophone. Feeling like a 60’s jazz/blues and big band type of track, this ‘out there’ celebration of God’s creation should make anyone jump for joy! Portraying how God’s love, truth and favour in our life can radically change our perspective, Matt proclaims and shouts out that being with God is the best way we can live, as ‘…nothing feels better than this, when the sun comes shining in, it’s a new day, you’re wide awake and you feel alive again…’. “One Of Those Things” is a energetic power ballad that packs a punch, with plenty of gang vocals to please. Lyrically it speaks about evangelism, and that as Christians it is our duty and responsibility to spread the gospel to every creature- we shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel, or whether our friends and family disown us if we witness to them, rather we should ‘…sing at the top of my lungs, raise my hands, and get caught up…’; Jesus is the best thing in our lives, why not share it with the world? And the final song (before the deluxe edition tracks) that sums up the heart and soul of the album is the mostly-acoustic “You Are God”, a simple yet true statement that God never changes regardless if we do. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. What really is beautiful and the best part of the song is the chorus, where Matt passionately sings ‘…not mine but Your kingdom come, not mine but Your will be done, You are God…’. It takes guts to sing that prayer, and that is one of the reasons why I like Sanctus Real so much, they always stretch themselves, musically and lyrically!
Not fully content with only 12 tracks on the album, there are 4 bonus tracks on the deluxe edition to keep us all happy and content. “That’s Life” speaks about marriage again, and also about the struggles of life inclusive of family and other distractions that may unintentionally tear us way from God. But also resting in the promises in all the previous songs on the album, that God is with us no matter what, should bring us comfort also. Besides, life isn’t supposed to be perfect, as mentioned perfectly by Matt- ‘…I want real life, the good and the bad times, cause that’s how I know Your hope is alive…’! The rest of the bonus tracks draw upon several themes and past experiences. “One More Show” is about reminiscing and thinking about ending a chapter and starting another as a band, “Sanctuary” is about yearning and longing to just be in God’s presence as He loves us and protects us from our storms and our trials, and “Love You Tightly” is where Matt sings as a father to his children, that ‘…[I love] you tightly but [I] hold you loosely, ‘cause you were never mine…’- in fact every person who’s willingly a Christian belongs to God anyway. What fitting songs to end an album where the main focus is to give God our control and our trust.
“…Making music for the sake of making music never made sense to us…our mission was so clear at the beginning it was almost unspoken. It has been so natural for us to create music that reflects a life lived through faith in God…”. Sanctus Real could have could have churned out another album quickly, to produce an album on the back of momentum; but if that happened the quality would not have been as good as Run is. One of my favourite albums this year (on par with Jenny Simmons and Meredith Andrews), and a no-brainer for next years’ Dove Awards (win or nomination), the 17 track work of art and masterpiece is sure to have its doubters, given that along with Kutless, The Afters, Skillet, Seventh Day Slumber and Stellar Kart, they have taken the route of rock to CCM in a span of a few albums; however as a pop/rock and CCM lover, this album is one of their best. I guess people need to make up their own mind, but I will say this- thematically this is as good as it gets, and it’s comforting and refreshing to hear songs about needing to believe that God is here with us, that His plan is good for us, and that He loves us to have our best interest at heart!
- Run (3:07)
- On Our Own (3:55)
- Promises (3:22)
- Pray (3:56)
- We Will Never Give Up (3:34)
- Nothing Between (3:43)
- Commitment (3:37)
- Keep Me Young (3:49)
- One of Those Things (3:56)
- Better Than This (3:57)
- Picture of Grace (3:52)
- You Are God (3:37)
- That’s Life (Bonus Track) (3:30)
- Love You Tightly (Bonus Track) (3:34)
- One More Show (Bonus Track) (2:23)
- Sanctuary (Bonus Track) (3:38)
- Run (Remix: Pre-Order) (3:38)