1. Southern Hospitality
2. Romance Me
4. Whisper So Loud
5. Whatever Reason
6. Phoenix Rising
8. Falling Star
9. Right There
10. On My Way Down
11. Law My Burdens
Few bands today make it past the five year mark. Even less ever get to ten years, but Disciple have been around for sixteen years. That’s right, their career can drive and to have stayed relevant in the heavy rock scene over all these years is something to applaud. Their sound has come from simple pounding rock, to more scene friendly writing over the last two records, but they’ve always managed to keep their fan base growing and wear their hearts and faith on their sleeve. Their latest album, Southern Hospitality, drops on Oct. 21st and finds the band taking a step back from the pulsing heavy feel of the recent records to a slightly more relaxed, southern style sound that actually fits quite well. From feel good sing alongs to tear tugging ballads, this album has a lot to offer and to some extent, it delivers ten fold.
The title track welcomes us with a sluggishly paced guitar riff and Kevin crooning along in classic rock fashion as the second guitar enters, but just as we think we’re in for something slow, the double bass drum comes crashing in. The verses have a pretty simplistic structure, but the flow and beat will get you moving with little effort whatsoever. The real deal maker here though is the chorus which simply soars higher than many of the band’s past singles. There’s gang vocals and the lyrics are easy enough for anyone to cling to and shout out and I’m sure just about everyone will do just that. There’s even a break near the end to give things a chance to calm right before jumping to a heavier feel briefly to show us that Disciple still has a taste for the heavy sound as well as this blues laced rock they’re playing now. Following a solid guitar solo, we’re tossed into the more straightforward rocker, “Romance Me,” which will bring memories of the band’s self titled debut to long time fans in terms of style. This may quite possibly be my favorite track on the whole album, but it’s in no way a landmark track in terms of what it accomplishes or anything. A heavy introduction gives into a more calm yet quick paced verse that leads into a searing chorus that you want to sing along to before it even finishes one run through. It’s just so approachable that I see no reason that this band isn’t all over top 40 radio as I write this. Kevin’s always enticing scream leads out the track and we find ourselves met with the lead single, “321.” This is just a great rock song in the same vein of, “The Wait is Over.” The guitars squeal and the drums pound while the bass growls under it all. Though I don’t think this is near the best song the album offers, it serves as a solid single as it really gives you a taste for the whole album. The southern style is obvious, the production is intensely mesmerizing and Kevin sounds better than ever. Also, have you heard the guitar solo? You can taste it, it’s that good.
Now, many bands struggle to keep an album moving along after three solid lead in tracks. They just present the best from the top and it’s all downhill, but after the opening licks of, “Whisper So Loud,” you know it’s not this case with Disciple. The song is driving and has the feel of classic rock jam with a bit heavier vocal line. For some reason, this track has this timeless rock feel to it and the bass line is simply sick. I mean, there is some intense guitar work here, but the bass is just nonstop. Though, after all this upbeat jamming, you knew there had to be some more relaxed tracks. “Whatever Reason,” the first ballad on the album, starts very softly and showcases Kevin’s more than solid singing voice quite well. In terms of the album, it’s a bit awkward as the he pace and energy goes from 10 to 2 in one track, but the song itself is pretty alright. It’s a bit cliche sound wise, but it has a strong faith based message and some good instrumentation. However, it’s this instrumentation that is the song’s downfall because it just feels so run of the mill musically that it passes by pretty much unnoticed. I have nothing against slowing things down, but this track isn’t the one to do it with. “Phoenix Rising,” follows this slight misstep with a solid mix of light and heavy noise. The song has a very classic Disciple feel, but the guitar work is above and beyond anything the band has done in recent years. Forget chugga chugga style work this round and welcome sheer technical skill. A beautiful piano laced melody near the bridge is one thing to make sure to find on this track, it’s one of those hints that even though they’ve been out this long, there’s still more to the world of Disciple than we’ve seen.
“Liar,” delivers the chugging this album hasn’t had from the get go, but never really takes off. Kevin’s lyrics are still strong and his voice is simply irresistible as he flows from soft singing to throat tearing screams, but the music feels like it falls flat and the chorus doesn’t do much to keep you interested. Something that’s always set Disciple apart is their ability to use their faith quite vocally in the lyrics, but here it just seems too simple. The song tries to get quite heavy, but it hits in a very deadpan way. This feeling gets a bit weaker with the follower, “Falling Star,” thanks mostly to a great chorus, solid drumming, and a blistering guitar solo. It just feels like the band relaxed a bit too much here and wrote the kind of song I feel they could bust out in fifteen minutes. Having grown and matured so much over each album, I expect Disciple to continue doing this act of pushing the limits with their sound and these two tracks just don’t do that in any respect in my mind. Luckily, just as things start to look bleak for the back half of the disc, “Right There,” comes in to save the day. A blistering set of guitar work gives way to a laid back acoustic number that tugs at your heart strings as Kevin’s voice trembles as electric guitar comes back to make you sway with the chorus. The story of someone always being there and watching over you is an old one for sure with the band, but the song has this great feel to it that you just can’t walk away from. If you close your eyes while this chorus play, I bet you, like I, can picture a sea of fans with hands outreached to the sky while the guitar takes the melody and everyone sings along.
For this review, having experienced high and lows, I felt these last three tracks were really going to determine where this album stood grade wise. First up, “On My Way Down,” a solid rock track with a near 80’s metal feel musically, kicks things off quite well. The drumming is feverish and the bass is thick through the verses and once everything kicks in for the chorus, you’re simply pulled into the world of Disciple. Production wise, this is, to me, the best sounding track overall. Both the lows and highs collide perfectly and set everything into place for quite a good tune. Next up is a the slowed, “Lay My Burdens,” which obviously carries a great religious weight for the album. Vocally, it’s golden, but musically, it could use a bit of work. I get the band’s idea to have a bit more classic, southern feel to the record, but you still have to have your own sound and this track feels like it could come from over a dozen other acts. So, two down, we’re split on the final tracks, but then, like a beam of light from heaven, “Savior,” arrives to close out the record. This acoustic laced track finds the band baring it all with a very deep and moving song about a girl in her darkest hour. It’s simply gorgeous and seals everything off with a perfect four and a half minute song.
Sixteen years in and these boys have still got it. Though there have been some line up changes over time, it’s always been Disciple each time and this record is no different. The band took a slight turn sound wise, which for most would be a gamble, and made it work out quite well. Even if you’re not a religious person, there’s something here for you. The bas is thick, the drums pulsate, the guitars squeal, and the vocals blow you away. Those of you looking for a real rock album that’s not all about breakdown and sleaze, this is it. This is a heavy, Southern laced gem that will surely make fans old and new smile ear to ear. If you have never dived into the world of Disciple, don’t wait any longer. I give this band maybe six months before top 40 picks up something from this album and the little venues they’ve been in won’t be able to hold them.
*Written By: James Shotwell*