Disciple: “Horseshoes & Handgrenades”

My absolute favorite instrument is the violin. Nothing quite captures me like the sound of that emotional stringed instrument. It should come as little surprise to those people that know me best that the best way to get me interested in a band or piece of music is show me a song with prominent violins. In this way, I was led into my latest album purchase: Disciple’s 2010 release Horseshoes & Handgrenades. When a friend played me the lead single “Dear X, You Don’t Own Me”, after only a few notes on the cello I determined this was something I would have to buy, and I was not disappointed.

 Disciple, for those of you who are not familiar with the band, has become a mainstay of the Christian brand of hard rock. Disciple is best known for their ferocious, energetic performances, with songs dabbling in metal at times, and a band that despite numerous lineup changes has always had the emotional, impassioned vocal deliveries of lead singer Kevin Young. Having owned Disciple’s previous release, Southern Hospitality, I more or less thought I knew what to expect: a rough around the edges style of rock, upping the intensity to metal levels occasionally. What my ears received were instead many pleasant surprises.

 Horseshoes opens up with the mid-tempo power ballad “Dear X”, which is an odd choice for an opening number, as it possesses a radio friendly feel, with the strings, emotive but not overpowering chorus, and lack of the in your face intensity that is a staple of Disciple’s music. An odd choice, but still a excellent song, the strings and guitars soon fade out, before a quick drum flourish accompanies the start of what we’ve been waiting for: intense riffage. “Watch It Burn” is a headbanger in every sense of the word, from Young’s desperate delivery of the verses, to the incessant pounding of the guitars and drums, to the pinnacle chorus shouts of “set it off, set it off watch it all burn down!” Of all the songs on the album, “Watch It Burn” proves to be the strongest, as this is certainly the music Disciple was meant to play. Coming in a close second is the equally, if not more aggressive “Shot Heard ‘Round The World”, a pure fight song that dabbles with metal, showcasing almost constant screaming vocals, though Young does gives us a brief respite on the bridge. “The Ballad of St. Augustine” is another strong heavy number, with an enjoyable departure from typical song structure as it tells the story of salvation. “Revolution: Now” has an urgent call to action with a large scale feel. “Battle Lines”, however, is a mixed bag. With an intensity equal to “Watch It Burn” and “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” the curious choice of using crowd clapping effects on the verses detracts from another furious assault on the senses in the chorus.

 Disciple also slows the album down (though not quieting it) with “Collision”, “Remedy” “Eternity” and “Worth The Pain.” Of the slower tracks, “Remedy” and “Worth The Pain” leave the greatest impression, “Remedy” with a surprisingly chilling delivery by Young and “Worth The Pain” thanks to an excellent pairing of piano and layered guitars. Unfortunately, not every song is perfect, as the made for radio rocker “Invisible” is a simply incredible and uplifting song, if you can get over the fact it sounds extremely similar to many things Skillet has already done. “Eternity”, though being a well crafted song lyrically, feels too much like a compromise between heavy and soft, and does not grab you with any compelling hooks the way “Dear X” and other mid-tempo rockers on the album do.

 The most compelling thing about Horseshoes & Handgrenades, though, is that accompanying the satisfying musical performances are urgent, Godly and heartfelt lyrics. Each song, in the liner notes, is accompanied with scripture references that the band drew inspiration from when writing the track. Essentially, Disciple has created an excellent way for each listener to turn their favorite songs into short topical Bible studies. Each song deals with a specific spiritual issue, and the album as a whole focuses on spiritual warfare and coping with times of trial and temptation in your Christian walk. “Watch It Burn”, “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” and “Battle Lines” all serve as exhortations for Christians to be strong in warring against sin, with defiant cries of “to all the anarchy inside we can’t escape: set it off, let it all burn down! To all the hell inside that’s been controlling me: set it off, set it off, watch it all burn down!” “Dear X” is an encouragement to those dealing with guilt over past mistakes, while “St. Augustine’s” lines of “ashes celebrate, washing me, consuming me, as I’m falling on Your sword, washing me, branding me with grace; innocence reborn” are refreshing to all of us in need of new life. “Worth The Pain” encourages us all that “God’s in the rain, so hold on tonight” and “Revolution: Now’s” scolding tone exhorts believers to “tear these idols down” and tells us that “the tide has broken out, flooding till they all fall down.” Frankly, to hear any band proclaim truth so unashamedly is a real treat, and takes a musically solid album and makes it great.

 Horseshoe’s title comes from the saying “almost only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades.” After listening intently to Disciple’s latest album, I can safely say they are calling for Christians to take up arms against sin, knowing that we have authority in Christ, and surrendering ourselves completely to Him and to the struggle. “These battle lines were drawn since the beginning” Young reminds us all, and it is a message not told too soon. Horseshoes & Handgrenades is highly recommended to all fans of rock music, and especially to those who may be facing struggles in their spiritual walk or in need of encouragement.

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