Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
As far as mainstays in the Christian Rock/Metal industry go, there are few who have reached the acclaim and influence of the band Emery. Popular from the drop of a hat in their Tooth and Nail days, the band has made a name for themselves as Christian Music’s only major Emocore metal band. Over the years they have released some of the best albums the industry has produced, including their 2015 independent release You Were Never Alone. The band has revolutionized the way crowd funding is done for everyone in the industry and created one of the better online communities I think I have ever been a part of in their Emeryland / BC Music community.
For almost 20 years we have been graced with the tenor voices of Toby Morrell and Devin Shelton with the gravely screams of Josh Head layered on top. 20 years is a long time to do anything, especially in the music industry, but the band that I once quipped was the band that sung exclusively about sexual sins and mistakes has found a new niche to speak into, thus finding a way to stay relevant and authentic in a world that praises and idealizes the inauthentic. Rub Some Dirt on It is likely the bands most authentic album to date in its themes and messages as it takes the listener on a journey begun with Matt and Toby’s sophomore side-project release: I Quit Church A Journey of deconstructing from the Conservative, Political Christianity that so many of us grew up within. The result is one of the angriest albums I think I have ever reviewed, on par with Five Iron Frenzy’s Until it all Shakes Apart.
Let me qualify that statement, RSDOI is angry, and like Until It All Shakes Apart it is angry because of the many injustices that have been committed against people of groups of people. But unlike Until It All Shakes Apart, where Five Iron is not the direct recipient of the abuse or injustice, RSDOI is Toby and the bands personal release of pain as they deal with the feelings of robbery and loss. This album is personal in a way that no emery album has felt before.
The album kicks off with: “You Stole God from Me” a thrash song that musically highlights the anger in the lyrics. The song talks about feeling betrayed by Christians who chose to water down the word and live in ways that were contrary to what the bible teaches. But its also an expression of anger at God himself as the one whom those leaders used to leave the singer in pain even as he was searching for a community that loved and cared for him as Jesus would. “I keep on searching for salvation, I couldn’t help myself, Too much sugar in the sermon, I wanted more than this.” Is a line that will certainly resonate with many of Emery’s Millennial Audience. As will the feelings of abandonment expressed in the next verse. The use of th Benediction blessing in the first verse feels especially painful when coupled with the bridge of the song: “We picked up our words and through them like stones, Holy and righteous for all to see.” The emptiness of a benediction of blessing with the often nastiness from Christians towards other Christians and non Christians alike leads the singer to say: “I’m never going back.” Capturing the sentiment of many in my own generation who want nothing to do with Christianity or Christians because they were raised among us. The song serves as both a warning and a call to repentance.
The album continues with “Concussion” a song about the ways life can destroy us by stealing innocence and leaving us with memories we would prefer to forget. The Song is musically unique for Emery, though true to their historic style, the rifts are particularly interesting and it makes the song a stand out on their overall, unique, discography, similar to the way “Curse of Perfect Days” stands out on We Do What We Want. Enemy picks back up the theme of feeling betrayed by Christians who defended ideas and beliefs that should never have been defended while working to make sure those whom they were deceiving stayed blind to their deception. The song takes direct aim at the hypocrisy of Christian leaders who fight for power and influence and lose the Gospel of Christ. There are too many incidents the band could have had in mind here both personally and publicly in Church life to speculate as to what sparked the song, but if you want a comparison, thing of *Fin at the end of Anberlin’s Cities album. The song also takes aim at those who claim false repentance, such as the narcisistic abuser who claims they have changed but really has not.
For the more traditional fan of Emery there are plenty of revisited themes on this album as well: “Don’t Waste Your Breathe and Be Cool both deal with betrayal by lovers and the party scene. In fact, Be Cool will remind the listener very much of The Party Song in its contents while offering a fresh perspective on the emptiness of the party scene. You Said Enough deals with the feelings surrounding divorce. Lovely Lady, though not a traditional Emery love and loss song stands out because it gives the listener a chance to meet the band in a way. The song is an Emery-style recreation of 70’s Vegas lounge music where the band introduces themselves, the only thing missing is the lead singer saying something like: Sit back and enjoy the ride tonight as we rocket off to the moon.” While it may seem out of place to some, it is one of the better filler tracks in the long history of bands putting in short fillers. Like Reliant K’s The Only Thing Worse than Beating a Dead Horse is Betting on One.
The true closer on the album is Stranger, and man, it’s a song. The song is written from the perspective of a survivor of Sexual abuse in the church and should probably be listened to with caution if you are one of the many survivors of a sin that should never have been committed against you. One can hear the tears and fears and pain of those who fall prey to sexual predators in the church. There is an emptiness in the song that only those who have been robbed of their dignity can explain: “I’m no stranger to the pain, Trust is now my enemy, My dignity is now my shame, No promises can make me stay, I’m no stranger to the pain.” The song is reminder that there are real people with real feelings whom God created an loves who are being preyed upon by men of the faith who have disqualified themselves from ministry.
Some might be thinking: “Why should I listen to this album?” The short answer is that it is one of the top five emery albums ever written, the long answer is this: Stories of deconstruction and pain need to be heard and taken seriously. Those who have been alienated and hurt by Christians have legitimate pain and stories that must be heard. Emery has given us a window into a world of pain many (not including myself) have the priviliage to never experience. If the Church is to be a place where people can find the healing love of Christ, then it must be a place that is safe for those who are hurting and it is regrettable that it is not.
So go out and grab a copy of Rub Some Dirt On It and listen to the pain and heartache so that you, through the Holy Spirit, might find a way to bring the hope, comfort and peace in a real, authentic and tangible way to those who are hurting but also let it inspire you to be a person of prayer where the world is in the most pain. Because these stories are important, and Jesus wants us to listen to them and respond as He would.