I would have to say that one of the most influential, relevant, and touching songs I have ever known is Hillsong United’s “Oceans” from their 2013 Zion album.
So when I was asked if I would like to receive an advance copy of the Australian worship group’s newest album, Empires, to review, it was an easy decision for me.
Empires, (which was released today on May 26, 2015), has been playing in my car for more than a solid week now. My process of reviewing it has been to refrain from paying attention to which individual track I was listening to; instead, only investigating the song after it really stood out to me as the album played as a whole.
I love this album.
It’s the kind of album that just flows in a cerebral experience, like ColdPlay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends; as if there were not 12 individual songs, but instead a never-ending trip to a different, higher place. I would almost refer to it as an out of body experience.
Though I absolutely am obsessed with the the entire album, my favorite songs from Empires are the 6th and 7th tracks: “When I Lost My Heart to You (Hallelujah)”, a seemingly romantic song (which it is not, actually) that reminds me of the 1970’s Peter Gabriel era of the progressive rock group Genesis; and “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)”, a track which might actually deem too honest and real for some members of an American audience.
Here’s an excerpt from the “When I Lost My Heart to You (Hallelujah)”:
Love laid its breath against my chest
My skin was thick but You breathed down all my walls
Love like the fire steals the cold
The ice wore thin as Your light tore through my door
You have my heart
As for “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)”, I predict the honesty of the raw lyrics will distract some listeners from hearing the true meaning:
Even when the fight seems lost I’ll praise You
Even when it hurts like hell I’ll praise You
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
Here in America, we think nothing of the word “bloody” as an adjective, as we reference what we think as a thoughtless British adjective. However, I hear it serves as profanity in England.
I think it’s a similar case with the American use of “hell.” Unless someone is literally referring to hell in a Biblical manner, many Americans deem it as profanity; though that doesn’t quite seem the case overseas.
Either way, it’s safe to say that “hurts like hell” isn’t something I’d let my 4 and a half year-old go around saying. After all, with this being Family Friendly Daddy Blog, part of what I do is screen for potential offensive content.
However, the Bible itself isn’t rated G or even PG; and neither is real life. And this album isn’t targeted for children. It’s for people who are seeking God, from a place of humility, desperation, and honesty.
Despite it being a “worship album,” it’s not “churchy”. It’s real.
So if you’re able to get past the culture shock of that phrase and try to understand the possible place in life that the songwriter Joel Houston was referring to, it can be a deep and meaningful way to illustrate from what depths of despair (hell) we can “choose joy” by deciding to praise God in the most unthinkable times.
I think that “Even When It Hurts (Praise Song)” may even contain the ability to unintentionally expose how easy it is to praise God in a church setting but not when you or someone who know is actually going through “hell on Earth”.
From divorce, to loss of a steady job, to experiencing a miscarriage, these are times when it’s not so practical to want to praise God.
As the song says, “when it hurts like hell… when it makes no sense, I’ll praise You.”
And that goes back to the track before it, “When I Lost My Heart to You (Hallelujah)”: “You have my heart.”
If Christ truly has our hearts, we will grasp on to straws to keep our faith in Him, if that’s what it takes; not just in the midst of a worship service at church… but when life is too real, when it seems the furthest from Heaven… “when it hurts like hell.”
That’s why this album is personally challenging for me. Beyond its well-produced, well-polished “spa rock” sound, it’s definitely the most brutally honest worship album I’ve ever been exposed to.
Thanks for reading my review today. I hope you found it helpful.