Those were the words that appeared on The Petra Zone on June 2, 2003, the first time a Pethead heard the title track from Jekyll & Hyde. We had been told many times that this was the rock record we had been waiting for (in fact, check the liner notes for a mention of this!) but I don't think anyone expected something with the searing power of this CD. After a concert months before the CD's release, I had a few minutes to ask John Schlitt about it; he had told me it was like On Fire! and Beyond Belief combined. Who would have believed that this CD was up to the same level as two of Petra's biggest CDs to date? But I would argue that this is the loudest, most exciting album Petra has ever made.
The first thing you hear when you press the "Play" button is guitar. The last thing you hear before the CD stops spinning is guitar. Most of what you hear in between is also guitar... and this is a VERY good thing! Some long-time Petra fans have complained about the lack of keyboards, but I tend to enjoy the new rougher sound; I enjoy keyboards in the right music, but this CD is very much complete without them. The occasional sound effect does show up, though... the chimes in the title track, for example, and the occasional drum loop. In fact, the second thing you hear in the first cut is a sound effect... an airy sound that is vaguely reminiscent of the open of the Unseen Power CD.
And that's not the only thing that is reminiscent of Unseen Power; a number of other things here remind me of that CD (the verses of "Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda" are reminiscent of "Secret Weapon", for example, and "Life As We Know It" hearkens in mood back to "Hey World"). In many fans' minds, either Unseen Power or Wake-Up Call seem to be the end of "glory days Petra" and the beginning of "experimental Petra I'm not so excited about," so if this is supposed to be a "going back to roots" record I think those roots have successfully been found. In fact, the song "Stand" almost seems like an outtake from Wake-Up Call; the lyrics and theme are like "Sleeping Giant" and the music sounds a bit like "Good News". But I think Petra has also brought a few things with them from the interim years; the silly bridge from "It's All About Who You Know" sounds like the intro to "Beat The System" as recorded on Double Take, and the chant section in "Test Of Time" is similar to a chant section in "This Means War" on that CD; something in the guitars or chord changes of "'Till Everything I Do" reminds me of the intro on "Hello Again" from God Fixation.
Newsboy Peter Furler produced and played drums on this CD, and Newsboys synthesist Jeff Frankenstein is credited with "programming"; Furler and Newsboy Phil Joel also contributed to the backing vocals. And the presence of half of the Newsboys on the CD has brought a bit of the Newsboys' sound and feel with it; the intro of "Sacred Trust" invokes the intro of "Woohoo" from their Step Up To The Microphone CD, and the background vocals, especially on the chorus of "Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda", almost sound like they could have come from the title track of that album. But although the influence is obvious (as the Mastedon influence was obvious on the early Elefante-era CDs), nobody who knows Petra would mistake this for a Newsboys album! Some of the pop elements that propel the Newsboys' sound have been left out or minimized, and this is clearly a Petra CD.
The title track is also the first track on the CD; its relentless onslaught is a taste of some of what is to come later in the album, and lyrically it sets the tone for what could almost be seen as a concept album. Much of Petra's output over the years has dealt with issues faced by Christians in their daily walk, and this CD's lyrics and song sequence have the ups and downs that each of us faces. "Jekyll and Hyde" describes the struggle of flesh vs. spirit that Paul talks about in Romans chapter 7.
In a way reminiscent of the famous one-two-three at the beginning of the On Fire! CD, only the briefest of pauses exists between "Jekyll and Hyde" and "It's All About Who You Know"; the introduction of this song keeps the energy level high, although the metal edge on this song is down a notch from its predecessor. (I keep wanting to say "Soop-a-chick, rockin' the beat!" during this intro... it reminds me a bit of the intro to the album version of Superchick's song "So Bright"!) I mentioned before that the bridge of this song reminds me of "Beat The System" as recorded on Double Take; this is actually quite appropriate, since the lyrics are similar as well, although the person described in "Beat The System" has lost control of what is going on while the person described in "It's All About Who You Know" is the one who is (or thinks he is) in total control of what is going on around him. Or maybe Furler et al just put the drum loop in there as a little joke aimed at the Petheads who want rock and more rock on this CD! Whatever the reason, it always makes me laugh when I hear it! I really like the second verse of this song... and that's saying something, because it's not unusual for me to not be able to remember the words of the second verse of even my favorite songs.
If "It's All About Who You Know" is about how someone who thinks he is in control of every aspect of his life sees himself, "Stand" starts from what might be God's perspective on the same person... the guy thinks he's getting a lot to happen, but God sees him as resting on his laurels. This song has the most "churchy" language on the CD ("Stand, having done all this," "We're more than conquerors in Jesus' name," "Stand in faith, stand elected"), which is fine since the song is really targeted at the Christian who knows the Word of God but isn't doing anything with it. The vocals on the bridge section are really nice!
I'm still a bit flabbergasted by the bass part on the second verse of "Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda". Sounds like the sounds a bass guitar makes when it's trying to get out of bed after a hard night! Other fans have said that they like that part a lot, though, so I guess it's not that bad. The song is about making sure you do something for God so you don't have to look back at your past with regret, but instead can see it satisfied that you did what God called you to do. So we have progressed from someone who seems rather unstable, or maybe undecided, in his walk (track 1) and who would describe himself as a mover and shaker (track 2), to someone who has decided to start doing something for God's Kingdom (track 3) and who is going to go for it 100%, no holds barred, no regrets (track 4).
"Perfect World" is my favorite track on the CD. That might be because the introduction reminds me of another favorite band of mine, Collective Soul, or maybe it's because this is one of the loudest tracks on the album. The Collective Soulish parts of the song, which consist of clean electric guitar with some reverse effects thrown in, describe mankind's narcissistic idea that it can make things better... but when, in verse one, the lyrics talk about how mankind has its "...heads safely buried in the sand," the musical contrast very clearly makes the point that the wimpy efforts of man are nothing compared to the power of God! I love the mental image that even "Mother Nature" is subject to the "Father" God, and I love those heavily-articulated guitars! But hey, what's with the cymbal endings with the five-second decay?
Those heavy guitars return in "Test of Time", a song that contrasts the futility of actions of the person described in "All About Who You Know" and the regrets of the person described in "Woulda Should Coulda" with the satisfaction the person who has "stood his ground"... like we decided to do in "Stand"... can feel when he has stood the "test of time" and walked with God. "Tomorrow is a chance that may not come, today is still the day God gives us to see things done." This song has an extremely sudden ending, and that is typical of this CD; there are only one or two end-of-song fades, which gives things a bit of a live feel. These songs were obviously conceptualized as live performances!
And live performance will really lend itself to "I Will Seek You", which starts and stops and starts and stops and starts again on the verses; those kinds of songs are fun in concert because even people who aren't familiar with the recordings can tell what's going to happen next and begin to get into it. The song is made up of several contrasting sections, which can be a bit jarring the first few listens but give it a lot of variety once you're used to it. The melody on the chorus is pretty tasty! You don't hear stuff like that from just any band. The lyrics are a basic praise & worship song which might have fit on the Revival album, if the instrumentation and arrangement had been taken down a notch or two. I'm glad it appears here instead!
"Life As We Know It" summarizes the Christian life, describing both the dark confusing times and the bright easy times and linking both with the forgiveness we always receive through Christ. The bridge reminds me of one of my favorite passages of Scripture, I Corinthians 4:8-10, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." Don't miss the monster Aerosmithesque guitar riff about one minute in!
In the 80's and 90's, I could always tell which song would be on the radio as soon I heard it... kind of a "token ballad" always seemed to be there on every album. "'Till Everything I Do" is the one song I would call a ballad on this CD, and it was quite obviously arranged with Christian AC radio in mind. The song is about committing ourselves daily to doing God's will, and daily getting closer to perfection in our walk with Jesus. This is an easy one to sing along to... and I love the sparse instrumentation in the verses!
"Sacred Trust" is about reaching out to the World without compromising our message; it is written as a prayer to Jesus, describing His time on Earth and drawing the conclusion that He expects nothing less of us than to speak the Truth of God's Word without watering it down in a misguided attempt to somehow make it more palatable to people who don't like what they hear. The bridge section of this song is probably the most intense part of the disc, both musically and lyrically, as the person who is saying the prayer makes a life-changing commitment: "I'm gonna shout from the hill/How could I ever be still?" The contrasts in this song and in the verses of "Perfect World" are one of the most effective things on the album. The song does end oddly, with a strangely sedate final few bars for such a rough-and-tumble rock outing.
How could anyone not like this CD? I have no idea! And I also don't understand the complainers about the 31-minute length. When I hear the end of "Sacred Trust", I don't go away hungry for more minutes... I've had a full meal. I am, however, hungry to listen to the CD again from the beginning! Some of the songs are compressed (no time is wasted with filler sections), and there are no long fade-outs... nothing but the meat of well-written, well-arranged, well-produced songs. This album truly has something for the rock lover, the longtime Petra fan, the new Petra fan... teens love it, adults love it, and concertgoers are going to eat this stuff up live. It's loud, it rocks, it's fun, it's challenging, and it will help you draw closer to God... and that's what it's all about.