So the other day I got my pre-ordered, autographed copy of Pillar's latest, Where Do We Go From Here. I've been waiting two long, long years since their last album, 2002's Fireproof, and a lot can happen in two years. Some bands form, release an album and burn-out in less time than that. Following a second lineup change that sees Lester Estelle replace former drummer Brad Noone, Pillar emerges from the studio like a bear after hibernation and makes a simple, but powerful, statement to the world: "We're back."
A change in membership does not always indicate a change in sound; in this case there is one minor change. Gone (mostly) is the "rap" part of the rap-rock style that earned these guys a name. Instead, listeners are treated to a healthy serving of straight-forward, in-your-face, hard rock. Twelve glorious tracks, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds of driving guitar and crashing drums that makes a guy like me start head-banging while playing air instruments.
The thing Pillar does better than most Christian rock bands is find a way to put forth an aggressive, challenging message about God's love and mercy in a format that is entertaining as well. So many bands fall into the rut of focusing only on struggles in life, but Pillar espouses the attitude that, while life has a way of wearing us down, a positive outlook bordering on defiance can be just as important as faith. It's hard to think of another band making music capable of grabbing mainstream listeners' attention without watering down the message. (Are you listening, P.O.D.?) And on this offering, Pillar raises the bar just that much higher, simultaneously building on and holding true to their roots.
While the bulk of the disc will sound very familiar on first listen, there are some departures from the norm worth noting. Track 3, "Holding On," has more of a punk feel to it, including the frenetic pacing and mono-chord guitar. "Simply" is a slow, driving number complete with, fittingly, a simple message: Let God help you. How many times have you regretted something you've done, thinking "I've made it so hard on myself / turning my back on how You felt"? One of my favorite cuts, "Frontline," reminds me a lot of Fireproof's "Echelon," right down to the military theme. Immediately after that is the heaviest song on the project, "Underneath It All." I heard this track when I saw Pillar in concert earlier this year, and it seemed then (and now) that this was a showcase piece for the new drummer.
It would be cliché to suggest third time's a charm for this band, particularly since they had such a strong sophomore release. What I can say, however, is that this group has a plan and the talent to execute it. Just enough experimentation to bring something new, but holding onto enough of the old to retain their listeners, Pillar has produced something that makes them the early favorites for Best Rock Group at next year's GMA awards.