Welcome to the wonderful world of Embodyment! When these blistering metal trailblazers first burst onto the scene in 1998, they encouraged hard music lovers everywhere to Embrace the Eternal
--a decision that meant embracing the frighteningly fast, lightning licks that screamed off their collective guitars.
Enter the year 2000-now, it seems, Embodyment wants us to embrace the softer side of hard music. The outfit's latest offering, The Narrow Scope of Things
, truly represents a much broader musical scope for the band. Instead of simply overwhelming us with a wall of super-fast, super-heavy sound, these Dallas boys have learned a bit about the good ol' "less is more" principle.
Not to say that we've got a bunch of copycat Michael W's on our hands (the music is still delightfully thrash-y and growl-y at times). What we do have, though, is a pleasantly surprising glimpse at the evolution of one of Christian music's hardest acts.
But what exactly does this evolution entail? When I question band members Andrew Godwin (guitar) and Sean Corbray (vocals) about the leap between Emboyment-circa-1998 and the present day incarnation, the boys quickly turn the question right back at me.
"What do you like better?" Andrew fires back with a grin. "The old album or the new album?"
After confessing that I favor the band's more recent presentation, Sean jumps right in. "Why's that?"
My ultimate answer--"I think it's more melodic." "Ah!" Andrew interjects triumphantly. Encouraged by the apparent "ah" of recognition, I quickly add, "I think that it's more intricate. I read something once where somebody said that [on] the first album, you just tried to be blazingly fast. And this album seems like you slowed it down, but you put more thought into it while you were doing that."
"You're answering your question," Andrew affirms.
And so I am. But, in the great musical scheme of things, it would seem that Embodyment's answer is the more important one. After all, when fans and critics questioned whether or not the band could escape the dreaded sophomore slump, the band snapped back with a smart, gutsy release sure to please both parties.
But exactly how did we get to the finished product of Narrow Scope
; what jump-started the band's musical evolution in the first place? The answer is simpler than you might think. As Andrew quickly points out, the band's ultra-heavy roots have grown a bit shallow. "We've been playing that style for years upon years. Like even in '92 to '96, we released our demos there." To illustrate the point more clearly, Andrew joined the band at the tender age of fourteen. Seven years later (at age 21), it was high time for a change.
"We were playing that stuff for a long time," he reiterates. "So naturally, musicians grow. Naturally, songwriters grow."
And as songwriters grow and change, so do their bands--a truth Embodyment knows well. The band has endured one line-up change after another, perhaps the most dramatic coming with the sudden departure of their Embrace
lead singer Kris McCaddon.
Though you might expect this kind of shake-up to lead to break-up (or at least some residual bitterness), Andrew insists otherwise. "I'd like to comment and say that we love our past members. The guys that have played with us before, we still love them to death. Things in the line-up and within the years have changed with focuses, people taking things different ways." But most important, he emphasizes, is that "We're trying to listen to God through all of it. We've tried to follow his call and where He wanted us to go. We tried to explain that to the members past. They understood, and then they didn't understand."
But, he assures, "It's all
been growth . . . . Them leaving is, I feel, God's blessing. I can't say that every instance was very peaceful or very easy to do, because it really wasn't. It's very difficult for all of us to do. But where we're at now is where we feel the most at harmony with our sound and with God and where we're going. So we're really at peace with the way things are going. I mean, the way it happened is God dropped Sean in our laps. And dropped our other guitar player, Derrick, right in our laps for us to use. And it was so beautiful and perfect that it was definitely God. But our hearts and our thanks and appreciation go out to all the guys who've played with us before. We still keep in touch with most of them."
Thus, as so often happens when God is consulted in these matters, things have turned out for the good for Embodyment (see Romans 8:28 for a good promise of this). New vocalist Sean Corbray stepped directly into Kris' shoes and has been lauded by his fellow band mates ever since. Andrew sees him as "the most impressive [person] on this album, because he had two weeks to record, two weeks to do vocals. And he really pulled it out of the bag, with God totally helping him and behind him."
And a large part of Sean's impressiveness stems not only from his ability to mesh so nicely with an already-established band, but also from his aptitude to contribute to the musical dynamic at the same time. Not content to play second fiddle to a previously set style, he's injected his own life into the creative process (perhaps accounting for the group's recent shift in sound, and certainly accounting for the noticeably different slant to lyric writing).
But just because Sean and the boys have adjusted well as a cohesive unit, we can't assume the same smooth transition for all Embodyment fans. As a matter of fact, the Embodyment message board is littered with various minor beefs with the newest record, ranging from critiques of the softer sound to scrutiny of the lyrics that just aren't quite "Jesus enough" for some listeners.
The band, however, simply takes all the comments in stride.
"It's art," Sean says with a fatalistic shrug. "You gotta accept art."
But more than accepting his music as simply "art for art's sake," Sean wants fans to understand the thought process behind it. "I feel like everything I write, I write from my heart. Everything is God-inspired. I pray before I write, or while I [am] writing. . . .I didn't really have a plan when I wrote-I just wanted to write from my heart and be real. So I shared what was on my heart."
Moreover, he adds, "Honestly, I want people to think [about the songs] . . . because I'm not trying to approach [songwriting] with one worldview. I want people to read it, get their own view. Some guy asked me what 'One Less Addiction' meant. And I was like, 'What does it mean to you?' He told me, and I said, 'Well, that's what it means.' I want everyone, if they enjoy the stuff, to read it, take it in for how they receive it, and let that be their song. You know, I wrote it for me. But we put it out for other people to hear, and for them to embrace it and let it become to them whatever they want it to be."
But, as evidenced by some recent fan letters, apparently not all the band's followers excel at reading between the lines. As a matter of fact, the "God quotient" of Narrow Scope
's songs just plain doesn't cut it for some listeners. But the band is quick to defend their new lyrics.
"Just because it doesn't bluntly come out and say, 'Christ rules! God rules! Jesus is my Lord!' honestly doesn't mean it's not God-inspired," Andy maintains. "People gotta realize there's a whole big giant world out there, aside from their Christian subculture. Aside from this little world that they want to create for themselves where they're so comfortable."
"You know, Michelangelo painted all these beautiful pictures out of his love for God . . . . And he didn't have a Scripture verse under his paintings," Andrew analogizes. "And the same thing with our music. We play the best we can. And the most melodic or the most beautiful sounds we can devise, we play them for God."
And just like Michelangelo, the members of Embodyment don't see themselves inevitably tied to an exclusively Christian scene. Much the opposite, Andrew reports that the mainstream music sector is "where we want to be." His words, seconded by Sean, are immediate and confident. "Honestly, I think God has designed Embodyment to play mainstream places. I mean, we're not above anything-we'll play anywhere for anybody. But we really feel a calling on the mainstream."
"And I think that God's almost prepared our sound for that, too," he continues. "I think He sees our hearts and He knows we're ready and willing, and we want to do it so bad. We want to play the mainstream, because, like I said, we don't want to seclude ourselves to a Christian little world, playing to Christians who don't really need the Word. I want to play to people…
"Who've never heard it," Sean interjects supportively.
"Oh, yeah-it's so huge!" enthuses Andrew.
And, better still for the ministry-oriented band, is the reality that a move to the huge mainstream world may not be so far away.
"God's definitely opening up doors for that," Andy fesses up.
So does that mean moving off Solid State Records? Expecting the usual hemming and hawing in answer to this question, I was surprised at the quick, matter-of-fact answer.
"Yes. Hopefully. If God wills it," Andrew states. "Actually, we have one more record with Solid State. And everything is landing perfect. God's setting this up, and it happened out of our hands . . .which is so cool!"
It's rare that you hear someone so excited about being out of control, but the anticipation in the voices of Sean and Andy seems genuine. And combining this kind of earnestness with the message of the Gospel makes for one heck of a powerful presentation.
So here's hoping that Embodyment meets the kind of success that Christian acts like P.O.D., Sixpence, etc. have discovered in the mainstream. We're willing to bet that if all stays out of Embodyment's hands (and in God's), The Narrow Scope of Things
may just widen a welcoming pathway into that "whole big giant world out there"-and the world will undoubtedly be the better for it.