Traditionally, Christian rock has been maligned as a diet-soda take on the real thing, a somewhat (ahem) soulless Xerox designed to give the religious market an almost-as-good alternative to what the secular kids are listening to. There have been obvious exceptions — BELIEVER and TOURNIQUET immediately come to mind as innovative, exceptional metal bands regardless of moral compass. STRYPER wallowed in hair-metal excess enough to put their heathen counterparts to shame (and turned in a strikingly good comeback album last year). And bands like LIVING SACRIFICE, who started out as a second-rate thrash knockoff, evolved into their own unique beast, influencing an entire sub-scene of Christian hardcore and metal going strong today.
Now, thanks to studio technology and the quiet advancement of the Christian marketplace, there's little reason for, say, a Christian radio-metal band to sound any different than what's getting mainstream airplay. And that brings us, finally, to PILLAR. These heartland rockers are taking a stab at the wider world after making quite a mark in the Christian scene — Dove awards, major label distribution, and a cool 250,000 sold on their last record, "Where Do We Go From Here" (good question).
And why not? This is a slick, massive slice of commercial rock and roll for the post-INCUBUS, post-HOOBASTANK age. It's got the big rock anthems with shouted choruses and pretty verses, a coupla schmaltzy ballads that are one autoharp away from being modern country hits, and the giant, overdriven guitars and drums tailor-made to blare out of big trucks in Wal-Mart parking lots in middle America. If no one told you they were a Christian band, you'd never guess it from a cursory listen.
The problem is, you'd also probably forget the whole thing ten minutes after it was over. So much effort was expended in making PILLAR sound ready for prime time, but someone seems to have forgotten to give the band a personality, or develop whatever they had in that department. Every second of "The Reckoning" seems calculated to be as much like everything else as possible, to land on radio programmers' desks somewhere between NICKELBACK and PAPA ROACH, and somehow slither into the playlist on sheer unobtrusiveness alone. Put on overwrought ballad "Last Goodbye" or faux rocker "Tragedy" and you'll hear a talented band awash in the best, biggest, loudest pile of generic crap ever.
There's not much else to say about "The Reckoning" — it's a big soggy blockbuster of a record, faceless and bland, and it's frustrating that someone apparently spent a lot of time and money to make it that way.