If their last record was a light-in-the-darkest-places announcement that “the end is really just the beginning,” then Downhere’s latest Centricity Music release arrives as an artfully textured but heartfelt declaration that, “True progress might mean we have to go backwards.” As students of history, Jeremy, Jason, Marc and Glenn have come to recognize and appreciate the fact that their faith is not simply their own—but that it’s part of a much larger communion of believers that stretches across cultures and thousands of years. And while we might have the privilege of bearing that torch during the short span of our own lives, they would say it’s important to recognize it’s not a torch we lit. It’s one that was passed to us by generations of faithful saints, and it’s one that we’ll soon enough be passing on to those who follow us.
At first blush that might sound like a heady concept for a pop album, but what Downhere has somehow managed to do is to translate those great truths into the most pop-friendly record they’ve engineered to date, carving out lush and hook-laden aural landscapes, complimented by a lyrical approach that feels personal and intimate. Or, to put it another way, On the Altar of Love is thoroughly passionate, but never preachy.
“Our generation is ‘cronocentristic’,” guitarist and co-lead-singer Jason Germain observes. “We’d like to think we’re on the cutting edge of discovery simply because we’re at the most recent point in history. But when it comes to truth, we’re not the new discoverers of anything; we’re just the inheritors.” “When it was time to start writing for this record,” adds drummer Jeremy Thiessen, “we sat down and talked about ‘What if we had a clean slate? What if all the wreckage and debris of our culture were gone, and we were back down to the foundations. What would our creeds be? What would our anthems sound like? What would the practice of our faith look like?’ So that’s where we started, and we tried to write songs out of that place of pioneering a return to the core of Christianity.”
Consciously borrowing from meters and styles that hearken to an earlier time, the band also focused intentionally on crafting the sort of songs that could stand the test of time stylistically; no small challenge in the context of radio singles. With Marc Hiemermann (DC Talk, Newsboys, Jaci Velasquez) at the production helm, the feel that emerged was both immediate and timeless.
“We’ve done this long enough now that we have an unspoken chemistry,” says bassist Glenn Lavender. “We’ve defined our sound, and we’re not shy about indulging that. We’re no longer experimenting with who we are as a band. We know who we are, and we’re trying to push the boundaries of that.”
“For me it used to be all about being musically complex and artsy,” says guitarist and co-lead singer Marc Martel. “And then I had a real perspective-shifting experience. At one of our shows there was a little girl standing front-center with her mother. When I said the next song was How Many Kings her face lit up as she looked up at her mom and grabbed her hand. She sang along to every word. I thought to myself, ‘I've got to write more songs like THAT.’ Until that moment I didn't realize the effect it had on actual people and their lives. It's not our most artsy song. It’s not the most interestingly produced either. But it connects with people. That really made me rethink my songwriting priorities. Sure there's a time for exploring new soundscapes and interesting arrangements…but if the song doesn't connect with people emotionally first, then there's not much point to it. So I’m really trying to stay in that magic equilibrium now as I write, that place that has some interesting artistry, but combines it with a strong emotional human connection too.”
On the Altar of Love is perhaps at its most vulnerable and human on the anthemic and plaintive Let Me Rediscover You. In fact, if songs had a physical posture, Let Me Rediscover You would probably be on its knees with its arms uplifted. The urgency of the vocals sweeps the melody along forcefully, undergirded by the song’s hymn-like and punctuated rhythm.
“Sometimes we think we’ve given all we can,” Jeremy says, “and then love asks us for more. The only proper response to the love we’ve been given in Christ is to abandon ourselves completely to his love, whatever that might mean. Let Me Rediscover You is really a heart cry, a prayer that our hearts and minds and souls would be turned back afresh to the knowledge and experience of who God is. That has to be our beginning, and our ending point.”
Other standout songs on the project include the moody, rootsy, spinning-wheel-feel of the title track, the powerful minimalism of Reveal The Kingdom (an “anthem for an eternal kingdom”), and the accessibly poignant poetry of Thank You For the Heartbreak—a song that not only recognizes but sincerely celebrates God’s sovereignty at work even within our hurt and sorrow.
“On the Altar of Love is really a proclamation of faith,” explains Jason. “It’s an encouragement to continue on regardless of circumstance, to continue this journey with joy and celebration, because we have a promise. We know where the journey ends. And we know that we’re not alone as we make our way. We have the companionship of Christ, and we have this vast family of brothers and sisters, and we have this great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, who are cheering us on. So we want to cast aside the distractions, return to what is essential, and spend ourselves completely in response to the love we’ve been given.”
Members: Marc Martel, Jason Germain, Glenn Lavender, Jeremy Thiessen
Current Record Label: Centricity Music
Albums: Downhere (2001), So Much For Substitutes (2003), Wide-Eyed and Mystified (2006), Wide-Eyed and Simplified (2007), Ending is Beginning (2010), Thunder After Lightning - Uncut Demos (2010), Thank You For Coming - Live Bootlegs (2010), How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas (2010), Two At A Time (2010), On the Altar of Love (2011)