Since I was a teenager, I always have been a man of my own choices. I decided from an early age what kind of world I would be exposed to; music, media, culture, and so on. From early on, I decided that religion and I would not mesh, and for many reasons it didn’t make sense to me. The reason I bring this up is because in the context of this record, religious media, or in other words, worship music, this is one of those many things that I don’t align myself with. Upon learning I would be reviewing this record, I had to decide to allow myself separation from my bias and my predetermined ideas of what this might be like, and let everything else go. Being immensely supportive and appreciative of Thrice, I knew that Dustin Kensrue was more than capable of writing any kind of music he’s passionate about, and although challenging to accept, was more than plausible – so I listened.
The Water & the Blood is an exercise in beautiful judgment, daring and infectious. From one melodic idea to another, there is a construction deeply larger, more thought-provoking, and entirely passionate than what I could have hoped for from a genre and concrete concept that has long been muddled by vain, self-righteous, and unoriginal and uninspired music. To say Kensrue has lit a fire is an extreme understatement. Emotionally-charged wonder is the closest description of this record I can muster when being commanded by his voice in “The Voice of the Lord”, or feeling my soul rip apart in “It’s Not Enough”. Even for the less serious of the brew, the folksier takes (“My One Comfort”, “Grace Alone”) still drive with depth, melodic finesse, and a general feeling of unity.
There is a meandering thought I’ve had while trying to assess my thoughts on the record, and it’s that I wonder whether the target audience is either extreme of Kensrue’s market, or somewhere in the middle. Fans of Thrice, although being aware of his many religious references in their songs, praise him for his very open takes on his concepts, never narrowly pivoting his ideals in an effort to force an opinion. From a lyrical standpoint, Thrice has always been approachable, accepting. Comparing this record to Thrice is not only highly inaccurate, but erroneous.
This record isn’t meant for those who are seeking that ambiguous interpretation, but those defined in their ideals for religion and who share that with him. Because I don’t share those ideals, I don’t connect with him on a lyrical standpoint in literal understanding, but that doesn’t take away from the sheer gravity of his lyricism. “Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander, and towers of ivory rose beneath my feet/Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander, the sum of it would leave me incomplete” is one of his many gems from “It’s Not Enough”, and it’s a reminder that despite the praise and admiration, he is just as vulnerable and genuine as any of us. This particular song confirmed for me that this record would be different from other worship records – from other contemporaries in his league – and it’s better.
In a more personal representation of my progression through TWATB, I decided to ease in, taking longer to move into the more “God-charged” songs, but nonetheless, when I did I was not disappointed. The more uplifting and less climactic of the assortment (“Rejoice”, “Rock of Ages”, “God Is Good”) are extremely accessible, and will no doubt offer Kensrue the kind of response to continue to spread his message, while those heavier offerings, such as the utterly incredible “Suffering Servant” and “Come Lord Jesus”, will have just as much mainstay as the others. The record will not connect with some, but for those who recognize the power of melody beside the imagery, who can look past the overarching concept, they’ll find something worthwhile. There isn’t a bad song on here, and undoubtedly it will have opened up another avenue for him to touch many lives in the ways that Thrice have, which in the end is the only thing that matters.
An emotionally-charged wonder, The Water & the Blood is a shining beacon of integrity, melodic fervor, and passion destined to set the standard for many worship records to come – and prove that even those artists not buried in the image surrounding the iconic religious musical underground have the chops to stand tall, even up to the heavens themselves.