THOUSAND FOOT Krutch were part of a small revolution in Christian music only a few years ago. During the P.O.D./Skillet/Switchfoot/Underoath onrush to the Billboard charts, brief signals of interest were sent by the mainstream toward the faith-based market’s little Nashville niche, singles climbed the charts, and one-off albums glimmered hope for the inspirational market. Thousand Foot Krutch’s Phenomenon was a two-fold victory: success by Canucks during GMA season, and a rock album that appealed as much to youth groups as it did tattooed, cigar-smoking bikers in gangs.

But as quickly as hope gleamed, it was crushed under the weight of reality. P.O.D. failed to recapture the magic of their first two studio albums (despite putting up a valiant effort), Skillet softened their sound and became a poor man’s Evanescence, Switchfoot parted ways with their label after failing to produce another Beautiful Letdown, and Underoath have to forgo mass appeal in favor of studio experiments and unconventional songwriting. Thousand Foot Krutch, never as successful as their rock-peers but at least as talented as most of them, were the only act caught in a state of suspended animation. While never making the impact on radio that would have cemented their fame, they’ve released stylistically consistent fare that toys with predictability without forgoing completely the element of surprise.

Take into account their latest album, Welcome to the Masquerade. What we’ve gotten before, we’re sure to get again: distorted guitars and fist-pumping percussion that alternates between a sing-along chorus and subdued verses, lyrics about pain and the “status quo,” and vague references to redemption and liberation (although whether said liberation is of the spiritual or sexual variety is unspecified.) The title track sports strong production and surprisingly doesn’t sound “overdone.” There are no strings, no melodramatic choir, none of the staples of this decade’s iteration of hard rock. “The Part That Hurts the Most” and “Forward Motion” both continue this vein of songcraft, with fair melodic punch and muscular guitar work. It’s these harder bits of Masquerade that work most effectively.

“Bring Me To Life,” beyond sharing the title of Evanescence’s biggest single to date and a similar chord structure, is bland pop-rock with more of that all-purpose angsty lyricism and off-the-shelf infrastructure of pain and unhappiness. “Watching Over Me” is precisely the same. What we see is a division of two basic parts: half of the album is toothless unrest described in the basest of forms, the other half a hard rock success that actually relies on strong songwriting instead of a studio’s bells and whistles.

If there’s a compliment to be awarded here, it’s that Welcome to the Masquerade mildly piqued my interest in Thousand Foot Krutch’s back catalogue. There are some embarrassing misfires afoot, and with hard rock’s tender-footed but persistent climb onto pop radio, it’s unsurprising that many of these aesthetic failures arise from dancing too close to Chad Kroeger territory. Even so, no one thinks Christian rock is badass, and yet TFK sell their angst with a straight face, even if a lot of the lyrical sentiments are generalized for mass consumption. It’s a war, then, not with principalities and powers, but within the soul of a talented collective who walk a tightrope suspended above bland appeal and creativity at the cost of audience alienation.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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