Review: Zion by Hillsong United

Hillsong UNITED - UNITED ZION_Cover

After a two-year wait for the next original UNITED project, the band has announced the February 26, 2013 release of Zion, which will be the 12th full-length album and third studio recording from the band. This new studio album follows the highly impactful 2011 release Aftermath, which topped the charts internationally and was their highest selling album to date.

On first listen, one might be taken back by the almost retro, throwback sound of the first song Relentless – it sounds like a 1908s pop song. The whole project is noticeably different than past projects but still retains that familiar energy that we’ve grown to love and expect from UNITED.

“In the aftermath of Aftermath, we all took a little break and in that time caught a fresh vision for what it is that we do, why we do it, and what it means to be a part of the church,” reveals UNITED’s Joel Houston.

The result is a collection of songs that takes the listener to the core of passionate and uncluttered worship, where intensity intersects with intimacy. Many tracks are set to become anthems of praise in churches and youth ministries across the globe.

Featuring 13 tracks (plus a deluxe version that includes bonus songs, remixed versions and a video Welcome to Zion), Zion sets the theme with the opening track Relentless that declares, “Your love is relentless.” Uniquely, the title track Zion is instrumental, but still compels the listener to focus on God. Heartbeat is a prayer, “I want you, I need you, I love you, Jesus – my heart beats forever just to know you.”

Typically known for guitar driven anthems, laced with soaring synth and keyboard work, UNITED really leans heavily on a palette of electronic sounds this go round. Listeners born in the 70s and earlier will feel a vague familiarity with the sounds as many of the songs sound like they have been plucked out of an 80s movie soundtrack (in a good way).

“Everything we do as UNITED, from writing and recording these songs, to playing them in front of people and all the production, is an expression of a really extraordinary God doing what only He can do through really ordinary people who love Him and want to serve Him,” Houston explains. “I hope these songs, in some way, are an encouragement for people everywhere.”

Some stand out songs for me from Zion are, Scandal of Grace, which sounds a little more modern. Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) begins with a beautiful cello intro and introduces a lovely female lead vocal. Nothing Like Your Love has a nice groove to it and feels more like a Hillsong ballad (albeit a very pop-sounding one).

The title track is an instrumental interlude, which excites me as a composer and general music theory geek. I’d love to see more and more musical interludes and instrumental “selahs” in corporate worship gatherings where there are intentionally no words and a definitive space set aside for thought and reflection.

Fans of electronic (or music with heavy electronic elements) will really enjoy this album. What might be a challenge is to adapt many of these songs for a more traditional setting. But ALL of these songs are recommended for corporate worship. Those worship leaders and teams with members who are skilled in arranging/composing will be able to make these work for simpler and less electronic settings…because as I always say, “Good songs transcend genre.” And these are good songs.

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  • http://twitter.com/Redbeard25 Patrick

    Daft Punk praise!

  • http://www.spch.org.au/ Bren McLean

    Love the new electronic soundscape, which breaks new ground from a Christian (although not from a mainstream) perspective. It’s reminiscent of classic synth bands New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Human League etc.
    Oceans is the standout track for mine, with a haunting melody and beautiful vocal from Taya Smith. Lyrically, Zion is rich and poetic, although only a couple of songs will translate to a congregational setting (including Scandal Of Grace)