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54. Strength – The Violet Burning

STRENGTH (1992)

The Violet Burning

The sophomore release from Southern California’s “The Violet Burning” became an instant classic. Penetrating vocals, eerie and haunting melodies, and some of the most amazing, insightful and poignant lyrics. While at the same time the record appears to be, in a sense, a worship album.

Released in 1992, Strength took a young worship leader, rock singer and poet Michael Prtizl and introduced him to a much larger audience than the Violet Burning’s debut, Chosen. If ever a record was about creating an atmosphere it was Strength. In the opening track over one minute of instrumental driven by U2ish guitar sound leads to the psalmist claiming “I am nothing/I have no where else to turn” with an angst that is both authentic and heart wrenching. Pritzl’s vocals increase with intensity and remorse as the song builds. Finally the psalmist proclaims over and over “There is no one like You!” Modern worship may be more memorable, have catchier choruses and work better in a corporate setting, but none have reached the depths of sheer passion and truth as this opening track.

“The Face of Beauty” follows in the same vein with the atmospheric guitar work of Shawn Tubbs swirling, building and moving the listener without a conscious reaction. Here the face of beauty is covered with blood and scars. This song immediately flows into “Stay With Me” with no break whatsoever. This is not the normal fade in as the previous fades out. this is a hard shift from one to another that works without a hitch. The song itself actually only contains the title as lyrics repeated often throughout, but is primarily driven by amazing guitar work.

“Undone” remains a personal favorite and possibly the most commercially viable song from the album (or ever?). I hope Mike doesn’t kill me, but for some reason I hear a bit of Morrisey here and the sweet melody and great string arrangement appears plucked straight from the great British folk and alternative artists like Hothouse Flowers, Morrisey, Bryan Ferry and The Silencers.

Let’s just be blunt here: “As I Am” is freakin’ brilliant! Few songs can last 8 minutes without wearing thin, even fewer ballads can come even close to that length. Starting off Bruce Cockburn type acoustic guitar before the vocals tell the story of “Mary’s Song” from the Scriptures. The brilliant song ebbs and flows and winds and consumes. Additional vocal support from My Brother’s Mother lead vocalist Jamie Eichler adds to the story that Pritzl  delivers with passion and hope.

“Like the Sun” returns to a sound similar to the opening cut and not too far removed from the music Mike Roe was also making at the same time. Great drum driven rock that builds in anthem like ferocity as it moves along. The lyrics keep the worshipful them going. Again it must be stated just how well the strings work with rock music delivered here. The same to be said for the following song, “Gold.”

The “Song of the Harlot” is not an eschatological tune about the harlot of Revelation, but rather a telling of the Biblical story of Mary Madeleine weeping at the feet of Jesus. Pritzl relates her need and sorrow to all of us and we relate to this woman in her contrition, humility and appreciation.

I will sing

Cause I love, my love
And my tears will fall
Down upon your feet

Let me smother them
With kisses
Let me dry them
With my hair

If I could be
Anyone at all
If I could be
Anyone at all
Let me be
The whore at your feet

The Song of the Harlot” by The Violet Burning

For some reason I recall this album having some controversy attached to it, but looking back it’s really hard to understand why. Lyrics throughout are passionate and distinct. True there are stories of love lost and an amazing cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” but, for the most part, the album maintains a very strong sense of the divine and man’s relationship with God. Even what immediately may appear to be a simple song of loss, once the layers have been removed the listener realizes a Scriptural depth to its content.

In fact, no other album by an alternative artist in CCM history was content written so much in the vein of the Psalms. This is most evident in the albums closer, “Through My Tears.” Here again Pritzl reveals himself to be nothing with God and His making the Psalmist whole. There is honesty and ache that accompany every song.

Like a few other albums mentioned, the album is best consumed as a whole. Though each song easily stands on its own merit to truly reach the depths of ache and heights of glory the album delivers, one should listen as a whole. I also recommend listening with headphones as there is so much subtly going on here that headphones helps deliver the entire package.

I would be remiss if i did not talk at all about some of the most amazing guitar work to be heard on an alternative release. Previously I noted some similarity to early U2 but even that is unfair as there is more a passion and guttural feel to the playing of Shawn Tubbs. Tubbs would also play with another unsung band, My Brother’s Mother. The playing comes from the back of the speakers and then completely surrounds the listener and works as a vocals of sorts as it plays such an integral part in communicating the message Pritzl seeks to deliver.

Also it should be noted that there are real strings on this album and it adds to the warmth and passion that cannot be duplicated with synthesizers. The strings weave in and out nearly every song and join the rock band setting to create something nearly otherworldly.

Strength has been in and out print so many times that I honestly can’t tell the reader whether one can get it on line or not, but I do believe it is well worth the effort. If one is a fan the Cure, the Verve, The 77′s, U2 or any of the best music 1990′s you cannot avoid having this project in your collection.

Ultimately Strength is about the overwhelming majesty and grace of God…

There is just one thing
That remains
You, always you

If I descend into the depths of hell
You will find me
And if I climb above the stars
You are there

Through my tears I know
One thing remains
You, always you

EDIT: I do want to note that the band has recently released a tour de force project called “The Story of Our Lives.” It is a 3 CD box set of all new material and a constant theme throughout. It is utterly brilliant and possibly their finest work to date. A decade from now when I compile a Top 1,000, it will surely reach the Top 50.

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  1. Mr. Bultitude
    June 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    There is definitely something magical about “Strength” and “Chosen”, it’s predecessor. Thought neither are my favourite TVB albums, both are wonderful – particularly the music which is (in terms of the music I listen to) unique and even dark. I would say, without a doubt, “Strength”s version of “Song of the Harlot” is the most powerful worship song of all time. Some fan somewhere on the Internet said Pritzl’s vocals can sound both strong and fragile at the same time, and I think that’s true.

    • Craig
      January 24, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      “Most powerful worship song of all time”–Got that right.

  2. Tim
    June 3, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Thank you for a very insightful review! I must say, however, that I would have expected this one to be in the top 10, or maybe top 20 for a non-fan. I have to wonder just what is sitting up there at the top???

    🙂

    • low5point
      June 3, 2011 at 2:15 am

      I would venture to argue that if this list was compiled by the normal CCM critic this record may not have made the Top 500 🙂

      • Tim
        June 3, 2011 at 4:18 am

        Maybe not a typical CCM critic, yes, but most long-time Christian music lovers place records like “Strength” and artists like Mark Heard, Charlie Peacock, Daniel Amos, etc, at the top of their lists. I suppose I was expecting something similar here, that’s all.

        Strength is probably in my top 10, that is, if I had a top 10! I should get around to making one, though it would be much easier for me to make a top 100 songs rather than a top 10 albums, since it is VERY rare to find truly great CCM records from beginning to end. Great songs, however, are easier to find!

  3. Don
    June 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I didn’t know they put out so many discs!

    Full-length albums (from wikipedia)
    ——————–
    Chosen – (1990, New Breed/Vineyard Music Group)
    Strength – (1992, Bluestone Records)
    The Violet Burning – (1996, Domo Records)
    Demonstrates Plastic And Elastic – (1998, Ruby Electric, Review: HM Magazine[1])
    I Am A Stranger In This Place – (2000, Sovereign Productions)
    Faith And Devotions Of A Satellite Heart – (2000, Sovereign Productions)
    Fabulous Like You (as The Gravity Show) – (2002, Northern Records)
    This Is The Moment – (2003, Northern Records)
    Drop-dead – (2006, Northern Records)
    divine – (2008, independent digital release, download: [1])
    Sting Like Bees and Sing – (2009, independent CD and digital release, download: [2])
    Mercy Songs – Michael Pritzl (2010 cd and downloads: “[3]”)
    The Story of Our Lives (3 CD box set) – (2011, independent CD and digital release, download: [4])

  4. June 4, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    i was just turned on to your blog by a friend. i’ve just looked through the entire thing. Love it. Knowledgeable and insightful. i still own most of the releases you’ve reviewed. i feel like i’ve found a kindred spirit. i’m looking forward to the top 50!

  5. June 8, 2011 at 4:46 am

    David,
    thanks for the kind words. I would agree with some viewers who might think that a normal reviewer would never have included this or any violets albums in the top 500. And then again I can’t argue with those who would put the violet burning albums in the top 50. Just because an artist has never been popular or trendy, doesn’t mean an artist hasn’t been making outstanding art and music.

    I also would agree that your writing on this blog has been outstanding. Filled with insight and well thought out descriptions of various albums. I find myself reading it whenever there’s a new post.

    Lastly, we’ve been humbled and flattered by the many many magnificent reviews about our latest album, The Story of Our Lives: Liebe Uber Alles, Black as Death, and The Fantastic Machine.
    yes, that’s right in the age of mediocrity we’ve hoped to deliver a stunning tryptech filled with dozens of great songs and a pilgrim’s journey through a broken and deceitful world/machine.

    to help support our grassroots effort, David has asked if I would share the links here on his blog.
    for a preview video you can watch it here: http://www.thevioletburning.com
    for more reviews you can read them here: http://thevioletburning.com/reviews.htm
    to shop you can click here: http://thevioletburning.com/merch/store45.htm

    • low5point
      June 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Faithful readers really should check all this out….

    • Don
      June 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm

      We are not worthy!

  6. Ecron Muss
    January 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    A brilliant album that deserves all the (way-late) kudos it gets.

    I always thought UK band Delirious reaped the benefit of the trails TVB blazed. I would have loved to see D! do a TVB cover or pay respect in some way.

  7. Greenchili
    January 25, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Awesome!

  8. Greenchili
    March 22, 2013 at 6:03 am

    Listening to this a year lately and totally enjoying it. A truly great album.

  9. Craig
    January 24, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I picked up this cassette for like a quarter in a box at a Christian bookstore. Had never heard of the band. It’s amazing how God can work things out sometimes. Still my all-time favorite band.

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