Jerusalem’s “Message” Lives On Through The Legacy Of Their Music!
Sweden’s Jerusalem is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic Christian pioneer rock bands ever. From their youth in the 70’s they pushed the envelope of what was “acceptable” music for evangelism and Christian worship. Built upon their ground-breaking “classic rock” debut, they forged a career through relevant and engaging rock releases – music that not only reached out to the “unreached,” but which simultaneously challenged the mainstream Christian church in an often confrontational, yet truth-filled, and loving fashion. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Ulf Christiansson had an anointing of the Spirit. Not only have his gifts as a talented musician thrilled audiences and listeners, his charismatic, yet humble spirit has always had a way of softening even the most stoic of hearts with his words. He has always been able to surround himself with other talented musicians as well. And let’s not forget that the message has always been about Jesus. One of the frustrations, though, for North American fans has long been the relative unavailability of a complete English version of the early material. Fruit Records released the compilation albums in the 90’s, but one or more tracks from each release were deleted for space concerns. Thankfully, Retroactive Records, as part of the Legends Remastered series, secured the rights to re-release the first 6 albums on CD with all of the original tracks.
[Editorial Note: reviews of the other releases in this Jerusalem reissue series are forthcoming.]
A Return To The Core Message/Christian Rock Roots
I have heard a lot of buzz around the internet and social media about a “revival” of sorts in the Christian heavy music scene – a call of sorts to return to what paved the way to where we are now – Jesus rock (or what Steve Rowe of Mortification has always called “Jesus metal.”) I have to say, that when I listened to this remastered version of Jerusalem Volume I, I was struck with how far away from the simple message/truths we have moved in 40 years of “progression” within the Christian music scene. While I am all for quality, innovation and technology in music, the message/the lyrics/the outreach and connection with those in need has been diluted in unhealthy quantities. In some ways in today’s Christian metal, the Spirit has been quenched for the sake of remaining relevant.
“But Jesus is the same today, all days/right now and to eternity” – “Noah”
But the great revelation about going back and listening to a band like Jerusalem is that you don’t have to sacrifice or compromise anything – the music and the message are both fantastic. And thanks to Rob Colwell’s remastering we can now enjoy these old-school recordings at high volume without distortion. If a revival truly is coming in the Christian rock/metal world, then these legacy Jerusalem releases should provide an inspirational jump start.
Volume I – 40th Anniversary Edition
When this was originally released in 1978 little care was given to graphic design and presentation – it was all about the music and the message. Fortunately, the entire series has been visually revamped by Scott Waters (No Life Til Metal) so you now have a 12 page booklet featuring the original artwork on the cover, legible lyrics and some vintage photos. And while it has never been hard to discern Ulf’s lyrics, it is just really satisfying to have it all here in a format where older rockers don’t have to strain their eyes. The CD itself (secured in clear jewel case) has a nice picture of the album cover, as well as the label logo. This is quality, folks, no skimping with cardboard sleeves where the CD always annoyingly falls out.
For those who haven’t listened to this collection of songs in a long time – or have never heard it before – Volume I has a definite 70’s “classic” rock vibe. The guitar, drum and keyboard sounds are vintage 70’s in fact. There is absolutely nothing metal about a song like “Jesus Is Most Fantastic,” but yet the song puts a smile on the face nevertheless. The opening track “Noah” perfectly captures the mood and time period in which it was created, yet the lyrics are perfectly relevant today (as are just about all of the words contained on the album). “Maybe” is a fantastic song, and this many years later the profound lyrics ring true – the tireless truth that we all have to face death – some of us sooner than we think. Millennials may be offended by the message that a self-centered life or that solidarity behind a cause of “righteousness” is less important than following Jesus. And then there is “Daddy Who Has Made,” written from the perspective of Ulf’s young son (at the time). Yes the lyrics are a bit silly at times, but when I hear this song so many years later I see the simplistic genius and profound wonder of a child at the heart of it all.
Dan Tibell’s keyboards and Moog add so much to this album, creating a progressive atmosphere and wonderful background to the rumbling traditional rock rhythms and melodies. And of course, it remains evident on songs like “Mr. Ego” that Ulf was a talented lyricist and singer. The way he strings together the words (English not his native language after all) is brilliant. “But I wonder although/if it’s really not true/there is something, still something in your life that is missing too.” If there is one song on this album that brings me to tears, it would always have to be “Come To Me.” The acoustic guitar and the sweeping symphonic keys paint the solemn backdrop to a song with so many truths that if you only had this one song – this one Jerusalem song – you would know the heart of an artist committed to great music and the message of love and hope in Jesus Christ. It’s just incredibly humbling. This is truly, “the only truth you should know.”
The brilliance of this record can be found in the transitions from the sobering and passionate moments of “Come To Me” to the light-hearted, up-beat rock songs like “If You Care To Listen.” This bouncy, piano-driven song is no less serious in its appeal to the lost soul, yet the catchy rhythms lend a different quality to the urgency of the experience, and that sax solo is outrageous, right? Fascinating how these guys could work this out musically, the wisdom evident in every song has always been particularly revealing, especially given how young they all were at the time. That has always been one of the things I have respected about this band – their ability to point the way to Christ/truth without being judgmental. They clearly acknowledge the “free will” component in songs like “What If Jesus Is Right” and “Neutral.” Yet paradoxically, these are two of the most confrontational songs on the album. It is nice to have “Days Passing By” here because this track was omitted from the Fruit Records compilation. I love the organ undertow – the music like an old-timey church hymn with a rock swing. It’s actually one of the more instrumental songs on the album with both organ and guitar solos. Things close out with the timeless “High Tide,” a song that would be a staple for many years in the live show.
“Yes the guitars, and all the cars, and all the money that you saved will be gone/But love from Jesus will be there, the only thing for sure.” – “High Tide”
Maybe we will see this master on vinyl someday soon, but for now I couldn’t be more pleased with this Legends Remastered version on CD. If you are a fan of classic Christian rock or just want to take a jump back into the past and be electrified and edified – check this one out.