When Leah and I arrived back in Miami after our cruise, the cab ride to the airport was spent in near silence as both of us proceeded to catch up on a week’s worth of social media. One of the more interesting tidbits I came across, was an email that had been sent via HfG’s Contact Us page. A man named Duane Arnold asked if I would be interested in reviewing a new album he had produced called “Martyrs Prayers”. Knowing that reviews were something I wanted to start doing on the site, I told him absolutely. A few days later, I received my copy in the mail and have listened to it numerous times since then.
“Martyrs Prayers” is something of a concept album, as each track’s lyrics consist of the very words spoken or written by an actual martyr just before their death. The Genesis of the album began back in the 1990’s. Duane Arnold, a Ph.D. in Church History, began translating several writings about the martyrs from multiple languages. When he was through, he had a pile of prayers, blessings, and petitions that he published under the name of, “Prayers of the Martyrs”.
Years passed, and Arnold found himself having a conversation with an old friend named Michael Glenn Bell. Michael loved music, but had a difficult time piecing together lyrics that spoke to him. That was when Duane suggested they use the words of the martyrs.
The music varies wildly from track to track, orchestral power ballads lead into bluesy rock anthems which in turn merge into stringed symphonic melodies. As such, it is a difficult album to categorize. Due to the heavy nature of the lyrics, this isn’t a CD you’ll want to rock out to as you go speeding down the interstate, but because of the wide range of music, it could prove a little jarring if you’re trying to quiet your mind.
If I’m going to be honest with you, the truth of the matter is that I haven’t listened to a blatantly Christian album in years. The trite platitudes, the sub-par musicianship, the all consuming beast that corporate Christianity has become… I would rather someone sing authentically about their misery than listen to someone pretend that life is full of sunshine and lollipops. As such, when I sat down to listen to Martyrs Prayers for the first time, I had some old prejudices I had to let go of. You get so used to categorizing something as being awful, that if you’re not careful, it can become impossible for anything to prove you wrong.
The album is performed well. The liner notes read as a veritable “Who’s who” of contemporary Christian recording artists. Phil Keaggy, Jennifer Knapp, Glenn Kaiser, and many others each contributed to various songs throughout the record. So, as you might expect, the music is performed with aplomb. Michael Glenn Bell, the singer throughout the entire album is no slouch either. He plays multiple instruments on several tracks, and at times, performs his own backing vocals.
If I had one criticism about the album, it would be that while the music is performed with technical skill and precision, it feels a little… joyless. The music captures the solemnity of the lyrics, but falls flat in the “fun” department. While I’m aware we’re dealing with a heavy subject, it feels like the musicians were nearly crushed by it. A little levity could have gone a long way, as that may have been what was needed to allow someone to listen to the album a little more casually.
As it stands, I found I had to approach “Martyrs Prayers” deliberately. Whenever the songs shuffled to the top of my MP3 player, I typically skipped them unless I was in a place that would allow for the proper amount of brooding. Indeed, the best way I found to consume this album was to read the liner notes (They provide brief biographies of each martyr), then listen to each song while contemplating the words.
In the end, I think this might be exactly what was intended. Since leaving behind the halcyon days of church camp and youth conventions, I haven’t had much reason to be confronted with the idea of people dying for their beliefs. This album forced me to consider a number of ideas I hadn’t thought about in ages, chief among them was the question emblazoned on the liner notes: What would you die for?
You can purchase a CD or High-Quality MP3 version of “Martyrs Prayers” at The Project’s store.