Music Review: Gungor
From monophony to polyphony; from chant to Mozart; from the blues to modern rock. Music is something that has constantly driven culture. It has helped define culture, particularly in contexts of style, harmony, and rhythm. Much can be said about the progression of music and how it has influenced society.
When my friends talk to me about Christian music, I constantly get the whole “it all sounds the same…” argument. For the most part, I completely agree. As a worship leader, I see it all the time. The constant I-IV-vi-V, I-vi-V-IV, vi-IV-I-V patterns can become very repetitive. Every song seems to be in either 3-4 or 4-4 time signatures. One could argue that it is a good thing to be simple so that the congregation can get into it. Arguing about whether it is right or wrong has nothing to do with the purpose of this review. I would like to talk to you about a band that breaks away from the “norms” of Christian music.
Most of you have probably heard of Gungor. If not, I strongly recommend listening to them (http://gungormusic.com/). Gungor has put out 2 albums, Beautiful Things and Ghost Upon the Earth. I would like to give you my take on a couple of songs from Ghost Upon the Earth.
Ghost Upon the Earth is probably my favorite album of any genre. I listen to all kinds of music. Being a middle school music teacher, I listen to Classical, Baroque, Jazz, Hip-Hop, heavy metal, etc. Ghost Upon the Earth strikes me differently than any album I have ever listened to. There are a few songs the really make my heart absolutely sing.
The first of those is Brother Moon. This is the second song on the album. When we look at the harmony, it doesn’t stray away from the I-IV-V-vi chords. The thing that gets me in this song is the variety of instruments. It begins with a flute solo, with 2 flutes adding in later. The bass and violin follow shortly thereafter. When the percussion comes in (half time feel), Gungor use a syncopated rhythm in the pitched rhythm section (piano, bass, guitar), which breaks up the “typical” feeling of a driving rock song. What makes this song extremely unique is when the “bridge” or “ending” section occurs. I have seen many interpretations of what time signatures Gungor uses. The one I am going to stick with (because I am a bass player and listen mostly to bass haha) is 5-6-6-6, a total of 23 beats in a phrase. That is completely abnormal in Christian music. Normally, it would be 24 beats, making it an even division of 4 (with the quarter note getting the beat). I am absolutely in love with the way Gungor ignores the “norms” of Christian music time signatures. They break away from the conventional to create something new. The best part about it: it’s a natural creation. The creation is not forced.
The other song that I really want to talk about is This is Not the End. You might ask why I am choosing this song as being one of my favorites. I have multiple reasons for that.
The main reason why I like this song is the key. I really like the idea of using keys that aren’t the typical C, G, D, A, E, etc. This song is in Db. I’m not saying that composers don’t use Db, but it isn’t near as common. The harmony throughout is absolutely beautiful, with the female voices leading while the male voice harmonizes (there are other voices added in as well). The male vocal part stretches the range of a typical male.
Another reason for my liking: instrumentation. Again, as Gungor does in most of their songs, we see the use of a variety of instruments. The glockenspiel adds a beautiful melodic feel, while the tambourine gives a nice shimmer to lighten up the mood of the song. The cymbal rolls give a nice driving point into cadence points.
I also absolutely love the musical interlude in this song. It alternates between 5/4 and 6/4. The 6/4 measure gives the listener the feeling of extension, which fits very will with the title of the song. You may think this is a weird connection, but that sixth beat in the 6/4 measure makes me say to myself “this isn’t the end; there is still more to be done”.
The final reason… The title itself. When I listen to the lyrics, I can’t help but relate to the Sacrament of Confirmation. So often in the Catholic Church, a teen gets confirmed and feels like that is the end, that faith does not need to extend beyond confirmation. We like to teach that “confirmation is not graduation from the church”, but for many, they feel like it is. This song really gives me the reminder that faith extends so far beyond our teenage years. There is so much more to faith, life, the Church, God, etc. God is so much bigger than we think. He wants us to constantly come closer to Him in an intimate way. This song really gives me that reminder.
I had the privilege of hearing this album played live in Phoenix, AZ during their recent Ghosts Upon the Earth tour. If Gungor comes to a town near you, I highly recommend you go to their concert. Gungor is extremely spiritual. The atmosphere is not that of entertainment. It is so easy to worship and be in the presence of God when listening to Gungor live. They even did a meditation/chant (that had nothing to do with the album) that brought me into a deep state of worship.
I know that this is a simple analysis of just a couple of songs from the album. I could go on all day about their music, this album in particular. I think the best way for you to get a review is to listen to it yourself. You will not be disappointed. From style to instrumentation to lyrics to harmony, your heart will be touched.