The Georgian progressive power metallers Theocracy is one of metal’s lesser known bands, possibly because they are born again Christians (as opposed to cultural Christians) and are not ashamed to sing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it’s mankind’s only hope. Indeed, as I state in my review of Becoming Archetype’s Children Of The Great Extinction²⁰²³ (5/6) (another Georgian another born again Christian band), many people get offended at the lyrics so they never get into the music (which is somewhat comparable to me not getting into Behomoth since they praise my mortal enemy), but it’s a pity because Theocracy is (just like Behemoth) a fantastic band and frontman Matt Smith (henceforth: “Matt”, as in: “brother Matt”) is the kind of musician you can put in the same room with the late Chuck Schuldiner (Death), Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) or Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), to name but a few modern Mozarts and Beethovens who chose to compose and play metal in a classical way with all the ebbs and flows thereto appertained. It is of note that Matt, who is fluent in guitar, keyboards, evidently engaging poetry and also happens to have one of those voices that give Bruce Dickinsons and James LaBries of the world a run for their money (to use a cheap worldly colloquialism), it is, again, notworthy that Matt recorded and produced Theocracy²⁰⁰³, the debut album, as a one man army just a year after the “band” formation. The album, despite being predominantly power metal, already showcased all of his attributes, instrumental and songwriting skills in addition to his amazing vocal prowess, which, while set in completely different circumstances and philosophy, kind of reminded me of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death and its infamous debut Scream Bloody Gore¹⁹⁸⁷, which already heralded its practically single member as a musical maestro he would later be recognized as, and I have a feeling, Matt wouldn’t mind the comparison.

It was the excellent and more progressive Mirror Of Souls²⁰⁰⁸ when Jonathan Hinds (guitars) and Shawn Benson (drums, choir vocals) joined (followed by guitarist Vladimir Val Allen Wood in 2009) where Theocracy had become a band, but Matt didn’t seem to dominate it to the degree Schuldiner had from Leprosy¹⁹⁸⁸ on, so that’s where the comparison ends. Clearly for Matt and his bandmates the philosophy was that of Johann Sebastian Bach : Soli Deo gloria (All glory to God alone) and that there were, therefore, no superstars in the band, despite adding more members. That’s a major reason why Theocracy kept getting better and better throughout the phenomenal As The World Bleeds²⁰¹¹, with the addition of Jared Oldham (bass) who, nota bene, remains to date. That album showed Theocracy as getting even more progressive and genre crossing, even stepping into the classic thrash metal and melodic heavy metal of the Metallica/Megadeth of both 90s and 2000s, something which will become a permanent feature on future albums. The very good Ghost Ship²⁰¹⁶ I reviewed here (5/6) was a big surprise because of its highly eclectic nature – progressive, thrash and even AOR (Album-oriented Rock) were mixed in with the power metal always the basis, but the lyrics were a bit more focused on human condition, although, per usual, always in reference to the Gospel, or more specifically the embracement of its enduring promise, always as the only solution. I wrote then that the album truly blurred the genre lines while never abandoning the power metal, that Theocracy was hardly preachy but rather deeply related to the human experience as any moving secular piece normally would in a world that inspires nothing short of daily hopelessness, that the production of Matt’s own Theocracized Studios was top notch, everything in the right place, explosive, punchy, bassy and melodic but also raw, fast and heavy, that his VOICE was so full of conviction and hope amidst the despair over broken and corrupt world that one couldn’t help but sing along in one’s heart, but, too, that some songs didn’t measure up to the standouts.

Well, all of the above is true about the latest, the fifth album, Mosaic²⁰²³ (released on October 13th via Atomic Fire Records), except for that last bit because Mosaic²⁰²³ has no weak or substandard songs, but rather, the least exciting songs are just very good power metal, a genre, mind you, I am very picky about and which most of I find to be mere emulations of the Helloween’s both Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pt. I¹⁹⁸⁷ and Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pt. II¹⁹⁸⁸ which are, for me, the standard by which I measure power metal. Here, the power metal is still front and center (perhaps the only flaw) but if I have to sum up it up it would be progressive metal. If you cherish records like Queensrÿche’s Operation Mindcrime¹⁹⁸⁸, Megadeth’s The System Has Failed²⁰⁰⁴, Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of The Seventh Son¹⁹⁸⁸ or Dream Theater’s Awake¹⁹⁹⁴ you will find Mosaic²⁰²³ delightful. I suspect Matt must have sensed that he was about to create his magnum opus which is why he did something, again, worthy of Schuldiner around the legendary Symbolic¹⁹⁹⁵, he changed the core lineup (which had persisted through both predecessors), Taylor Washington, a former live Arsis guitarist, replacing Val Allen Wood and Ernie Topran replacing Shawn Benson (whose status, in truth, had already changed to a session guitarist on Ghost Ship²⁰¹⁸.) As a result, Mosaic²⁰²³ is easily Theocracy’s magnum opus in every conceivable way, and, it is also by far their heaviest and most aggressive offering to date, sound, words and music but, when you compare the lyrics to previous albums, this time it’s like a 11 song sermon to both the dying world and to those who instead of shining like lights in the darkness darken that darkness even more (Matthew 6:23) by joining it like Anakin Skywalker or Ben Solo, something I elaborate on later.

You need but listen to the final track, “Red Sea”, where all the guys push themselves to their furthest limits, to realize what this band is capable of unleashing. The nearly 20 minute composition is not so much a song but a symphony which, to these ears, affords comparison to While Heaven Wept’s “The Furthest Shore” or any of the classic Iron Maiden epopeias, say, “Alexander The Great” or “Empire Of The Clouds” for jaw-dropping musicianship, multi-level multi-chorus songwriting, and captivating story telling. This symphony deserves its own paragraph and it gets one, as you hear echoes of Queensrÿche’s Operation Mindcrime¹⁹⁸⁸, Metallica¹⁹⁹¹, the first 3 Dream Theater albums and the many facets of Pantera and Iron Maiden, plus, there’s a part stylistically lifted off from Megadeth’s “Five Magics” complete with the gang vocals, almost certainly on purpose, since it looks like it alludes to the magic duel of two magicians as it, essentially, tells a story of Moses’ magic vs. the universally alleged Pharaoh Ramzes II, and it is precisely in that moment that the almost quote is addressed, Megadeth’s

possessed with hellish torment (possessed with hellish torment), I master magics five (I master magics five), hunting the abyss lord (hunting the abyss lord), only one will stay alive (only one will stay alive)

juxtaposed against Theocracy’s

stand still, and see salvation (stand still, and see salvation!), lift up thy rod, stretch forth thy hand (lift up thy rod, stretch forth thy hand!), the raging sea divided (the raging sea divided!), proceed upon dry land.

Oh did I mention Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine had been a confessed Christian since 2004? The conclusion even surprised me, no Bible novice as the titular “Red Sea” proves to be a type of cleansing fount of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial blood that washes away the sins of everyone who decides to wash themselves in it.

Now, just because “Red Sea” is the best and the most ambitious Theocracy composition ever doesn’t mean is the only highlight of Mosaic²⁰²³. Even by that Megadeth/Metallica stylings standard, and I mean Rust In Peace¹⁹⁹⁰ (Matt even mimics Mustaine’s snarl) meets Master Of Puppets¹⁹⁸⁶, “Sinsidious (Dogs Of War)” is a rare piece of thrash metal mastery, interestingly about how Christians should believe the displayed character of their leaders, as they “watch the modern Nero play his fiddle” of “the great unspoken sin, to hate another for none other than the color of his skin” which Matt summarizes with a short prayer that leaves no room for doubt who he is referring to, “Father may we guard our hearts from the overtly hideous and the more sinsidious”, which I put more bluntly – if he or she is clearly a snake oil salesman, don’t get all “but God could use him or her for good” as is currently en vogue among many alleged Christians, as if the conduct of an abject unrepentant criminal no longer predicted the future behavior just because some passed turds and profits had “revelations” about modern “chosen king Davids” (will the real Jesus stand up?) whereby (back to Matt’s words) “lifelong friendships are ended over stupid politicians” with “all the rhetoric and superstitions, life on a screen, a simulated world that buried Mozart in a pauper’s grave and said, <Give us Barabbas,> crucified Christ and turned away” and now “centuries of deep corruption led to compromise for those “practicing a counterfeit morality” under “the great disguise”, we hear in the (purposely?) “The Number Of The Beast” – like Iron Maidenesque opener, “Flicker”. Indeed, contrary to the first impression, these words are not aimed at the unbelieving world which doesn’t know any better, they are clearly an indictment of those who, by their alleged confession, should know better, who get and are comfortable in this corrupt world when even non-Christians, such as Tom Englund of Evergrey (in “Forever Ousider”), feel alienated and like they don’t belong here while Christians are told not to love the world nor the things of the world (1 John 2:15-17) – indeed, the feeling of not belonging to the world is a sure sign we are morally sensitive to its corruption and, after all, “we’re just flicker for a moment then we’re gone” (Flicker) and “no matter how we rage against the dying of the light” death “comes for all of us” (Return to Dust), or, to use the Ancient Greek philosopher’s Heraclitus’ simile, everything is fire, however most of the time we don’t see it burning until it’s all burnt up, so why would we make ourselves comfortable in this world and life, especially those who have secured an eternal life post-resurrection from the dead by confession of Jesus as Lord and believing God raised him from among the dead (Romans 10:9-10)?

What may come off to some as inconsistent logic, but isn’t, is the overarching concept of the album named Mosaic²⁰²³, a word named after Moses, the great Old Testament prophet, which is synonymous with a jigsaw puzzle, an idea taken from the Bible that everybody who accepts God’s calling is guaranteed to have everything that happens to them made into a design, a mosaic (Ephesians 2:10) that serves a greater good because God works in every situation to bring it to pass (Romans 8:28) and then that each individual mosaic will join another for a grand design all made up of our free will choices which is collectively called the Body of Christ, His one true Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-28.) That idea could not have a more perfect soundtrack than the majestic title track with balladic start like “Cemetery Gates” or Queensrÿche’s “Silent Lucidity”, and as it goes electric Matt channels his Geoff Tate to the extent that whenever I hear “picture perfect on the waaal” I get shivers down my spine just as much as when he sings “an unknown future broken past” because I know he sings to me. Everything about that song, like the aforementioned “Sinsidius” after it, is perfect and insanely memorable and the vocal melody for the chorus is purposely written to showcase the difficulty of vocalization because it changes on a dime in pitch and tone, Matt playing with his voice like Robert Vigna with his guitar in Immolation songs. The way the songs follow each other, the heavily “2×4” Metallica Load-ed¹⁹⁹⁶ “Anonymous” about how each true Christian, no matter how unknown and insignificant to the world, is known by God and “forged into kings and princes” giving way to the title track which expands on it and then into “Sinsidius (Dogs Of War)” about those who, at best, aren’t exactly helping, then into the inevitability of death (Return To Dust) and futility of deifying the human living ashes (Deified) and the many empires with “man’s opinions changing with the tides” (The Sixth Great Extinction), and unto the heart-rending “The Greatest Hope” for those who mourn according to the “Sermon On The Mount” (Matthew 5:4) in the album’s only ballad where Matt outdoes himself vocally reaching practically operatic heights and finally, ah, yes.

The mosaic wouldn’t be complete without Matt powerfully and logically laying down the essential truth, which makes the penultimate (or last but one) track the de facto conclusion of the album (in fact, it sounds like one, like we’ve really heard it all), “Red Sea”, the final composition, the actual starting point (thus so in my review), where its intro serves as a bridge between the world on fire on your left and the world to come through Christ’s reign on the new Earth (thus THEOCRACY, by the way) on your right, in the same way a dry land appeared between two walls of sea water of “Red Sea”, at the same time Alpha and Omega, beginning (why do you think the story is set in the past?) and the end, so, too, a reprise of the choice put forth in its predecessor, a choice I end this review with. I can’t prove it but I have a very strong feeling that the phenomenal “Liar, Fool, or Messiah” is, to use the court lingo, Matt Smith’s appeal of Exodus’ (mind the band’s name, too) “Lunatic-Liar-Lord” (from Persona Non Grata²⁰²¹ I reviewed here <5/6>.) I find it too close for a coincidence (which I don’t believe in on this album) that Steve Souza uses almost the same nouns to describe Jesus Christ as Matt, even actually, howbeit, doubtless sarcastically, calling the former lord. In both cases “when we have heard it all, the arguments rise and fall: it’s either liar, fool, or Messiah, not just the good moral teacher some say patronizingly” because “with who He claimed to be the choices are one of three: Liar, fool, or Messiah” and, while Exodus decided to make all three choices valid by using sarcasm, in fact, they have made one that everyone rejecting Christ as Messiah makes: they concluded He was a liar, whereas we concluded He was (and still is) God’s Messiah. As all liars are fools according to both Bible and our life experience, the choices are really two, thus, the same argument is presented yet again: those who reject Christ (including many cultural Christians by their declared allegiances) choose Bar-abbas (Greek: son of god) to lead them to everlasting destruction and those who choose the true Son Of God follow Him to the post-resurrection life everlasting. Everyone must make one of those two choices and, as many a psychologist and self-help motivational speaker will concur, we’re making a choice even when we refuse to make one.

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