I’m listening to the new NEEDTOBREATHE album, Into the Mystery, and it’s surprisingly good. “Surprisingly good” might sound like an odd way for me to describe the album based on my track record with the band. Allow me to explain. I’m a huge NEEDTOBREATHE fan. If you need proof of that, read this, this, and this. You would think my expectation level would be sky high for any new NEEDTOBREATHE album. And it usually is. But frankly, I was expecting a bit of a letdown with Into the Mystery. I listened to all the pre-release tracks, and while I enjoyed them, I had this nagging feeling the album was going to be the first one from the South Carolina rockers that didn’t blow me away.
I’m so glad to be proven wrong.
Into the Mystery is a deeply heartfelt collection of songs that is just what my soul needs right now. I hope it hits you as hard as it did me. At first blush, it’s exactly the kind of album that would be birthed from a pandemic year when the band could not tour. It’s introspective and reserved. And while it’s their mellowest album to date, it still has enough rock and roll to keep things from being too subdued. And for those keeping score at home, many of these songs are going to translate wonderfully to a live setting. There’s plenty of room for these songs to get a little louder and more aggressive.
Musically, it’s highly skilled stuff. There is a great depth of sound to the album, even in the quietest songs: lots of guitar strumming and picking, creative rhythm section, evocative piano/keyboard/organ, and lovely string arrangements. Vocally, it’s an incredibly strong album – probably their strongest. There are incredible harmonies all over the place. Every person in the band can sing and it shows. And it doesn’t hurt that Carrie Underwood, Jon Foreman, and Natalie Hemby lend their voices to the album.
The band continues to prove their mastery of sound, ambiance, and silence layering Into the Mystery with a full sonic palette. Even though the album was recorded in an old house in rural Tennessee, the music doesn’t sound limited in scope. It’s big when it needs to be, and dialed back but still full of texture when it’s called for.
It’s also their most spiritual album to date. I don’t know what’s happened behind the scenes, but their last two albums have been more overtly “Christian” than anything they’ve done in the past. And it’s not a bad thing. Their version of spirituality is not cookie-cutter. It’s poetic, lyrical, and nuanced. It’s what Christian music should aspire to be but rarely reaches. (Side note: Bear has vastly improved as a writer – it’s clear he has worked hard in this area.)
NEEDTOBREATHE is the best band around. My opinion, of course. While Into the Mystery might not reach the highs of The Reckoning or The Outsiders, it sits right alongside the rest of their impressive catalog. Given time, it might even sneak into the upper tier. As for me, I’m just thrilled the band has given us two incredible albums in less than 12 months. It’s a feast we don’t really deserve but I’m glad we have a seat at the table.
Key tracks: Frankly, the whole album. If I am forced to highlight a few songs, start with “Into The Mystery”, “Carry Me”, “I Am Yours”, “Sittin’ In The Backseat”, and “Innocence”.