Theocracy – “Mosaic”


Theocracy is one of those bands that give Christian metal a great name, not only because of their incredible musical abilities, but of their non-preachy, thought-provoking lyrics. They appeal not only to the heart and soul, but also to the mind with lyrical themes that the listener can really chew on. Here we are seven years since their last release and we get this exquisite jewel set in fine-crafted progressive metal.

Started as a solo project back in 2002 for the central writer and guitarist-turned-vocalist Matt Smith, Theocracy has grown to international acclaim over the last 21 years. I used to live in Georgia and know Athens, their hometown, is a fertile ground for renowned musical talent. After the formative solo project years, Matt recruited talented musicians to from a band around his musical vision. Theocracy has only produced five full length albums meaning that it is a significant event when they do release an album. So, I guess we should pay attention.

“Mosaic” is a true to form Theocracy album with all of the elements that they are known for with a little bit of different thrown in. Their trademark epic backing choirs, Matt’s signature smooth upper register, and meandering key changes are all here and as polished as ever. There are short songs, long songs, and everything in between with a unique character to each track. Theocracy typically presents as a progressive melodic band with power metal tendencies, but this album has a more pronounced thrash feel in the riffs used.

To get the full effect, I would recommend having the lyrics on hand. Fortunately, I am reviewing after the release so I can track those down on the internet. The rhyme and rhythm fit within the meters perfectly and don’t feel forced at all. Peeling back a layer, the lyrics speak at a depth beyond their peer bands either Christian or otherwise. The words are solid poetry with a clear understanding of how to get something unrepetitive stuck in your head.

To aid in getting the lyrics across, hook laden vocals via Matt’s soaring vocals catch the listener’s ear as well. Add in epic backing choirs and you are pulled into something much greater than just a song. I like the unique fusion on this album with clean, well-executed vocals with the rough-and-tumble of the underlying thrash metal. That being said, there are harsher vocal moments where Matt channels the thrash spirit of the underlying guitar riffs on “Sinsidious.”

The guitar riffs are quite fun to hear how they modulate through the songs. They run the continuum from grooving riffs like on “Return to Dust,” speed riffs such as “Deified,” and heavier thrash work on “Sixth Great Extinction.” I found the solo work on the album tasteful and creative taking more of a classic metal approach rather than neoclassicism. Lead guitar work outside of solos felt less emphasized than comparable bands, where Theocracy leaned on the epic choirs and vocal melodies to fill in where melodic lead guitar work would shine.

Although there is a nod to thrash, there is still quite a bit of power metal on the album. The album starts with “Flicker” which has plenty of powerful breakneck galloping riffage with an epic backing choir in the chorus to get pumping your fist. The title track is an excellent power metal song with all the elements that Theocracy does well including the catchiest melodic hook on the album. I particularly like the message on this one in how God uses the broken pieces of our life to make a beautiful mosaic of our lives. I wished it had a fitting cadence to the song rather than the hanging note at the end.

Although they are known for sprawling epics, “The Greatest Hope” is a ballad that builds to an emotional climax and then resolves over the course of about three minutes. The subject deals with loss and how we have a great hope beyond our death which adds to the emotional dimension of the song. Ballads can be tricky because of their tendency to bloat with overemotional performances, but this one lands perfectly. There is no bloat and is a perfect segue into the last two epic tracks.

“Liar, Fool, Or Messiah” has a complex song structure with a well-developed pre-chorus that holds the song in a different key before moving on, building anticipation for something bigger. The subject of the song is about the true nature of Jesus: is he a liar, a fool, or the Messiah. Without hitting theology over the heads of the listener, they present solid points to be considered around this question. There are some great swirling riffs in the development section that the listener can sit back and listen to how it shifts over time. Ending with an expertly choreographed extended heavy riff, the song clocks in at over seven minutes. But this is not the longest song on the album by a long shot.

“Red Sea” runs slightly over 19 minutes. Ballads can be tricky, but long epics are even trickier, however, Theocracy has plenty of experience in this arena. I liken it to a Beethoven symphony movement which has several cohesive sections to make the whole. As the title alludes, it starts with a clear middle-eastern vibe in the telling of the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea. Music illustrates the story well through the use of different modes and musical illustrations like the falling of the walls of water over the Egyptians. Taking lines from the triumphant hymn of the Israelites in scripture, the song starts to wander away from the middle-east of long ago into modern times as the modes take a more modern sound and relevant application of forgiveness. The track ends in a majestic atmosphere that fades out, ending the album more on a whimper than a bang.

Theocracy have delivered another excellent collection of progressive melodic metal that give witness to Christ. Excellent performances by the musicians and equally enjoyable songwriting that is as enjoyable on the fifteenth play as the first. I highly recommend this album to anyone with a heartbeat.

Rating: 9.5/10

Written by Sean Bailey

1 – Flicke
2 – Anonymous
3 – Mosaic
4 – Sinsidious (Dogs of War)
5 – Return to Dust
6 – The Sixth Great Extinction
7 – Deified
8 – The Greatest Hope
9 – Liar Fool, Or Messiah
10 – Red Sea

Theocracy is:
Matt Smith – vocals
Ernie Topran – drums
Jared Oldham – bass and backing vocals
Jonathan Hinds – guitars and backing vocals
Taylor Washington – guitars and backing vocals

Release Date: October 13, 2023

Record Label: Atomic Fire Records

“Theocracy” (2003)
“Mirror of Souls” (2008)
“As the World Bleeds” (2011) [review]
“Ghost Ship” (2016) [review]
“Mosaic” (2023)

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Video for ‘Mosaic’

Video for ‘Return To Dust’

Lyric video for ‘Flicker’

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