Casting Crowns: The Altar and The Door
By Steve Morley
In 2003, Christian pop artist Steven Curtis Chapman and Sawyer Brown frontman Mark Miller introduced Casting Crowns to Christian radio.
The band’s rapid ascent wasn’t because they pandered to the Christian industry’s status quo — in fact, their leadoff single If We Are the Body risked biting the hand that feeds by asking hard questions about the limited effectiveness of the American church.
This time around with The Altar and The Door, the Crowns wield a rockier attack that dovetails logically with their youth-oriented messages. Considering the band’s former penchant for middle-of-the-road pop, the change is fairly convincing, and yet the new rock edge is rarely so sharp as to alienate older fans. What This World Needs is the most aggressive track, both in musical and lyrical terms. It starts by dismissing pop culture’s flavor-of-the-month mentality, but soon takes Christian culture to task.
In Slow Fade, lead vocalist Mark Hall exhorts the younger generation to stay pure and focused, cautioning his listeners that "people never crumble in a day." He offers grace for the journey on tracks like East to West and Somewhere in the Middle. The former emphasizes the sin-crushing power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, while Middle camps on the unavoidable contradictions that come with the gradual process of growth and sanctification.
While the album’s conceptual style offers ample food for thought, the acoustic guitar-driven Prayer for a Friend stands alone in its moving and heartfelt delivery.
Casting Crowns excels as a musical unit, and yet there is no individual element that singles itself out as extraordinary, including Hall’s grainy, average-guy vocals. In the end, though, this pedestrian, Everyperson quality explains why Casting Crowns have such mainstream appeal. Hall’s musical sermons ring true and involve little if any finger pointing. His eye for weakness in the Christian church is the fruit of first-person ministry, and his expressed desire to rise above his own weaknesses — both inside and outside the sanctuary — serves to encourage all who make the journey between The Altar and the Door.