Recorded live at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Forever Reign is the latest release by Hillsong Chapel — a new project by Hillsong music aiming to make their music more accessible by taking away the need for fancy equipment, the three guitarists and crazy drummer that most congregations don’t have, and to ultimately bring the music back to its core of worshipping Jesus.
The result of this is a soulful, intimate recording with a beautiful spiritual honesty that is not always immediately evident amid the manufactured musical flash of some of their studio releases.
It is very important to note that Forever Reign is not an acoustic cut-and-paste job of the studio release Cornerstone. Rather, it is an innovatively nuanced reimagining of some of Hillsong’s popular songs from past years, including “God is Able”, “Cornerstone” and “With Everything”, as well as rearrangements of hymns such as “It Is Well with My Soul”.
Hillsong Chapel’s use of vocal harmonies (especially in the poignantly worshipful “His Glory Appears”), and simple keyboard and guitar riffs to enrich the sound and add dynamic to each song, is subtly masterful in its restraint and simplicity.
It is here that the musical arrangement skills of Hillsong’s veteran songwriters, such as Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding, really shines through, as they create more space musically for reflection within the song without the distracting fussiness of the three-minute electric guitar solos and repetitive hooks that Hillsong has become famous for.
Musically and spiritually, I found Forever Reign much more satisfying than Cornerstone. It accomplishes what Hillsong Chapel seeks: to challenge the notion that you need to have a 15-piece, full-time band to play “good worship music”, and (as stated on Hillsong Chapel’s blog) “to help people worship and connect with God”, especially small, under-resourced congregations.
The week that I was given this CD to review, I introduced the Forever Reign versions of “God is Able” and “Cornerstone” as I led praise and worship at my church of 100 people, with a single acoustic guitar, a keyboard and basic drums.
This album is a definite must-have for praise and worship leaders, a reverent and moving listen for individuals, and a musical milestone for Hillsong.