There comes a time for every band to deliver a career-defining musical statement. For the Christian alternative metal band Pillar, that moment came while recording their new album, The Reckoning (Flicker).
“We all went into this with a little bit of pressure just because we have sold some records in the past,” frontman Rob Beckley admits. “We were very challenged by our management. They told us, ‘You have to write the record of your career right now.'”
While other Christian rock bands like P.O.D. and Switchfoot have become mainstream fixtures, Pillar often find themselves torn between sacred and secular audiences. “We get a lot of flak [in the Christian community] for being a rock band and playing clubs, which is where we feel a rock band is supposed to be,” Beckley says. “We got a lot of hate mail and negative comments. You’re supposed to be on the same team, but it feels like you’re getting shot in the back. But then you play in the general market and every once in a while you get guys that are like, ‘You’re a Christian band … I’ll never respect you.’ It’s like you can’t win sometimes.”
Pillar first came together in 1998 at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. Their debut album, Alive, arrived in 2000 and yielded the minor college radio hit “Open Your Eyes.” A sophomore effort, Fireproof, followed in 2003 and led to the band being picked up by MCA Records. But they were dropped soon after when the company was absorbed into Geffen Records. Undaunted, they self-released a third disc, Where Do We Go From Here, in 2004.
With a gritty, guitar-driven sound, Pillar has amassed lifetime sales of 700,000 albums. In addition to Beckley, the group’s lineup includes guitarist Noah Henson, bassist Kalel, and drummer Lester Estelle. A second guitarist, Joey “Cinco” Avalos, was recently added to fill out the band’s live sound.
Beckley says that Pillar undertook two years of intensive writing and recording sessions for its latest album. The disc’s first single, “Everything,” details all the blood, sweat and no tears in a refrain that asks, “Are you willing to give up everything?” — a reference to the sacrifices the band has had to make for its music.
“We were away from our families, we were in the studio so focused on the record that we neglected other things in our life. So we were giving up a lot,” the singer recalls. “The song is really about us — are we willing to give everything up to try to put everything into this that we can?”
If the end results are any indication, the answer to that question is affirmative. Longtime fans will find familiar sounds in the barrage of muscular vocals, metallic guitars, and thundering drums that dominate tracks like “Crossfire” and “Resolution.”
But The Reckoning also sees Pillar delivering its most eclectic performance to date, with a radio-friendly ballad (“Wherever the Wind Blows”) and a bouncy pop-punk song (“Sometimes”) that sounds like Blink-182-meets-Def Leppard. Meanwhile, “Angel in Disguise” is a somber, five-minute number with an extended narrative about child abuse. Beckley cites Johnny Cash’s musical storytelling style as an inspiration for the sad tale.
For now, the band is simply enjoying its time in the limelight and everything that goes along with it. “The ‘reckoning’ means a new beginning, to come full circle,” Beckley says, pausing thoughtfully to explain the album’s title. “After you do something for a long time, you start to loss your zeal … there was a couple of years where it just wasn’t fun, so that’s what the reckoning is for us. By us coming full circle and having a reckoning with ourselves. It’s fun again. I love doing this. I can do 15 interviews in one day and still be just as happy doing this one as I was on the first one because I enjoy what I’m doing again.”