Denton band Least of These emerged from the studio with its follow-up to More Than Conquerors with a new lineup and a different sound. The band plays at 7 p.m. Friday at Zera Coffee Co., 420 E. McKinney St., sharing the bill with the Red Door and Across Waters.
The Least of These show marks the official vinyl release of its latest album. Change Will Come has a grungier heft to it than the contemplative rock that anchored Conquerors, even as the EP reached for the heavens. And it definitely stalks around in Henry Rollins’ punk rock-caked big black boots.
Least of These is a Christian rock outfit that has been unfairly tagged as a praise-and-worship gang by less informed (and decidedly unchurched) music blogs. In its first full-length record, the band is even further from the comfortable and predictable confines of Sunday morning worship than even Conquerors was before it.
The more dangerous, wilder bearing of Least of These is in part due to the band’s new personnel. TJ Collins said former bassist Kyle Ramsey “grew up and got a job,” and the band parted ways with original vocalist Josh Weir after playing Cornerstone Festival, a major Christian music festival that ended its 29-year-run in July 2012.
That left brothers TJ on drums and Tyler Collins on guitar. They recruited bassist Chase Record to join them in making music and ministry.
“We decided to try doing the three-piece thing for a while,” TJ Collins said. “But we tried it and I thought, ‘Nah, we definitely need that fourth person.”
Enter Johnny Gore, a longtime friend of Record’s.
“Johnny came over and hung out with us. It wasn’t even a jam session,” TJ Collins said. “It was just hanging out. Then we invited Johnny to come jam with us.”
“I wore a T-shirt that said ‘Can I join?’ with a box for ‘no’ and a box for ‘yes,’” Gore said.
The band checked “yes” and the newly founded quartet was off.
“I grew up in bands. I was always playing with someone,” Gore said. “Then, I don’t know. I took a break. What kept me from getting back into it was the discipline. Doing a band with no mission just didn’t seem worth the work to me.”
Gore was introduced to Least of These through the Conquerors EP. But it was time with the band that proved to Gore that the musicians have a mission — challenging 21st-century music lovers to consider the gospel of Jesus as more than myth or church dogma.
Least of These is slogging through a hyper-busy music marketplace with a different standard altogether. The band’s ministry is to reveal Christianity as a way of life, an alternative to the blind consumerism that the band views as bondage.
“The ministry aspect about the band really became important after Cornerstone,” Tyler Collins said. “Don’t get me wrong. The ministry was important before. But after this music festival in Illinois, it became clear to all of us, I think, that our music, our ministry, is even more crucial. We really started thinking more about what we’re saying to our audience.”
“I think we started to really see that we needed to work on our live set and on our ministry more than our music and how cool we look on stage,” Record said.
Change Will Come certainly gives the band the material to kick audiences out of the digital ennui they can get locked into. As young Americans get more plugged in, they run the risk of eschewing the depth that real connection can offer. Between Gore and Tyler Collins’ throat-grating, punk rock vocals and the metal-thrash of the guitar and drums, Least of These proposes that change will indeed come through fiery blasts of passion and exhausting bouts of doubt.
In “Be Still and Know,” Gore screams and shouts from the Book of Matthew, insisting that he can indeed tear out an eye if it offends God by cheapening creation with mere primate craving. Opening track “The Son The Kingdom” is perhaps the most reminiscent of Least of These 1.0, with the lead guitar countering the lead vocal line with plaintive, violin-like argument. From there, Change grows in intensity, volume and noise, but without losing its musical core.
By the time the album reaches “Exchanging Truth for a Lie,” Least of These is committed to its ministry message: Everything you’ve ever learned about being a man is wrong. Being a man means leading, sharing, falling and getting up. And being a man isn’t about being the much-celebrated “maverick” who follows no one and answers to nobody. A man — a good one, a noble one — embraces the values of the Christian Gospel, knowing that imperfection is the way he’s wired and that accountability and service can lead a broken heart to wholeness.