Hillsong has steadily become probably the biggest worship 'brand' in the world. The latest release - Open Heaven / River Wild - was recorded at the Hillsong Conference in Sydney, Australia earlier this year. The first thing you notice about the album is that the trademark 'big' sound of Hillsong's music is here in spades. Pounding drums, wall-of-sound style guitars and layers of synthesisers wrap around the vocals, all backed up by the stadium full of voices making this an epic album - in the true sense of the word.
Building layers of repeated choruses which die back and then build up to a louder crescendo has long been a trademark of the Hillsong sound. Here many songs do follow this pattern, although there are a couple of quiter songs - Transfiguration a particlar highlight.
The tile track is a perfect example. The longest on the album, it takes a good four minutes to really take off. But when it does, the huge refrain hits like the wild river it's named after.
Speaking of the ususual title of the album - what's that all about? Well, Hillsong says, "There is something special about understanding that when we encounter Christ, we live under an Open Heaven. What should our response be? If we are immersed in His mercy, then His Living Water can run wild through us."
The strength of the album is also its main problem - there's not much new in the formula here. If you've got previous Hillsong albums, then you already know the deal - well produced, a big sound, the repeated choruses rising to the big finish. While this record contains new tracks you won't have heard before, the song, in many ways, remains the same.
Maybe that's just down to the constraints of what a live worship album can acheive. It's certainly a challenge facing others, not just Hillsong. Part of me wishes they'd take a bigger risk with the sound of the album - or even drop in some old hymns to break it up a bit more stylistically.
Overall Open Heaven / River Wild is a good, but not great album. Some of these songs may well become staples in churches around the world over the coming years but too many of them stick a bit too closely to the tried and tested formula.