Length: 20:06 hours.
Jonah grudgingly went on a journey to deliver God’s message to his enemies. Gleefully he told them they would be destroyed. Morosely he sat and watched God relent at the Ninevites repentance. Then we discover that we are Jonah: his bitterness is our bitterness; his callousness ours. We, not just he, are deeply flawed.
Who should listen to this?
Genre: rock, with flavors of shoegaze, ambient, and post-rock
This four song EP is the soundtrack to the book of Jonah. From the time Jonah encountered the tempest while stowed away on a ship to Tarshish; to being tossed overboard and threatened by drowning in that tempest; to being enveloped in a watery grave; to preaching repentance – it’s all there.
The first three songs are told from the perspective of Jonah. In “Deadrise”, Jonah looks out at the storm feeling alone, and as he is thrown into the water he knows he is about to die. He reflects on his life and his faith in God, but when God calls him to Nineveh he can only ask, “Why would the God of grace make peace with dreadful beasts?”
In “(W)retched”, Jonah is tossed into the briny deep. Baptized, as it were. Oddly enough, this tells Jonah that since God is responding to his actions, he is known by God. God provides salvation in response to Jonah’s pleas, “restoring communion, so it shows that I am known.” God shows him mercy and resurrects Jonah – this too shows Jonah that he is known by God.
But being known by God doesn’t automatically calm the tempest in your soul. In “Sackcloth & Ash”, you can sense Jonah’s personal bitterness and anger at the Assyrian atrocities and his eagerness at their coming, and hopefully assured, destruction. As Jonah ascends the hill to wait for impending doom, DENS breaks from the voice of Jonah to reflect on Jonah’s, and our, hearts.
“Vice & Virtue” is the voice that is an outsider to Jonah, looking at what went wrong for him and realizing that we are the same as Jonah – so quick to condemn in hateful bitterness. In our human condition “we’re not innocent.” It might be easy for us to look down on Jonah, and it certainly is easy for Christians to castigate the Godless wicked, but we must confront the wickedness inside our own hearts. We, as DENS reminds us, are not innocent.
One final note: the first three songs conclude with quietly sung lines from classic hymns. They choose hymns that match the content and voice of the song they are in and provide a fitting conclusion to the story of Jonah.
As the title suggests, the storm in which Jonah found himself was no small tempest. While listening to this album I quickly started to wonder which was the bigger storm: the one outside or the one inside. Though the outside storm abated as soon as Jonah was tossed overboard, the storm inside raged for months. For years?
And that same internal tempest Jonah faced is the same one facing each of us. Even those who follow Jesus find in themselves struggles, storms, and battles that rage continuously.
As he is tossed overboard and sinks to his apparent death, Jonah recognizes his sin and the holiness of God and is humbled by God’s mercy. This is a right response: God’s mercy ought to provoke us to repentance.
But within the internal ugliness we still recognize that God knows us. Though trials beset us, though tragedy befall, the Lord God knows us all. This provides some consolation as we sink to the depths; as we await our fate which is outside our control.
Despite being known by God, many of us still struggle with anger, bitterness, hatred, and numerous other negative emotions that plague our hearts and spoil our actions. DENS cries out with Jonah, wanting the wicked punished, yet DENS pulls back to reflect on the darkness in our own hearts.
Perhaps with their next album they will work to resolve the tension they identify: we want to follow God, and we do follow God, but we do so imperfectly. In many cases, we aren’t any better than the ‘wicked ones’ we hate and condemn. But where does that leave us? What are we to do with the fact that the hated evil “out there” is the same evil we find in ourselves?
The most striking feature of this album is the well-told story of Jonah, followed by the analysis of Jonah and our hearts. Thought-provoking, this is. Why am I so eager to wish for the destruction of the evil ones, when I myself have so much evil in my heart?
DENS weds their music to their lyrics, adding punches when emotions run high and quieting things down when reflecting. In this way, No Small Tempest is a thoughtful and complete, albeit short, album.
DENS pays such attention to detail that during (W)retched, when the sailors speak, DENS has gang vocals to match. And on the final track, when the voice shifts from Jonah to an outsider’s voice, their music takes on a noticeably different feel. This new style feels like DENS’ natural voice, which is entirely fitting considering that lyrically it is their voice.
Like the book of Jonah, this EP doesn’t resolve. There is no conclusion, it just ends with the fact that we are all bitter haters, stained and marred by sin, quick to judge and condemn, eager to see our enemies and perceived enemies destroyed. But unlike Jonah, DENS recognizes our guilt.
A music review for Top Christian Books by Barry Wolfer. This album was provided by Facedown Records for the purpose of reviewing it.