Downhere’s ‘So Much For Substitutes’ Turns 20

AN NRT WAYBACK EDITORIAL, Downhere's 'So Much For Substitutes' Turns 20

It’d be a little stretch to call Canadian Christian rock band Downhere the best-kept secret of Christian music at any point during their roughly decade-long run in the industry. Even though they received critical acclaim, numerous awards (especially in their home country of Canada), and have a dedicated and passionate fanbase, many Christian music listeners may need to become more familiar with most of their popular songs. Despite co-vocalist Marc Martel, who’s been compared to Queen lead vocalist Freddie Mercury, having a successful solo career singing the band’s songs, it’s understandable if someone is still unfamiliar with the band.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Downhere’s underrated second album, I aim to give it the recognition it deserves.

What It’s Like

Downhere’s eclectic style lets them play in a bigger box than some of their musical contemporaries. They could produce both soaring worship ballads and songs you can genuinely rock out to. Their sophomore record turned up the rock a little from the more laid-back offerings on their debut and allowed listeners to experience more of their peppy side. 

“What It’s Like” was probably the album’s most successful single. Marveling on the wonder of God becoming human, the song’s lively chorus and bridge made it a longtime concert favorite. “Breaking Me Down” offers a funkier flare to the band’s pop/rock signature and even netted a Dove Award win for Rock Song of the Year. “Starspin” shows that even the more piano-driven stylings of band member Jason Germain could produce an energetic rock song. 

But when you dig deeper than the album’s singles, you’ll find some genuinely underappreciated rock hits. “Comatose” and “Stone” are quintessential Downhere rockers that would’ve sounded great alongside bands like Sanctus Real had they been sent to radio. You know you’re listening to a good album when even the hidden track at the end is just as good as everything that came before it.


No Substitutes 

Downhere’s lyrical themes were always a highlight of their career. They always kept their focus on God and frequently looked to challenge the listener with more profound themes. Whether it’s the political musings of “In America” or the critique of our complacent sinfulness in “What It’s Like,” Downhere knew how to call their listener into a more profound meditation on the Christian walk. 

As expressed in “Stone,” “to give you thanks, I can only love you more.” While telling the truth that we can never truly repay God for what He’s done for us, we are still called to love him more. Although we have received an undeserved gift, we are still urged to move beyond our sinful and complacent lives.


Headed for Greatness

It would’ve been easy for this album to be Downhere’s finale. Their label dropped them after this release, and they re-evaluated their ministry as a band. Given how many bands throughout Christian history bowed out after only two nationally released albums, Downhere came perilously close to joining them. Fortunately, the band regrouped and signed to the nascent label Centricity Records. Centricity, the label that launched successful Christian music artists like Lauren Daigle and Jordan Feliz, also provided a platform for lesser-known artists to showcase their creativity. This resulted in some exceptional projects with artistic freedom.

As a result of Centricity, Downhere released several more quality albums. Eventually, the band decided to retire from their ministry due to decreased touring opportunities and Marc Martel being revealed as a Mercury mimic. However, their musical legacy includes a significant amount of material. Their second album is the most overlooked of their discography. If you missed it upon its initial release in 2003, take this 20th-anniversary celebration as an excuse to give it another listen. 


J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He’s published the novel ‘Because of Austin’ and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. His new novel, ‘When Miracles Can Dream,’ is out NOW!