Petra’s albums: #4 – On Fire!

Introductory Note: In appreciation of Petra’s fortieth year in music and ministry, I am ranking their albums from least best to greatest. You can read my opening post here. [And I meant to conclude this series in 2012, but since Petra just released a 40th anniversary CD this year, I guess this qualifies, too.]

On Fire! (1988, StarSong)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Ronny Cates (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

Having begun to hit their stride with John Schlitt with the previous year’s This Means War!, this album, On Fire!, is considered by many Petra fans the apex of the band’s history, and I can see why. The album begins with three consecutive hard rockers the leave the ears ringing and the mouth curved upward. This was also the first album for new bassist Ronny Cates, completing what I believe to be Petra’s best all-around lineup.

You know you’re in for something special when the first thing you here is “FIRE IT UP!” followed by Hartman’s riffing and Weaver’s heavy drums. “All Fired Up” is definitely on the short list of “best Track 1s” on Petra albums, as the lyrics are a call to passion for the Lord and letting that passion show in the world. As the song closes the same way it began, with “FIRE IT UP!” track two picks up immediately. “Hit You Where You Live” continues the theme of passion for Christ, this time with an emphasis on that passion showing itself by how we live it out:

The evidence leads to conviction
When we don’t live everything we say
There’s got to be a crucifixion
We can live dying everyday

“Mine Field” is up next, and while the pace slows just a tad the song brings just as much power as the first two tracks, with especially heavy drums. Lyrically, those who are “on fire” for God need to live carefully and aware, because the enemy – Satan – has planted mines all over the place, and the results if we step on one could be disastrous.

“First Love” is the first ballad on this album, playing on Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2. It speaks to the fact that, as Christians, we know what we need to be loving and doing, but the world seduces our affections. The refrain is the cry of a heart that wants none of that seduction:

First Love – First Love
My soul longs after You
First Love – First Love
I want my heart to stay so true
Because You first loved me
Jesus You will always be
You will always be
My First Love

“Defector” is next and it brings the rock. It’s a warning to Christians that, although we have been set free, we’ve “broken through,” we still live behind enemy lines. “Counsel of the Holy” is track six and it is a personal favorite of mine, calling the listener to the Scriptures, “the written word of God,” which is wisdom crying for all to read. As a pastor who wants more Bible in my own life, and in the lives of my congregation, the message really resonates. Plus, the song comes with this WAY COOL music video:

“Somebody’s Gonna Praise His Name” recalls the words of Jesus when He triumphantly entered Jerusalem a few days before His death, and the lyrics articulate the heart of someone who wants to worship Jesus. I particularly like the slow build, then Weaver’s drums to kick it into high gear. “Open Book” has a slower pop/rock feel and speaks to the fact that God sees all of who we are and what we do and we want Him to say “Well done.”

“Stand In The Gap” is a good rocker that calls the believing listener’s attention to the necessity and power of prayer. I particularly like the second verse:

In the conflict
It seems like He doesn’t hear
Be encouraged – He still has an open ear
It’s not for nothing
It’s not in vain
Make your petitions
Call on His name
He will bring assistance
Through your persistence

The ballad “Homeless Few” closes out the album, and thematically feels out of place amongst most of the other songs which are heavy lyrically with thoughts of spiritual warfare and weaponry. Bob Hartman was bringing a Christian perspective to the politicized issue of homeless in the mid-to-late ’80s, calling believers to give attention to a real problem.

Overall, On Fire! is a fantastic album and a sentimental favorite because it was my first real exposure to them. The band had entered its greatest era, in my opinion, and even better things were to come.

The List so far…

21. Double Take
20. Petra
19. Washes Whiter Than
18. Revival
17. Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus
16. God Fixation
15. Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out
14. Come and Join Us
13. Never Say Die
12. No Doubt
11. Back to the Street
10. Jekyll & Hyde
9. Wake Up Call
8. Beat the System
7. Not of This World
6. Back to the Rock
5. This Means War!
4. On Fire!
3. ?????

Author: Matt Privett

Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor.

One thought on “Petra’s albums: #4 – On Fire!”

  1. Nope, sorry. Mark Kelly was Petra’s best bassist. Not only is the best bass player, he’s an incredible singer and was great fun to watch. Ronny could often look like chicken with his wierd sideways kick.

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