Petra at 50: Unseen Power (1991)


In celebration of Petra turning fifty years old in 2022, here at I am going album by album through their discography and reflecting on the role their music has played in my life. In this post my focus is Petra’s thirteenth studio album, and fourteenth overall, 1991’s Unseen Power.

The Backstory

Petra was riding as high as it ever had, achieving an unprecedented level of success with their 1990 release Beyond Belief. A new generation of fans had been building over the course of the past few albums after the addition of John Schlitt and a change in styles. As Petra prepared to write and record their follow-up, one might have thought they would do more of the same. But as Bob Hartman writes in More Power to Ya: The Petra Devotional, “By this time, the recording process with John and Dino [Elefante] was beginning to feel somewhat mechanical. We all knew it, so we set out to intentionally go about things differently.” Would “differently” work? Unseen Power was the result.

Album Overview

Unseen Power brings plenty of the rock found on albums such as This Means War! and On Fire! while maintaining the more friendly sound and better production found on Beyond Belief. While Petra intentionally went in different directions, with one track standing out more than any other, every track is distinctively Petra. There are fewer guitar solos on this album, but still plenty of guitar. Some of Hartman’s best work, in fact. Louie Weaver’s drums never sounded better. Ronny Cates on bass is just great and driving the rhythm in several of these songs. John Lawry is still doing great John Lawry things on keyboard. And John Schlitt is in top form. I will elaborate more in the track-by-track and more later, but rest assured, on Unseen Power, Petra is still in the zone. Grammy voters agreed. Petra won another one.

The band released a video, Backstage Pass, which accompanied this album:

My Origin Story

Unseen Power was a turning point for me because it’s the first Petra album, and the first Christian music album, I knew was coming and ready to hear. It’s also, to the best of my recollection, the first Petra album I bought on CD. And I played it… over and over. When I got my driver’s license in July 1992, I always seemed to be the one driving my friends around. This was always on. The two concerts I saw on this tour are remain my favorite concerts of all time to this day. I helped set up and tear down the April 30, 1992, concert at my church near the start of the tour. Then I drove my friends down to Greenville, SC, and we stayed with my aunt and cousin to see Petra again, this time with Newsboys opening for them. This album came out in late 1991 and was a huge part of my 1992.

Album Information

  • Released: November 1991
  • Recorded: Pakaderm Studios, Los Alamitos, CA
  • Album Length: 41:33
  • Label: DaySpring / Word Records
  • Producers: John Elefante and Dino Elefante
  • The Band: Bob Hartman (guitars, arrangements), John Schlitt (vocals), John Lawry (keyboards, arrangements), Ronny Cates (bass), Louie Weaver (drums)
  • Additional backing vocals: Doug Beiden, Ron Gollner, Olivia McClurkin, Alfred McCrary, Howard McCrary, Perry Morgan, Tony Palacios, Rob Rock, Jamie Rowe, Alfie Silas, Rose Stone, Sara Tennison
  • Recording and Production:
    • John Elefante (producer, arrangements, engineer at Pakaderm Studios, Los Alamitos, CA and Pakaderm West, Los Alamitos, CA)
    • Dino Elefante (producer, arrangements, engineer)
    • Doug Beiden (engineer, mix assistant)
    • J.R. McNeely (engineer, mix assistant)
    • Neil Kernon (mixing)
    • Chris Bellman (mastering at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, CA)
    • Lynn Keesecker (A&R Direction)
    • Loren Balman (art direction)
    • Patrick Pollei (art direction, design)
    • Steven Fryer (design)
    • Michael Goldenberg (design)
    • Amy Linde (art production coordinator)
    • Jeff Katz (band and individual photos)
    • Neill Whitlock (cover concept photography)
    • Helena Occhipinti (hair)
    • Margaret Kimura (make-up)
    • Keiki Mingus (stylist)


1. “Destiny” (4:31) – The album starts with a bonafide rocker. But before talking about the song I have to talk about the album cover, which I haven’t been in the habit of doing on this journey. The windmills reflect the theme of Unseen Power. Before this song really begins then, there is the sound of wind chimes, which will also be heard as an outro to the final track. After the wind chimes open this track, Hartman’s guitar winds up and then Louie Weaver busts in on drums. Schlitt eventually comes in: “Time is a gift on loan. Fate is already known. It’s your destiny to make it to the end. It’s your destiny to go against the trend. Heavenly destiny! Destiny!” The verses aren’t long but they are effective. I especially like the final verse: “The steps of a righteous man are laid by a Master’s plan. It’s your destiny! Don’t forsake the call. It’s your destiny! A stone within the wall!” The song is based on Romans 8:28–30, which speaks of God foreknowing a people, predestining them, justifying them, and glorifying them. In the midst of that, He conforms that people to the image of His Son. That’s the destiny of the believer, and that’s what this song is about. Plus, it rocks.

2. “Who’s On the Lord’s Side” (3:54) – This song is a cover of the original by Rev. Timothy Wright, and it is a tremendous example of melding black gospel music with rock and roll. It really sounds like the band had fun making this song. John Schlitt sounds great with the gospel choir backing him up. The song is based on Joshua 24:15, where Joshua tells Israel they need to choose that day whom they will serve. There’s a bit of 1 Thessalonians 4–5 mixed in: “You got to work, got to work, work while it’s day. For the night is coming when you can’t find your way. Oh sinner, I wonder, what will you do? You better choose this day. Tomorrow’s not promised to you.” From an instrumental standpoint, Lawry doing organ work with his keyboards stands out, as do Weaver’s drums. 

3. “Ready, Willing and Able” (4:14) – A distorted guitar riff opens this song, then Schlitt begins to sing the first verse before the drums and keyboard kick in to show this is another rocker. I love how the title of the song sounds simultaneously sung and screamed. Lyrically, this song is a call to arms, a call for the Christian to do what he or she should already be doing. In the first verse Schlitt sings, “Enough of the sidelines, gotta get in the game. When nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. He’s callin’ the numbers play by play. We’re either out or we’re in all the way.” We’ve got to be “Ready, willing, and able to advance the light and defend the right. Ready, willing, and able to lift up the cross to the waiting lost. Ready to serve and willing to go, able to stand up against the flow. We’re ready, willing, and able.” And lest you still be intimidated, even as one “called and chosen to proclaim His son,” the third verse gives comfort, “He’s already given us all that we need, with love in our message and hope in our creed. When Yahweh is for us and faith is our stay no power below us can stand in our way.”

4. “Hand On My Heart” (4:26) – Petra set out to do things differently on this album and make choices they would not have defaulted to on the previous few albums. There is no greater evidence of this than this song, the first ballad of the album. Petra invokes a bit of Smokey Robinson and a Motown sound. I’ve seen and heard this song get a bad rap from some others, but to me it just works. I know it doesn’t sound like traditional Petra, but for them doing something different, I really like it. I’ve got this recollection of them doing this in concert donning sequined jackets. LOL. My favorite part of the song is toward the end of the second chorus when you really get that Smokey feel with the staggered “I feel your touch…” It’s a great song done in a different way that points the listener to the fact that when God has a hold of our lives we don’t get away from Him.

5. “I Need To Hear From You” (4:04) – Inspired by the biblical account of Job, this is a slower rock song about someone who is feeling distant from God, or even that God is distant from them. “I’ve been away for a little while, and I don’t like where it takes me. Out of place I’m going out of my mind. It’s times like these that really break me. So here I am all alone I’m waiting on You. Just a word will get me through.” I like that last part especially because it’s an implicit reminder that we do have God’s word we can and should always go to in order to actually hear from Him. From the band, Lawry has almost an organ feel to a lot of his keyboard work, but it’s the backing vocals and the way they complement Schlitt’s lead that really stands out.

6. “Dance” (3:46) – Probably the most remembered song from this album, Petra often closed their concerts with this one, with Bob Hartman telling a story of 70s and 80s tennis great Chris Evert struggling after she switched to a more modern racquet, before going back to what she had succeeded with. The moral of the story? You have to dance with the one who brung ya. This song is about not trying to move on from the One who has saved you. You can look high and look low, but you’ll never find someone who loves you so [like Jesus]. The message is very much needed today, as it was in 1992, because as Christians we are always being tempted by the latest and greatest innovations, even within the Christian faith. And of course, this song just flat out rocks. Hartman’s guitar is driving right from the start and Weaver is pounding those drums. This song was just made for concerts. Love it.

7. “Secret Weapon” (4:01) – Petra continued their habit of including a song specifically related to prayer with song. This one, in particular, is from the perspective of a Christian who is interceding for another who may not be responding to evangelism, encouragement, or other means of Christian support. Even when other things don’t seem to work or help, we always have prayer, our not so secret secret weapon. None of the instruments really stand out above the others but they are all working well to bring this one together. This song doesn’t stand out but it’s a solid album track.

8. “Sight Unseen” (3:58) – Of the ten songs on this album, this is the one that has grown the most on me over the thirty-plus years now since it was first released. It is the de facto title track, even if the song isn’t the full title on the album. Based upon Hebrews 11:6, which teaches us that faith is the evidence of things not seen, Hartman wrote a simple chorus around verses expounding on this well-known bit of Scripture. I like the second verse especially: “Evidence built into every design led to conviction between every line. Faith is the key that can open the veil to Love incarnated and pierced with a nail. Listen my friend, have I got news for you. The nails in His hands and feet were meant for you.” Musically this song just rocks. The guitar riff in the beginning gets it going. Weaver is doing some of his best work on drums in this song. But the musical star of this song, to me, is Ronny Cates on bass.

9.”Hey World” (3:52) – “Our value comes in the fact we live. Life is a gift only God can give.” Those are the last words of the song before it closes with a repeat of the chorus, and they are the thesis of one of Petra’s most remarkable, and I suspect more controversial, songs. The first verse deals with a pregnant woman so young “she had the most to lose.” She could’ve had an abortion, but instead had the baby and gave it up for adoption. How about these words? “He could’ve been thrown away before he had a chance to say ‘Hey world! I am hear and I have something to give!'” Wow. Then the second verse is about a teen or young adult who says no to suicide. “He could’ve been blown away before he had a chance to say ‘Hey world!'” Life is a gift from God. [Author’s Note: How appropriate that I’m typing my thoughts on this song the day after the Supreme Court of the United States struck down Roe v. Wade (1973) and Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992)? Praise God!] The song is wonderfully arranged and produced. John Lawry’s keyboards stand out. 

10. “In The Likeness Of You” (4:51) – The final song on the album has words and music by Lawry and John Elefante, and is every bit a song of worship. Based on Psalm 17:15, in which David writes, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” I have a vivid recollection of seeing this song done live, and Schlitt’s smile when he sang, “Men dream of fortune and fame, making the rules, naming the game.  And men dream of things they can hold, money and power, silver and gold.” I’ve always loved this one, and it’s been one of the few rock/pop songs that truly drew me in to worship God. My only qualm is the irregular language in the title and chorus. “In the likeness of You.” No one talks like that. Anyway, it’s just a quirk with me. Still a wonderful song.

Ranking the Albums

  1. Unseen Power – I don’t know of many other Petra fans who would place this album at the top. In fact, I don’t know any others. Don’t care. You could argue that a lot of this ranking has to do with the place this album has held with me and the time of life when it came out and I bought it. All of that would be true. There is a lot of sentimental value in this ranking. And while it may also be true, as reflected in the song rankings below, that there aren’t as many songs right at the top of the rankings as some other albums, this album, to me, is the best produced album Petra ever had, the most complete and consistent album Petra ever had. I know that even some of the members of the band don’t feel that way. Hartman actually wrote he felt with was a transitional step, and one that was “rushed in both its conceptualization and its production.” Of course, he has every right to feel that way. I don’t. Unseen Power is, in my humble opinion, at the same time Petra’s most underrated and best album, and my favorite album of all time.
  2. This Means War! 
  3. On Fire!
  4. Beyond Belief
  5. More Power To Ya
  6. Never Say Die 
  7. Come and Join Us
  8. Not Of This World
  9. Back to the Street
  10. Captured In Time And Space
  11. Beat The System
  12. Petra
  13. Washes Whiter Than
  14. Petra Praise – The Rock Cries Out

The #Petra50

  1. “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” – from This Means War! (1)
  2. “Creed” – from Beyond Belief (2) 
  3. “More Power To Ya” – from More Power To Ya (3)
  4. “Dance” – from Unseen Power – The quintessential song from this album, a concert favorite. It’s got catchy lyrics, some memorable hooks, and is a great reminder that we need to cling to the One who has saved us.
  5. “Adonai” – from Beat The System (4)
  6. “Whole World” – from Back to the Street (5)
  7. “Grave Robber” – from Not Of This World (6)
  8. “Hit You Where You Live” – from On Fire! (7)
  9. “Chameleon” from Never Say Die (8)
  10. “Love” – from Beyond Belief (9)
  11. “Road to Zion” – from More Power To Ya (10)
  12. “Godpleaser” – from Captured In Time And Space (11)
  13. “Not Of This World” – from Not Of This World (12)
  14. “This Means War” – from This Means War! (13)
  15. “Come and Join Us” – from Come and Join Us (14)
  16. “All Fired Up” – from On Fire! (15)
  17. “The Praise Medley [“Let Everything That Hath Breath” / “Without You We Could Do Nothing” / “Praise Ye The Lord” / “Hallelujah Chorus”] – from Captured In Time And Space (16)
  18. “Sight Unseen” – from Unseen Power – The quasi-title track has one of Hartman’s best and most memorable opening riffs and Louie Weaver is doing things on drums we just hadn’t heard in the past. Great song.
  19. “Angel of Light” – from Never Say Die (17)
  20. “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows” – from More Power To Ya (18)
  21. “Hollow Eyes” – from Beat The System (19)
  22. “Beyond Belief” – from Beyond Belief (20)
  23. “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened” – from This Means War! (21)
  24. “Destiny” – from Unseen Power – An absolutely rocking opener. Fairly simple lyrically by Bob Hartman standards, but that’s not a bad thing. Great message and again.
  25. “Stand in the Gap” – from On Fire! (22) 
  26. “Hey World” – from Unseen Power – One of Petra’s best and boldest anthems dealing with issues in our sinful society. Hartman’s lyrics aren’t merely a diatribe against sinners. They provide real hope for anyone listening by reminding us that life is a gift from God.
  27. “Fool’s Gold” – from Back to the Street (23)
  28. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” – from Come and Join Us (24)
  29. “It Is Finished” – from Beat The System (25)
  30. “Woman Don’t You Know” – from Come and Join Us (26) 
  31. “Where Can I Go” – from Come and Join Us (27)
  32. “Not By Sight” – from Not Of This World (28)
  33. “Clean” – from Captured In Time And Space (29)
  34. “King’s Ransom” – from Back to the Street (30)
  35. “First Love” – from On Fire! (31) 
  36. “You Are My Rock” – from This Means War! (32)
  37. “Counsel of the Holy” – from On Fire! (33)
  38. “Beat The System” – from Captured In Time And Space (34)
  39. “For Annie” – from Never Say Die (35)
  40. “Magic Mirror” – from Washes Whiter Than (36) 
  41. “The Coloring Song” – from Never Say Die (37)
  42. “Bema Seat” – from Not Of This World (38) 
  43. “Back to the Street” – from Back to the Street (39)
  44. “Get On Your Knees and Fight Like A Man” – from This Means War! (40)
  45. “Somebody’s Gonna Praise His Name” – from On Fire! (41)
  46. “I Am On The Rock” – from Beyond Belief (42)
  47. “Hand On My Heart” – from Unseen Power – One of the more polarizing songs in Petra’s catalog, but I’ve always liked it a lot. Christian rock meets Smokey Robinson.
  48. “Who’s On the Lord’s Side?” – from Unseen Power – Petra takes on black gospel style. It’s fun and it works.
  49. “Magic Words”- from Washes Whiter Than (43)
  50. “Why Should the Father Bother?” – from Washes Whiter Than (44)


Dropping off…

  • “Walkin’ in the Light” – from Petra (45)
  • “Seen and Not Heard” – from Beyond Belief (46)
  • “The Water Is Alive” – from This Means War! (47)
  • “Armed and Dangerous” – from Beyond Belief (48)
  • “Killing My Old Man” – from Never Say Die (49)
  • “Stand Up” – from More Power To Ya (50)

Parting Thought

As stated above, I know I very well may be alone in my assessment of Unseen Power, but hey, it’s my site and my list! 😛 This album came out when I was a sophomore in high school. It was Petra’s most recent album when I got my license the next summer. It was the soundtrack of my 1985 Honda Accord as I toted my friends around east Charlotte in 1992. The two concerts I saw on the tour remain my favorites. All of those reasons for ranking it number one are personal. But cut through all of that and this remains a fantastic album. Petra tried some new things and did them well, all the while perfecting, in my mind, the sound they had been cultivating over the course of the last several albums. This would be, to me, the pinnacle of Petra. I encourage you to give this album another listen here.

One thought on “Petra at 50: Unseen Power (1991)

  1. Another great review, thanks. Like yourself, this album was a big influence on me throughout the 90s. I also remember listening to this album (and Beyond Belief) on a flight from the UK to Japan 5 years ago. I distinctly recall looking out the window mid-flight whilst listening to Destiny and having a real excitement/joy in my heart about how God made everything , is in control of everything and loves us! Yep, it’s an excellent album with many fantastic songs.

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