Anchors follows the release of the highly successful debut Kings (2011). Since their debut, this San Jose-based band has logged endless miles of sweat equity on the road, supporting the likes of Emery, Brian “Head” Welch and Project 86, alongside its own headlining outing, plus a pair of performances at Germany’s enormous Christmas Rock Night festival.
“We’re always writing, and even when Kings was just finished, we got right back to writing and continued throughout the next year-and-a-half,” confirms front man Austin Lyons. “As we approached Anchors, we went into the studio with 30 songs and jammed our way through them all, but then recorded the best eight or nine and then finished up the rest in the studio.”
Anchors was produced by Brian McTernan (Thrice, Circa Survive, Senses Fail and Hot Water Music). Anchors traces the deeply personal lyrics of the pensive but relatable Lyons, who faithful fans may recall came from a broken home. Though there’s certainly been pain in the aftermath, along with the general trials and travails of a burgeoning band climbing the ladder, the current collection takes a remarkably hopeful turn, accented by newfound creative freedom.
“There are a couple of different themes throughout the record, starting with a lot of progression in my life and the idea of moving forward and rebuilding,” reveals Lyons, also asserting the band’s support of The Mentoring Project (which helps kids growing up without father figures). “Kings was my therapy from my upbringing, but things are getting better, which even plays out in why we named the album Anchors. It’s about throwing away and getting rid of the weight that holds you down, which is something we also experienced collectively as a band. We’ve gone through seasons of getting burnt out from the road, difficult times financially and just going through rough stuff behind the scenes, but we came out of all that wanting to make a record that’s 100% our art and not what anyone else wants us to be. Tooth & Nail said ‘you guys just do your thing’ and they’ve been completely supportive.”
Musically, the new material is sure to find the fellas ascending to the modern day alternative/indie rock ranks alongside influences like Thrice, Brand New, and Circa Survive, though there’s also a grungy feel that echoes the classic shades of Smashing Pumpkins or Garbage. But when all the cards are laid out on the table, Anchors is still unquestionably an I Am Empire record, especially in light of the revealing lyrics, which are bound to connect on a myriad of levels.
“If listeners can take away one thing from Anchors, it’s the idea of just throwing away all your worries and casting them aside so you can be free mentally and spiritually in your life,” sums up Lyons, who credits his high school sweetheart turned new bride in helping shift his perspective towards the positive. “You can’t progress if there’s a giant anchor tied to your ankle. You’ll be stuck in the same spot as long as you want it there. As far as my Anchors go, I’m done with them. Just move forward and progress.”
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Casting Off - I Am Empire's Anchors| Posted April 05, 2013
It's not an easy time to be playing in a rock-and-roll band. I Am Empire is one of the few fresh rock acts willing to fuel their music with as much blood, sweat, tears, and passion as necessary. Since their Tooth & Nail debut two years ago, the band has weathered the challenges of road life and an industry climate that makes it hard for bands to endure past the first record. The result is the raw, matured sophomore follow-up to Kings, the dark-edged new album, Anchors.
From the first notes of opening selection "Gravity Bomb," it's clear that the guitar work is going to be a strong force in focusing the songs with its gritty tone and bone-crushing riff style. "Gasoline" carries a more frantic sound without losing the sense of structure as it explores themes of forgetting what lies behind.
"All Around Me Now" is one of several tracks demonstrating frontman Austin Lyon's knack for creating lyrics that are poetic without being too obscure. His clear vocals also provide a haunting vibe on songs such as the introspective "Tell Me Mirror." Honest self-examination coupled with the redemptive force of a gracious God is a trend for the songs on this project, providing a refreshing dose of relatability. The song "Labor"--which contrasts the emptiness of the career-driven "American dream" with a life lived for Christ--nods to the theme of the album as a whole: "told me ‘the worst of your days are sinking away with an anchor.'"
That theme of cutting ties with the heavy weights we've carried and living fully in the freedom God's redemption has created is highlighted by "Remedy," a track where the dark edge is restrained to create a stronger emphasis on hope even in the musical sound. This track also relies heavily on the rock solid tempo of drummer Eric Martin.
Although the richly raw and poignant lyrics stand strong throughout, I Am Empire doesn't neglect to add some blistering rock conventions. The beautifully written "Daylight" features a piercing solo from guitarist Andrew Stanton, and the moody "The Mastermind is Me" builds from a brutal rock riff.
Another album highlight is "Sing," a song that beautifully describes humanity's search for meaning met by God's grace: "I can't help by sing, waiting for the warm spring. Winter wears me down, falling to the ground, I can't help but sing." This is rock-and-roll worship at its finest, using soaring gang vocals to back the conversation between the singer and God.
The band's ability to thrive in diverse settings is displayed through the gentle love song "On A Rainy Sunday." Here Austin Lyon's clean vocals build a much different ambiance backed by stripped down, chill instrumentation. After the final notes of that track drift away, I Am Empire uses "Blackout" to end the album in a flurry of screaming guitars and forceful melody.
This is punk-influenced, hard-edged melodic rock at its finest, shaping stories of faith, doubt, and breaking free that draw the listener deep into the heart of each song. In a market saturated by electronic music, I Am Empire took the less-mapped route relying on complex guitar beds and raw vocals. It's a journey that pays off for fans, offering haunting selections that are sure to invite the listener back again and again.