While piercing arena melodies, fiery electric riffs and hard-hitting beats build the foundation of Birmingham-based Embers In Ashes' signature sound, it's the raw honesty of the rockers' pull-no-punches message that brings their full-length sophomore set, Killers & Thieves, into perspective; a potent combo in communicating the power--and Hope--of the Gospel to a hungry generation.
Since its inception in 2010, the kinetic quintet has released two projects, 2011's Sorrow Scars EP and 2012's Outsiders; charted a Christian Rock hit with "Then You Came"; scored performance slots at such leading events as Atlanta Fest and Bayfest; headlined dozens of shows; and shared stages with touring rock powerhouses like The Classic Crime, To Speak of Wolves and As Cities Burn. It's an impressive boilerplate for an independent outfit that didn't even exist four years ago. But group founder and lead singer Jeremy Bates professes relationship, not resume, is the point. "Our whole purpose in life is to know Christ and make Him known," Jeremy says. "And music is the tool God has given us to do this."
Birthed from the desire to express the Truth of God's love through the universal medium of music, Embers In Ashes' drive to create is straightforward. Whether sharing the story behind a song, talking with teens after a club show, or thoughtfully composing the kind of tracks that bear musical and lyrical relevance for a culture seeking more than superficial prose, the band doesn't shy away from tough topics.
Perhaps Embers In Ashes' most accessible melody and relatable lyric--proven by its Top 20 status at Christian Rock radio well before the album's release--"Into My Arms" is an explicit narrative for two of the band's members who grew up without fathers and still grapple with issues of abandonment. Guitarist Ryan Jackson admits his struggle to receive his father's acceptance is ongoing, and a tension in his relationship with God.
"I have spent the better part of my life trying to live up to my dad and feel validated by his love and support," Ryan shares. "And with each new year, it seems I mean less and less to him. As the song aptly states, my dad left. He walked away. I struggle to trust that I am accepted in Christ, and that I have brothers and men out there who love me for who I am, because I have no context. I have no language by which to understand it."
Ryan says the more he recognizes the emotional injuries sustained by the disappearance of his father, the more he realizes he too is susceptible to giving up on the relationships in his life--and God. "The temptation is to believe that I will never, and could never, abandon someone. And to hate my father," Ryan confesses. "But I am perpetually reminded of how I have the same tendency to leave."
The simple, yet life-altering chorus is a first-person invitation from God, from the Father to the fatherless, to relax our regrets in his unconditional love.
"'Into My Arms' is for those who face rejection like mine," Ryan continues. "This song is for those who have seen the face of isolation and loneliness and chose to give up a lot like I did. 'Into My Arms' is not about cleaning yourself up or trying harder. It's about living in the tension of forgiving and wrestling. And as the song says, just run into God's arms."
From the brooding verses to the confessional channel ("Just take me as I am / An empty, heartless man / Hold me in your arms / Give me life again") and declarative chorus' ("I live for the day / When you call my name") wall-to-wall electrics and magnetic counter-melody guitar riff, the project's title-cut, "Killers & Thieves," is most personal to Jeremy. "This song paints a picture of how my relationship with God has been a rollercoaster ride. I see who I really am, lost and broken and hurting, but God still loves me and rescues me from the mess I am in."
Jeremy knows the ups and downs of faith are not specific to him, but relatable to every person's spiritual path. "'Killers & Thieves' is a story about the journey a lot of Christians go through in life. It's your story. It's my story. We are all sinners."
Following the title track's recognition of sin, "Set Fire" beseeches God to mold the sojourner into a disciple with the bridge's blazing refining-fire mantra ("Break me down / Make me something new / Break me down / Make me just like You") sweeping over a combustible musical track. "I wanted to start fresh. Wipe away the old and start anew," Jeremy expresses. "'Set Fire' is an Ecclesiastical-type song."
Deepening his passion to gift audiences with something to chew on throughout the band's smoldering performances, Jeremy imbues each verse of "Set Fire" with personal testimony. "The chorus is a representation of life on my own and my life now that Christ is living within me," he says. "This song is about the realization I had, that without Christ my life was meaningless and empty. Everything I had done on my own was worthless."
The members of Embers In Ashes take the stage each night to confess their doubts. Voice their questions. And like their audience, search for answers.
"As a band we believe we should be encouraging and uplifting to other believers, but we are also called to reach the lost," Jeremy explains, reiterating Embers In Ashes' bigger picture. "We have played in plenty of Christian venues, as well as many mainstream venues. We try not to limit where we perform. We have to take the message wherever the broken and hurting are."
"We want to plant a seed," Jeremy explains. "Many of our listeners are hearing the Gospel for the first time. People walk up to us and ask, 'You guys are Christians, aren't you?' This is exactly why we do what we do."
"I have dealt with my share of addictions," he vulnerably continues. "I have been flat on my face and ready to give up. Embers represent the new life God breathed into my ashes through Jesus. He gave me life in a world full of death. Embers in ashes. Light in darkness."