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In Search of What Matters
Posted March 19, 2014
By JJFrancesco_NRT, Staff Reviewer

Some bands have names that lead you to expect one kind of sound and then you play their album and are totally blown away with a musical direction that feels completely at odds with their title. Embers in Ashes is not one of those bands.

From the opening riffs of opening track, "Set Fire" the band plays pretty much how you'd expect a band with a name like Embers in Ashes to play (and with an album name like Killers & Thieves). Every song boasts intense guitar riffs that almost reach metal level at times. Perhaps the only true surprise is the consistent clean vocals. But for this reviewer, that direction was more than welcome.

With rock bands who can truly rock hard without abusing screaming vocals seeming like more and more of an endangered species in the industry, it's good to see new faces on the scene. This sophomore release is crammed with edgy-yet-melodic rock goodness from start to finish.

Aforementioned "Set Fire" proves to be a memorable rock opener. Vocally, I'm reminded of several acts both famous and obscure. This feeling remains pretty much throughout the album -- several influences but none too overbearing that it becomes a distraction. I suppose this is also a sign of a successful play for a unique sound.

A slight industrial influence sets "Into My Arms" apart as a clear album highlight and potential radio hit. An emotional and memorable chorus in "The Mirror" creates another solid highlight. "Stones," an entirely instrumental track amounts to what is essentially a wordless headbanging session. It's here where you really see the stylistic heaviness of the guitars and how much the clean vocals steer the project more into rock than metal. Given the already-slim 10-track listing, an instrumental might not play as well as it would in a longer album, but for what it is, it's well done.

A major thematic theme throughout Killers & Thieves is the brokenness of our fallen condition, and a search for more. The album's ups and downs all resonate as common struggles in our lives. From uncertainty, blindness to the truth in front of us, or difficulties in relationships, it all comes to a head in a plea for God to "breathe on me new life...wake me up inside / show me how to live / show me what it is that matters / focus every breath I take / take my life broken and tattered / remake me all for your sake." These simple pleas are so honest and heartfelt that they resonate in a way that cuts much deeper than your typical "I'm broken and I want Jesus to fix me" song. This frames everything that came before it.

Whether it's the desire for a sinner like ourselves to be with God ("Killers & Thieves"), pleas to "keep me from being buried in this self-made grave," ("Night From Day"), or calls to come back to the solace and peace of Christ ("Into My Arms," "The Mirror"), it all comes back to a heartfelt desire for God to show us "What Matters." 

There's no excuse making for our shortcomings on this album. It's a personal look at the brokenness and sinfulness that are each of our lives. Christ isn't our clean-up crew, but rather our Savior and way out of the self-destructive ways that keep us from being who we truly are, from reaching our fullest potential. In this sense, it reads like a very personal diary from any Christian who takes an honest look inside their own heart's true longings. The soft melodic vocals amidst the often intense and chaotic music itself serve to round out the metaphor of this album to our lives.

Closing Thoughts:
Embers in Ashes have created a meaningful and passionate rock record that successfully executes a thoughtful blend of headbanging riffs, singable melodies, passionate vocals, and meaningful lyrics into a cohesive package. The ground tread may not be all that new, and the absence of a truly big rock chart topper may keep this album relegated to the sidelines in terms of its commercial shelf life. However, for those that do check this album out, they'll find it's a rewarding rock experience. Perhaps not destined for the tops of year-end best of charts, but it's a shining example of what your above average rock release can and should be. 

Song to Download Now:
"Into My Arms" (Get it on iTunes here.)

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