by Mark Allen
– Senior Columnist–
You know that scene in the ‘79 Lucio Fulci film Zombie where one of the living dead slowly pulls a woman into a jagged wood splinter until it punctures and pops her eyeball? It’s an excruciatingly brutal scene to watch, especially if you have phobias about ocular torture. Listening to some modern rock bands is the musical equivalent of slowly having your eye torn out, and some albums are excruciatingly brutal to listen to.
I Am Empire (IAP) is not one of those bands and Anchors is not one of those albums.
IAP’s Tooth & Nail Records debut (Kings) was a mixed bag that forecasted future growth. Well, some of that promise has now been fulfilled; Anchors has a more polished, self-assured sound and front-man Andy Lyons has improved as a singer with much greater control of his high-pitched vocals. The forward progression the band has made between albums is noteworthy.
When Tooth & Nail Records first invaded the Christian rock scene back in the early ‘90s, they focused almost exclusively on alternative rock/metal. It is fitting, then, that IAP landed on this label, because while their sound is rooted in the distorted guitars and crunchy sonics of modern rock, it sports a unique vibe that colors outside the lines enough to make this a welcome alternative to anyone who has grown sick of corporate cookie cutter rock music.
For example, while a few of the songs have that hit single catchiness to them, the band frequently forgoes pop hooks in favor of those that require a few spins to savor. Many of the tracks bear a moody, somber aesthetic and demonstrate a lyrical depth that slices beneath surface trifles with a sharp, poetic scalpel. Make no mistake; you will not confuse I Am Empire with the Nickelbacks and Hinders of the world. (Somewhere someone just let out a hallelujah shout.)
If Anchors has an Achilles’s heel, it’s that there are too few blow-you-away songs. This is the kind of album you listen to and think to yourself, “Hey, this is decent stuff,” but rarely think, “Holy Jumpin’ Jehosophat, this is awesome!” That being said, there are a handful of songs that may make such an exclamation proceed out of thy mouth, with “Gravity Bomb” being one of them, infused as it is with a rocking rhythm, squealing guitars, and a catchy chorus enhanced with gang vocal “Whoas!” Even better is “Sing,” a big ol’ anthem with body-moving power hooks and a Goliath-sized chorus. For something heavier, “The Mastermind Is Me” offers a blistering riff that is nicely balanced by slick harmonies.
With a deep, poetic, faith-based message and a solid modern rock sound, I Am Empire have plenty to offer, especially if you’re seeking something a little different from the crass commercial rock clogging up the radio these days. Yeah, the album is missing that one sweet knockout punch that slams your cochlea and leaves you cross-eyed in all the right ways, but there are enough upbeat tempos, sizzling guitar solos, and memorable hooks to ensure your feet don’t stay anchored to the floor.
Genre: Modern Hard Rock, Christian Rock
Austin Lyons (vocals)
Andrew Stanton (guitar)
Joshua Case (bass, backing vocals)
Eric Martin (drums)
1. Gravity Bomb
3. All Around Me Now
6. The Mastermind Is Me
7. Tell Me Mirror
11. On a Rainy Sunday
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 7/10