And Then Like Lions, Blind Pilot’s third album, explores the different ways relationships devolve and what is left when you no longer have the people you once relied on. After losing his father to cancer and breaking up with his girlfriend after 13 years, Israel Nebeker channeled his hurt, confusion, grief, guilt and pain into a beautiful album that maps out his emotional landscape while remaining universally relatable.

The album is a punch to the gut from the beginning. “Umpqua Rushing” starts gently with an easy melody that mimics the river that inspired its name. When Nebeker’s voice comes in singing, “Panic in the first beat of the morning,” the peaceful spell is broken, and he continues to detail every fear that rattles around your brain when you think of the person you love being with someone else. This no-holds-barred approach to loss and love continues through the whole album.

Blind Pilot began in 2005 as a duo with Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski. Since then they’ve added four more members and gone from touring on their bicycles to international headliners. It’s been five years since the duo released a new album, and three of those years were spent writing And Then They Were Lions. Nebeker told Red Light Management that the inspiration behind the album’s title came from his nephews’ story of standing up to a bully “like lions.” Much of the album follows a theme of standing up for yourself, owning up and accepting what you can’t change – about yourself, and about the world.

On “Packed Powder,” Nebeker explores his personal history of taking odd jobs to highlight or suppress aspects of himself and discover what he is made of. He relates this process to that of taking apart fireworks to “see how the powder burns.” The song ends with a cacophony of the various odd instruments Blind Pilot utilizes, and rises in a way that seems to celebrate Nebeker’s youth and recklessness before it abruptly switches over to the much softer “Don’t Doubt.”

An elemental thread weaves through Nebeker’s past and ties it to the earth. The Umpqua River is a metaphor for his broken relationship and images of burning and fire. Using the elements to describe the cycle of his relationships, he mirrors the cycle of life from birth to death.

On “Which Side I’m On,” Nebeker relates his grief to the burden that Atlas bore after angering the gods. He sings, “I’ve done wrong and that weight will follow me/ That weight is the world’s, but the world is not mine/ It is the place where I am.” Here Nebeker takes a step back to separate himself from the cycle and move away from the incredible loss he has suffered.

Emotions reach a head with album closer “Like Lions.” The song was written after the passing of his father and completes the elemental evolution. Nebeker sings, “Is it worse to see no future?/ Is it worse to be afraid?/ Then we are like lions pumping fire in our veins.” Here, he looks ahead to the future beyond his mourning and uses the experience to carry on. The use of fire in relation to the body as in “Packed Powder” is the message of the phoenix, the mythological bird that smoldered into ashes at death and was born again. Just as the phoenix rises, Nebeker shows us with And Then Like Lions that we can recover from the greatest emotional deaths.

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