Anberlin’s tenure in music has been a tricky one. Starting out as a simple, self-contained rock band in 2002, the band signed to Tooth and Nail Records and went on to release a trio of albums, each one with more depth, thought, and structure than the last. While Blueprints for the Black Market and even Never Take Friendship Personal saw lead singer and songwriter Stephen Christian leading a band that didn’t have much identity, the turbulent rockers hit their stride with Cities in 2007. Long revered as the quintessential Anberlin record, Cities brought on so much more than a newer sound. It brought the identity the band had been looking for, and caused a massive shift in what was to come.
Signing to Universal Republic, the band quickly cranked out the quite forgettable New Surrender, and subsequent albums never really seemed to capture the climate change felt on Cities, at least to this fan. Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place saw a bit of it, and the aggression heard on Never Take Friendship Personal returned with added depth on Vital. But as Anberlin releases their final album, Lowborn, it’s plain to see that they are ever changing, and this album has closely captured as much as it possibly can of not just Cities, but everything the band has come to stand for. In fact, Lowborn would be more accurately titled Anberlin.
Loud, distorted guitars abound on a rocker like “Velvet Covered Brick”, reminiscent of the rawness felt on Never Take Friendship Personal (complete with raucous feedback in the bridge), while the equally gritty opener “We Are Destroyer” takes on a sound similar to tracks like “We Owe This To Ourselves” or “Self-Starter”, each of which kicked of their subsequent albums. A ballad like “Atonement” reminds succinctly of the softer moments from Cities, and for fans of the landmark album, they’ll find comfort in the song’s love focus. “I lost myself in tides of a moment / but my heart’s where I’m going / Don’t want to be here / don’t want to be here without you / I need to know you / I need to know you believe in me” Christian’s songwriting has never been better.
While upbeat, the lead single “Stranger Ways” makes for a perfect ballad to break off the raw double hit of “We Are Destroyer” and “Armageddon”. The track features a solid, danceable beat, which isn’t new territory for Anberlin, but they pull it off better than they ever have, with added synthesizers and overdubs from Christian on his own vocals. Particularly intriguing is the shoegaze feel of “Birds of Prey”, proving that even when they’re on their way out, Anberlin has some new sounds and ideas up their sleeves. The layering is impressive, and soaring, wailing guitars don’t show up until the final minute and a half, along with intricate fills from drummer Nathan Young to create truly unique experience. Distortion returns on a suprisingly aggressive track with “Dissenter”, and while the lyrics are particularly puzzling, it makes for quite the standout cut.
For fans of the long, instrumental heavy cuts like the iconic “(*Fin)” from Cities, it might be appropriate to say there are no tracks like that here. But that wouldn’t be an accurate statement. For Lowborn, Anberlin seems to have figured out how to structurally add spacious elements in many of the higher-caliber cuts, and for people who are looking for tracks like the aforementioned, listen to the album as a whole. What fans are likely to hear is a more contained and focused version of it, as if Lowborn itself is one, self-contained masterpiece. The finale “Harbinger” is a close replacement, with an airy disposition and echoing vocals from Christian, but doesn’t quite capture the beauty of the final track from Cities. While the amount of electronic and synth is unprecedented (as compared to previous albums) it works in the band’s favor, and reiterates the previous statement that the band still has the creative edge. Lowborn is a worthy final chapter for a band that has captured so many hearts around the world, and as they close this book, suffice it to say the members have much, much more to give to music.