Review Summary: Question your faith in Cities' invincibility, but don't quite give it up yet.
After releasing Cities in 2007, Anberlin had hit the absolute peak for their potential. Nothing they could do at all would possibly top the majesty of “*Fin”, or the controlled explosiveness of “Godspeed”, or the way those songs, complete opposites, could fit so perfectly on each end of a perfect album. New Surrender was somewhat disappointing despite having three stellar singles and the underrated “The Resistance”. Dark is the Way, Light is a Place was more solid than New Surrender up and down the tracklist, although a lot of the underrated beauty of Anberlin’s music was absolutely lost. However, almost all tracks had a mystique that was similar throughout the album. Dark is the Way gave no hint as to what Anberlin’s next album was going to be like, and a lot of fans (including me) were left longing for more of the beautiful progression of Cities, or even the hard-hitting tracks on Never Take Friendship Personal. As a pleasant surprise, both are the pillars on which Vital is built.
One thing that has always been apparent throughout the years is that Anberlin’s sound is always progressing and changing. In Vital, they go even further, with completely new influences while keeping the layered instrumentation that one would expect from them. Slick synth lines are in most every track without ever overruling the skills the band has across the board. The album mixes aspects from every Anberlin album a number of times throughout the tracklist (too many to list, but album opener “Self-Starter” has a touch of Dark is the Way and Never Take Friendship Personal in another excellent album-opener from this band. Also “Type Three” reminds a lot of Cities’ acoustic songs while adding a touch of the lighter tracks in Never Take Friendship Personal).
So the real question is: just how good is Vital? Well, it’s perfect. Not as perfect as Cities if that makes sense, but every track is given its full potential and delivers. There is no weak track in the whole album (barring MAYBE “Orpheum”), and every song brings something new to the table. The explosiveness in some moments of the album hits where it counts and then all of a sudden the foot is on the brake, but before you can adjust you’re getting hit by another big explosion of sound again. Also throughout Vital is even more of the incredible lyrical experience that Anberlin gives off to everyone.
My personal favorite tracks off the album are “Type Three” and “Modern Age”. “Type Three” starts out light and pretty much stays that way throughout the experience. One of the simplest lines ever to come out of an Anberlin song sounds perfectly placed to me for some reason: ‘I don’t want to wait, I don’t want to wait, on you, anymore’. “Modern Age” starts like most of the hard-hitters on the rest of the album with light synths for about ten seconds before hitting you hard in the face with a guitar riff unlike any you’ve heard from Anberlin, or anyone else, before. Then the perfect mix of beautiful, simple lyrics, drums, and guitar creates a feel that has never come from Anberlin. “Fall asleep alone, safer than the off chance of getting your heart attacked one more time.” There is that line plus a (potential?) reference to the masterpiece *Fin: "Are we all lost? Are we all lost again?" “Modern Age” is a must-listen. Vital is a must-listen. Give it a try and question your faith on the invincibility of Cities.
You don't need to replace Cities. Just take this for what it is. Another new Anberlin album. It feels like people hold Cities up so high that they won't be able to enjoy another Anberlin album until that day finally comes where they top it.