Review Summary: They owe this to themselves
Remember Anberlin" They were those guys three years ago that everyone, other than the Tooth & Nail label, wanted to see make it to the big time. When their chance in the spotlight finally came with 2008’s New Surrender
, the Winter Haven-based group slipped up a bit on us unfortunately, making an album seemingly born out of pressure via their recent signing with major label Universal Republic, rather than out of the pure and refined inspiration that had birthed their prior artistic achievement, 2007’s Cities
Two years later and we find ourselves in a situation where we have become skeptical of Anberlin and what they will do in the spotlight. Frontman Stephen Christian’s promise that fifth studio album Dark is the Way, Light is a Place
would be darker and essentially better than New Surrender
did little to alleviate our hesitations, especially since the promise was coming from the same guy who had just said two years earlier that Anberlin’s lackluster major label debut was to be the band’s best work yet.
In a way, Stephen Christian sort of missed the mark in detailing Dark is the Way
’s sound for us, as the album is not all that dark or edgy as a whole. In fact, the first half mostly comprises of ballad-esque tracks, and a lot of what you will find here is not so unlike a combination of Cities
and Never Take Friendship Personal
’s material. This pattern first begins with generic lead single “Impossible”, a track seemingly tailor-made for Top-40 radio and all forty-year-old women alike, and continues on through the three cuts that follow, all containing a similar feel and sound, though varying in individual quality.
“Take Me (As You Found Me)” is what New Surrender
’s “Retrace” should have sounded like; Christian pens a longing love song here that can be easily related to a lover, or even God in a religious context. But fourth cut “Closer” is arguably the best of the ballad-run, though, the band joining together with driving, distorted guitars and Christians’ passionate delivery of “Closer, Closer, Closer
” in the choruses that only get better and stronger with repeated listens. Save for the opener “We Owe This To Ourselves”, in which the band almost seems to apologize for New Surrender
, the first half of Dark is the Way
is Anberlin at their most intimate and longing, not at their most dark and edgy.
This changes a little bit once “Pray Tell” comes half-way into Dark is the Way
's length, however, as the desperate relationship that the album has up until this point revolved around suddenly becomes full of tension and negative feelings. An Anberlin that is not so unlike that of their Never Take Friendship Personal
-era is then brought to the forefront for the remainder of album, with a more passionate, angry Christian taking the mic, as well as coming in tow with more heavy, driving guitars from guitarists Joseph Milligam and Christian McAlhaney.
“Art of War” is a future single in the making that's destined to follow in the footsteps of the band’s most popular hit, “Feel Good Drag”. The song broods steadily on drum beats and light keyboard tones as Christian comes in with a hurt delivery in the verse, building dramatically up to Dark is the Way
’s best chorus hook thus far: “There are songs that I will never write / Because of you walking out of my life
.” It’s the same desperation and longing feeling that fueled Cities
’ fan-favorite “Dismantle. Repair.”, and along with closer “Depraved”, this is the best that Dark is the Way
has to offer. The finale falls short of being as great as “(Fin)”, however, but it does succeed in containing a satisfying duel-chorus hook that hits twice as hard on the next go around.
This is a quality that can be found on much of Dark is the Way
, whether that’s in context of the softer first half or the more tense second half: the album, much like most of Anberlin's pre-major label material, is very grow-able in the long run. The problem of ballads train-wrecking into Anberlin’s staple alt-rock numbers on New Surrender
is largely alleviated here as well, and while an almost direct line is oddly drawn between the album’s ballad-esque love songs and the dark, angst-y rockers half-way into the album's length, Dark is the Way
sounds very natural throughout its playing time, save for a few skip-able numbers. Cities
this may not be, but Dark is the Way
does sit comfortably next to Never Take Friendship Personal
in the level of its quality, as well as presents to us an Anberlin that's sounding confident again, well on their way to becoming the stars in the spotlight that we originally wanted them to be.