Review Summary: Anberlin smartly evolves while continuing to solidify their position as one of the best alternative rock bands around.
Anberlin have always known exactly who they are. It’s why everything from Blueprints For The Black Market
to Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
has sounded completely unflappable. The band remained steadfast in their approach for so long that they’ve managed to release a “three-peat” of commercially successful alternative rock albums, including the revered Cities
– an album that they unwittingly turned into a perpetually unattainable milestone. Sure, slight modifications have been implemented along the way...Never Take Friendship Personal
grit its teeth to show the band’s slightly more aggressive side, while their latest efforts have pushed in more of an anthemic, stadium-filling direction. As we approach Anberlin’s sixth full-length piece, we find them in the midst of their most noticeable departure – a passionately resonating, electronic-underscored tour de force that somehow never betrays their true essence.
It’s nothing out of the ordinary, really, for a group that has managed to remain astoundingly consistent across a discography that now spans almost an entire decade. The reaction of long-time fans might be something like, “this is amazing, as if they would give us anything less.” Little time was wasted in evoking such a reaction, with the energy-brimming ‘Self-Starter’ doing just what it implies via an incredible opening drum sequence, high-strung electric guitars, and Stephen Christian’s electronically-altered vocals. There’s a lot of that kind of thing on Vital
, a record that boasts heavy use of electronics without ever completely relying on it. The awe-inspiring atmosphere on ‘Other Side’ never would have come to fruition had it not been for this; nor would the ethereal intros that surface on songs like ‘Type 3.’ We’ve witnessed enough in the past to foreshadow such a progression – the oddly infectious synth line in ‘There Is No Mathematics to Love or Loss’ from five years ago, and the reverberated backbeat featured in ‘Art of War’ a mere two years back. But despite the evidence hanging right within our line of sight, an evolution this profound still manages to shake us to the core; resplendently exploding into aesthetically pleasing waves of sound every time we expect Christian & co. to settle back into their old, familiar groove.
Much to its benefit, though, Vital
isn’t completely about the slick and smoothed over. For all of its electronic and production tactics, there’s still a comforting sense of true identity – of core foundation
– that outshines most of the album’s experimental qualities. There’s not a single Anberlin fan (who’s been around long enough to bang his or her head to ‘Godspeed’, anyway) that won’t find ‘Little Tyrants’ to be equally infectious. With a straight-forward rock approach featuring heavy riffs and plenty of howling oh-oh-oh’s
, the song aptly preserves the momentum created by opener ‘Self-Starter.’ Perhaps more importantly, it lays to waste the kind of “faux-heaviness” of tracks such as ‘We Owe This To Ourselves’, where the band used fast tempos and semi-defiant lyrics as a disguise for Christian’s lacking vocal aggression. On Vital
, Christian is as close as he’s ever come to reverting to his Never Take Friendship Personal
days, and that’s a prospect that should excite anyone who thought New Surrender
and Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
were dulled down by the vocalist’s strict reliance on agreeable, melodic vocals. Then there’s ‘God, Drugs & Sex’, an epic closer certain to conjure memories of the band’s crowning achievement off of Cities
, ‘Fin.’ Clocking in at just over six minutes, it delicately weaves Stephen Christian’s most angelic of vocals in with Christine DuPree’s, a duet that proves to be quite mesmerizing when laid over top of the slow, echoing drum beat that dictates the song’s momentum. It doesn’t touch ‘Fin’, but the ballad’s lush atmosphere is more than enough to send Vital
floating off to the sky in gorgeous but stark contrast to the style in which it arrived.
Even if it isn’t the best album they’ve ever made, Vital
is perhaps the smartest. Here Anberlin evolves, trading some of their of rock n’ roll grit for a smooth, electronic-influenced sound that better suits Stephen Christian’s pure, otherworldly vocals. The pop-leaning traits of New Surrender
and, more distinctively, Dark Is the Way, Light Is A Place
, are present in the sleeker (and bolder) sounding production, but they don’t overpower the raw aspects of the music like they used to. Their core sound, if slightly altered, still remains intact – with sweeping strings, full-sounding acoustics, and compelling electronic components acting as the new driving force behind Christian’s breathtaking vocals. It’s a new era for Anberlin, one that both new fans and diehards should have no problem agreeing upon.