Review Summary: Fin.
The curtains are finally closing for Anberlin. The question facing most listeners as they approach the band’s final album is “how will a group renowned for creating epic closing tracks write an end to its entire career"” I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they went all out – there’s no larger-than-life closer, nothing at all to suggest that Anberlin is trying to make a flashy exit. It’s one of the band’s slowest albums, in fact, and there’s a large absence of instrumental demonstration across the board. In spite of all these harsh truths facing Lowborn
, it is still easily one of their best albums to date though – and that is what makes it so damn fascinating from a critical standpoint. To summarize: Stephen Christian put a technically subpar album on his shoulders, sang his heart out, and gave longtime fans a worthy epilogue to an eleven year old story.
Even though Anberlin has reached its conclusion, the vocal and lyrical aspect of the band has just reached its pinnacle. There’s no other way to put it – Christian leaves it all in the studio on this one. Fans of Cities
will be most pleased with the thoughtful lyrics penned on ‘Hearing Voices’, which critiques the hypocrisy of modern religion – “Everyone wants to see heaven, but no one wants to die…everyone wants to know God, but they want to live like he died.” This would have been a fantastic closer, but we’ll have to settle for it merely existing near the end of the record. There’s a true sense of finality to it, which is something that all fans will be seeking here. Christian duplicates his effort on the emotional ‘Losing It All’ – a goodbye track of sorts that exclaims “It’s not losing it all if we have each other” and “As long as you say you are mine, we’ll see the other side together." It’s transparent in terms of what it means, but its execution and the way Stephen Christian delivers it is nothing short of brilliant. Spiritual and other religious implications also runneth over, but it’s not preaching so much as it is Anberlin coming full circle; indulging their deepest beliefs and sharing them with anyone who will listen for one last time.
The massive hooks and catchy choruses that the band has forever been associated with also return, providing Lowborn
with some of the group’s most memorable tracks. ‘Atonement’ comes to mind immediately, and mainly because Christian’s vocals soar high and low to keep up with the most melodic ballad the band has crafted since ‘Unwinding Cable Car.’ The slight electronic wash over the guitar chords and steady drum beats give the atmosphere a lush, almost permeable feeling – as if Christian and company are passing through to a different dimension while performing in the studio. There’s actually a great deal of this occurring throughout Lowborn
. If Anberlin used Vital
to cautiously test the electronic water, then this album is them wading in chest-deep. The alt-rock elements of their early years are still tangible, but this is as far removed from Blueprints For The Black Market
as they have ever been. The evolution feels at its fullest during ‘Armageddon’, a track that defies the vast majority of the band’s roots by rocking to-and-fro with a futuristic beat while fluidly progressing on its gleaming, electronic wax coat. There will certainly be diehard fans who disapprove, but to hell with it. If a band wants to take a victory lap around its career by experimenting – and the results sound pretty good – then it’s not worth picking apart.
To that note, there is
quite a bit here to be picked apart. Lowborn
is Anberlin’s least technically proficient album, opting for simple instrumentation while pushing the vocals to the forefront. In this way, the album is actually closer to Dark is the Way, Light is a Place
than it is to any of the other band’s efforts. Make no mistake, though – this isn’t pop music. The alt-rock elements of their early years are still tangible, which ‘We Are Destroyer’ makes abundantly clear by kicking down the door with a vintage Anberlin staple: crashing guitars with heavy percussion. Most of the time, Lowborn
is characterized by a give-and-take between straightforward rock and a more modernized digital shine, but it’s nice to know that this band – even at the end of its career – can still rock out like it’s nobody’s business. ‘Dissenter’ takes care of those worries, putting forth the heaviest display of percussion, driving riffs, and screaming vocals that Anberlin has ever
displayed. ‘Velvet Covered Brick’ is further evidence that Anberlin has not completely lost their instrumental focus, with an opening riff that will devour your ears and drum fills that ring out like rapid-fire bullets. So, in short, we can rest assuredly that Lowborn
’s relaxed approach is a deliberate choice and not an incapability on the band’s part.
There’s a lot of things that Anberlin could have done differently with Lowborn
. Initially, the slower tempo, along with the absence of “final album epicness” (as I coined it in my head) may be off-putting, especially to fans who conjured up great expectations for an album filled to the brim with clones of ‘Godspeed’, ‘Little Tyrants’, and ‘Fin.’ But this album offers something different, and it’s a quality that may reveal itself with time to be equally as important to listeners as a towering, magnum opus would have been. This album has heart. It’s lyrically representative of everything that Anberlin is, and outside of the fact that they are one of alt-rock’s catchier groups, that has always been the one thing that set this band apart from everyone else. Lowborn
is a gift to fans. Anberlin clearly tries to infuse it with elements from all eras of the band’s existence – it rocks out (even if sparingly), it glides atop glorious melodies, and it fills our minds with imperative questions about ourselves, our beliefs, and our society as a whole. Because of that, Anberlin is a band that will never truly die.