Anberlin has never made more excellent music than this, it's just a shame the lyrics can't keep up with the musical quality.
Posted January 04, 2011
Over the past couple years, Anberlin has made a lot of headway into the realm of popularity. After their 2008 release New Surrender, some fans thought the band had “sold out” due to the poppy vibe that permeated the album, but at the same time hit singles “Breaking” and the re-recorded “Feel Good Drag” propelled the band into more mainstream popularity than ever before. In 2010, the pressure was on as Anberlin entered the studio to record Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place, which needed to satisfy fans who were gained by their previous release and also those who were turned off by it, and the result is a short but sweet work of art that is the band’s best recording to date musically, but leans toward the weak side lyrically, finding itself somewhere between the darker vibe of 2007’s Cities and the poppy, upbeat feel of New Surrender.
The album kicks off with one of its strongest tracks in the fantastic rock anthem “We Owe This To Ourselves.” Lyrically the apparent self-centeredness bugs me (because we really owe nothing to ourselves and everything to our God), but musically it’s simply excellent. The energy and epic drumbeats give it a powerful fist-pumping sort of feel. Lead single “Impossible” follows as a song that almost sounds like a dance track of the past, but the vibe, guitar work, and vocals are totally Anberlin, and the whole group is clearly right in their element on the catchy and fun track.
“Take Me (As You Found Me)” and “You Belong Here” are strong pop ballads despite the forgettable lyrics that turn them into fairly cliché love songs; in fact, I think both of them could have been much stronger lyrically if the song titles’ concepts were applied more to the relationship between God and man. However, “You Belong Here” still makes itself memorable with its whimsical piano opening and lovely chorus. Both songs offer Stephen Christian opportunities to shine vocally in a softer light, showcasing what may be some of his finest singing yet recorded, while the track in between those two, “Closer” reveals another side to his voice that’s harsher and a little more intense, but equally phenomenal. Lyrically this one is also on the weak side, resorting to a bare-bones chorus that mostly repeats the song’s one word title a few times, though it’s still thoroughly enjoyable and well done musically as a harder-hitting rocker.
The finishing chord of “Closer” then gives way to the pounding drumbeats that open up “Pray Tell,” which is possibly the band’s best song ever, musically speaking. It’s strikingly unique and creative, while still feeling just enough like an Anberlin track to fit. The awesome drums never let up as they seem to take the lead throughout the song, and Christian’s superb vocals and some solid guitar work push the song into even further excellence. “Art of War” follows as one of the most depressing songs on the album lyrically (“Because of you I’ll never write another love song”) but musically it’s notably unique and atmospheric, though in a very different way than “Pray Tell.”
“To the Wolves” continues the depressing lyrical content about betrayal in a relationship, but manages to succeed musically in being a dark and effective rocker, as Christian growls “To the wolves, you left me to the wolves.” Acoustic ballad “Down” follows with little distinction to bring to the table musically or lyrically, especially when compared to past Anberlin masterpieces such as “The Unwinding Cable Car,” though it’s fair enough in its own right and still gives off the intended feel.
Finally, the album closes with “Depraved.” For a long time I think I misunderstood this song’s lyrics, as they seem to make excuses for depravity and say, “You’re not a slave, so get off your knees,” when in fact everyone is a slave to someone or something, whether it be God or some earthly thing that reigns in His rightful place. But as I took it less at face value and thought about it more, the lyrics seemed to take on a less sketchy meaning, like maybe they’re just saying you’re not a slave to sin, so stop worshiping it, or something like that. But unfortunately, it’s very short on lyrics and resorts to repeating the same lines over and over, making it hard to fully develop the song’s ideas. Musically the song is definitely epic and atmospheric, but it isn’t as coherent as it should be, making it a weaker closer than the band’s past two finishing songs.
When it’s all said and done, Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place is quite simply a fantastic piece of musical excellence in the world of alternative rock music. The weak and often cliché lyrics definitely hold the album back from realizing its full potential, but the music is so well crafted and the performance is so rock solid that it’s hard to think very lowly of this album. Once you take into account the fact that there are only 10 tracks (making this the shortest Anberlin album yet), it further deepens the partial disappointment, but then again, those 10 songs are so sweet musically that it’s hard to ignore the album’s high level of overall quality. For me, it’s hard to love or hate Anberlin’s latest work, but Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place is still a wholly worthwhile album for Anberlin fans or anyone who just wants some quality alternative rock music.
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