Unlike many, I was quite late in discovering the musical prowess and endeavors of the Florida based quintet, Anberlin. For the longest time, I had absolutely no idea who they were, what they had achieved, and what they were aiming to represent. Now that I mention it, I'm still able to recall the moment that I became aware of their musical existence. There was a obnoxiously large banner on this very website promoting their recent signing to Universal Records, and there was also information accompanying the image stating that their latest full-length would be arriving later within the year. Just a week prior, I had discovered the daring piano driven beauty of Everything In Transit courtesy of Jack's Mannequin - a record that greatly impacted and altered my taste in music to the point where I was no longer satisfied with playful power chords, predictable song structures and contrived lyrics. All aforementioned musical traits were a staple of my limited music collection to that point in 2008. That blend and style of music was all I had ever known, it was all that I had ever really been exposed to during my youth, and so at the time of discovering Anberlin I was searching somewhat aimlessly in a desperate attempt to find new music that could successfully charm, captivate and absorb me like I had never previously known or experienced.
As it turns out, that over sized banner that I was forced to view every time I scoured the AbsolutePunk front page for the latest news and updates intrigued me to the point where I felt compelled to, at the very least, give them the briefest moment of my time. I hurriedly, impatiently typed in the band name into a search engine, and I clicked upon the first track that I was able to see. From the moment the subdued and equally luscious finger-picked guitar tones of, "Dismantle Repair" drifted and danced elegantly through the sporadic static of my speakers, I was motionlessly mesmerized. I was hooked by the opening verse as it subtly attempted to lull me, its lone audience member, into its dark and brooding atmosphere only mere moments before a stunning chorus was to fiercely explode with all the momentum, passion and pulsating energy that it could muster. I'm not even sure it would be possible to count the sheer amount of times I replayed that tune over the next few hours. I searched the lyrics and I sung along to every line in unison with lead vocalist Stephen Christian as if the song was my own, and then I took the massive step of purchasing the album that, "Dismantle Repair" was taken from; Cities.
This would be my first experience listening to a full Anberlin album, and I recall being so impressed with its underlying direction and overall cohesiveness. It was everything I wanted and needed musically at the time. As anyone would do, I then decided to backtrack and explore their discography. It was a wise decision that resulted in quite a powerful connection being built over time with the band's sophomore release, Never Take Friendship Personal. Yet, unfortunately, I could never really relate to the debut, Blueprints For the Black Market due in part to its poor production values and the fact that the band hadn't yet found their own signature sound. Consequently, I've always been of the opinion that the album itself is quite bland and forgettable outside of a select few tracks that I'll occasionally return to. Alas, Cities and Never Take Friendship Personal kept me occupied and entertained throughout my first full year of college education in Melbourne, but by that time I had overplayed these two particular records to the point where I felt a growing detachment taking place. My music tastes were broadening yet again, but this time I was so immersed in the world of indie and folk music- genres that still hold my attention and capture my heart more than any other to this day.
I temporarily fell out of love with Anberlin. That overlarge banner had long since disappeared from the front page, the album that it was promoting had already been released and I watched curiously, but entirely removed from the topic as the reaction to New Surrender was far from unanimously positive. From the outside looking in, I heard cries that it was a regression, that the band had lost their spark, they had misplaced a majority of what made them so unique, original and special. I watched as the album was essentially tossed aside in favor of other releases, but by that time I was engrossed within the world of A Book Like This by Angus and Julia Stone, I was captured by Sad Robots by Stars, and so I let my view of Anberlin continue to fall by the wayside. In fact, I still hadn't bothered to give any time or attention to New Surrender by the time that their follow-up, Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place was released to varying degrees or mixed emotions and feelings.
Eventually I was ready and prepared to dedicate adequate time back into the band and the previous two records that they had worked so painstakingly hard to create. I was at a time in my life where I could love the indie music that I hold so close to me, but I could also finally experience enjoyment and find redeeming qualities within the music and bands that I used to love, also. After all, every band and artist I've ever loved has directly contributed to developing my taste in music into what it is today. It may sound silly to those who haven't been through it, but it took me quite a long time to realize that and get to that point. I quickly fell in love with New Surrender from my initial listen, and I readily admit that I still sometimes struggle to understand why the record is perceived so poorly and judged so harshly. "Breaking" is so energetic and the chorus is enormous, "Retrace" is beautifully delivered and the lyrics are penned so poetically, "Breathe" is a slow-building ballad with guitar tones reminiscent of "The Unwinding Cable Car", and "Haight St." has that addictive, soaring sing-along chorus that refuses to leave your head for days after succumbing to its melodies. I'm slightly less positive about Dark Is The Way in that it was great for the first few weeks, but then the choruses began to fall flat, the melodies turned tiresome and the record, at least in my own personal opinion, suffered as a direct consequence.
That leads me to the present. Until this evening, I've never really considered formulating any meaningful first impressionable thoughts regarding upcoming releases, and there are two main reasons as to why this has been the case over my writing and reviewing career to date. Firstly, for anyone who has read any of my previous reviews on this website, you'll more than likely be aware that I prefer to incorporate as much detail and analysis as I possibly can into my album reviews. I listen to the records extensively and I explore every individual facet of the record as thoroughly as can be until I'm satisfied and comfortable enough to sit down and compile six (or maybe closer to a dozen!) lengthy paragraphs on why you should, or in some cases, should not purchase the record in question. The second reason is intertwined directly to the first in that consequently, first impressions don't complement my writing style. In fact, first impressions are designed to be short, spontaneous, and can change quite drastically over the course of multiple repeat listens. As such, I may potentially have a completely different mindset regarding this release tomorrow, next week, next month, or even through to October when Vital is due for its worldwide release. I would also like to note that I will not be reviewing this record on behalf of AbsolutePunk, and whoever has that distinct honor will undoubtedly do a wonderful job.
I've heard the comment thrown around that Christian has stated Vital is their heaviest record to date, and whether that is indeed an actual quote from the frontman, I encourage audiences to refrain from going into this record believing that you're going to hear anything too aggressive around every corner. There are certain tracks that do indeed embrace a heaviness long since lost since the days of Cities, but it's never heavy for the sake of being heavy, and it's always deliberately juxtaposed and contrasts well with the quieter elements of the band. The melodies have not been forgotten, the choruses are much more original and have far more substance and replay value than those featured on Dark Is The Way, which is another enormous positive. It's difficult to say whether fans will enjoy this record as much as I currently am because I've never been downright disappointed with the material Anberlin create and I possibly don't hold them to the same immeasurably high standards that other individuals do, but I am confident enough to declare that everyone will find something to love throughout the duration of Vital.
Just for the sake of a brief teaser, "Other Side" is unequivocally my favorite track on the release after a few listens. Synth and heavy waves of distortion are prominent from the outset and a piano driven melody propels the track forward at a very deliberate rate. It's quite a beautiful introduction that makes the listener feel uneasy, as though the track itself is cloaked in equal amounts of impenetrable darkness and fierce moodiness. Christian's vocals cautiously waltz into the mix soon after, but the unsettling atmosphere is only further heightened when you hear that there are multiple of his own whispered vocal layers lurking hidden away and barely audible below a surface of reverb and minor key melodies. As a listener, you're just trying to make sense of the foreign surroundings that you find yourself in within "Other Side", but you're incapable of doing so as Christian continues, "Will we ever get the chance to walk alone in this life when we find out that we're home?" It's at this precise moment that those whispers within the background begin to sinisterly hiss, the production sounds like it's on the verge of tearing chaotically at the seams, and everything that has come before it culminates in the most stunning chorus you're likely to locate on Vital. Spiraling guitars wail heavily in unison, drumbeats pulsate aggressively, keyboards fluctuate and melodies soar to previously unseen heights as Christian succumbs to the outpouring of emotions the track has been able to conjure to this point. He sings with a startling sense of frailty and wounding vulnerability, hints of desperation etched into his pleading and high-rising delivery, "Love me, love me, why don't you know me? Hold me, hold me and you'll trust me, trust me."
As I mentioned earlier, it's debatable as to whether everyone will gravitate towards this release like they did in regards to Cities, but they're back to somewhere resembling their finest. From a selfish standpoint, I love it and that's good enough for me. As I'm so heavily invested in the indie and folk genres, it's so nice to be assured that there are still bands like Anberlin who continue to keep me coming back to this type of music. Vital is released this October, so make sure you pick it up!