In the minds of many a listener, 2007 was Anberlin's year. With the release of the band's third album on Tooth & Nail Records, Cities, it was lauded with critical acclaim, even deemed by some as one of the greatest Christian market rock records of all time. With this being established, it came as little surprise when Anberlin was signed to major label Universal Republic Records that next summer, and the band's resulting debut at their new home, New Surrender, couldn't have been more anticipated. But upon its release, some hated it and some loved it. However, now the time has come for New Surrender's follow up, Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place, to make its move, and it proves to be a very thoughtful, well-executed album in almost every area.
To sum up the overall feel of Dark Is The Way... is a bit tricky. Every track is easily differentiable from the others, and with plenty of variety to boot, the album stays captivating from beginning to end. Stephen Christian's signature vocals sound better than ever; the album feels built around them, with an array of gut-wrenching notes to meet his skill and range. The catchy "We Owe This To Ourselves" gets the listener in the mood for the record ahead. With a legitimately skillful guitar riff guiding the song and Christian's soaring vocals layered on top, it's very classic Anberlin material that starts off the album perfectly. Dark Is The Way...'s lead single "Impossible" follows, and while it is the most accessible song on the record, it's also one of the most accomplished. With a good mix of synths and guitars on the chorus and lyrics screaming with desperation, it's a seemingly simple, but overall alluring track from the album. The ballads "Take Me (As You Found Me)" and "You Belong Here" don't bring too many surprises to the table, but like previous material, they don't disappoint for the type of songs they are.
Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place dabbles in enough experimentation to keep things somewhat unpredictable. "Pray Tell" is filled with stomp-and-clap percussion, and is one of the lyrical gems of the record ("Hide away, why do you hide away from me?/Hide yourself, why do you hide yourself from me?/I'm the only one that can save you now"). Is she hiding in shame or out of reluctance to help? What is perhaps the darkest song is "Closer," with a sense of murkiness and pounding in the chorus that's hard to ignore in the tracklisting. But what is one of the most epic, proficient tracks on Dark Is The Way... is found in "The Art of War." With a mountainous bass line, an atmospheric element in the chorus, and a straining guitar solo over the bridge, it stands out from the rest of the record in dramatic fashion and is possibly the best track. The album comes to close with the acoustic "Down" and the trademark extended song, "Depraved." Leaving us with "you're not a slave, so get off your knees," it's a memorable and climatic finish to the record.
The only track that really lacks from the album is "To the Wolves," and this for a variety of reasons. The guitar parts feel canned and average, and with a somewhat childish chorus for a break-up song ("Who needs enemies when we've got friends like you?"). In all honesty, this will be a track easy to forgive for some, but in light of the rest of the epic album, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It's also worth noting that with the variety of tracks on the record, there's a bit of inconsistency with the album's concept. While "The Art of War" exclaims "Because of you, I'll never write another love song," listeners will ironically find love ballads on the same record. However, the thoughtful listener can interpret this differently; Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place, as signified by its title, is an album of emotional extremes. For every dreary track on the album, there's another of the opposite sentiment.
For a ten track album, Dark Is The Way... indeed still feels a little short, and with one notably inferior track in the mix, it certainly isn't a perfect album. As far as how it measures up to their previous work, it feels fairly obvious that Cities still has yet to be bested, but those who were jaded by New Surrender have the potential to be won back by the rock quintet's latest effort. But what else can be said except that Anberlin is still in the game of creating extraordinary records, and September finds the band bringing us what could easily be considered an overall highlight for 2010. Saddle up for one this year's best efforts yet.- PReview date: 8/13/10, Review date: 9/3/10, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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