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JFH Music Review

Anberlin, Lowborn


Artist Info: Discography
Genre(s): Alternative / Rock / New Wave
Album length: 10 tracks: 40 minutes, 4 seconds
Street Date: July 22, 2014

In spite of the innate desires of listeners everywhere, every band has its end. The end, however, can make or break the band's legacy. Early on in 2014, Anberlin announced their final album and tour, and Lowborn, album number seven, is the centerpiece of the band's last year. It's ten tracks that come and go, but its footprint sets up the band's legacy for the better.

Put simply, Lowborn represents the Anberlin that listeners have come to know and admire. But the entire premise of Lowborn's structure seems to resist typical criticism or comparison to previous work. Instead of picking a producer and recording songs as usual, the band chose to create the album on their own terms. Though the band themselves produced the album, the talents of Aaron Sprinkle, Matt Goldman and Aaron Marsh were on hand to record the album's individual aspects, with drums, vocals, and guitars/bass given their own special attention. In the end, the recording process spanned three separate recording studios, but when the parts come together, it's a flush connection.

With this context in mind, Lowborn is an anomaly for a band like Anberlin, and it's especially interesting given the band's current situation. As is the case with every final album, this one serves as the career clincher; there is no "next album," nor can the band blame anyone but themselves for what they released. All of this is to say that the entire concept of Lowborn is a huge risk, and since it hits the mark, it's a glorious finale.

The album's lead single, "Stranger Ways," is a reasonable case study for the type of album Lowborn yearns to be. The track begins with sparse and ominous guitar picking, but slowly builds up to an impressive beat with new-wave synths glittering on the track's surface. The track never explodes in a flashy display, but the entire track knows where it wants to go, almost brooding in its intentions. On its face, "Stranger Ways" is hard to categorize apart from the album, but with the other nine tracks, it's a striking song that expertly hits its notes and sets the tone for the album's concept.

Overall, the album has a wide musical range, which has become the norm for Anberlin's discography. "Armageddon" and "Birds of Prey" have a similar feel to "Stranger Ways" in that they attempt an outside-the-box structure, letting the guitars overpower the song over time. "Dissenter," however, is the true surprise of the tracklisting, finding Stephen Christian screaming for most of the track. While it's certainly uncharacteristic for the band (and perhaps a bit too intense for the album's whole), it demonstrates the band's willingness to experiment in measurable ways late in their career. "We Are Destroyer," "Velvet Covered Brick," and "Hearing Voices" are arguably the most quintessential Anberlin tracks here, full of heavy hitting guitar/synth mixes with Christian's soaring vocals to match.

Akin to the album's Psalm-inspired title, the album explores the concept of life's brevity and humanity's response. Sometimes it's reflective, as in "Atonement" and the album's closer "Harbinger," which sum up the band's thoughts on ending their tenure ("I've found peace in a foreign atonement/I've lost myself in the tides of a moment, but my heart's where I'm going"). It's heartfelt, but the album isn't short of some biting truths either. "We Are Destroyer" degrades the fickle, consumerist lifestyle, while "Birds of Prey" recounts the nature of moving past regrets ("Memories circle like birds of prey/Waiting for the right mind to drive insane/Don't look back there's nothing to see/Regret is nothing more than a lover's disease"). What might be the most biting lyrical truth here comes from "Hearing Voices": "Everyone wants to know God/but they're afraid of what they'll find.../they want to live like He died." Conscious of the fleeting, Anberlin chose an appropriate theme for their last hurrah.

The band re-signed with Tooth & Nail Records for this release, and it's a homecoming that feels right. Lowborn is a far more intricate album than Anberlin's debut (and in many ways it doesn't feel like a standard Tooth & Nail release at all), but it demonstrates just how much the band has grown in over a decade's worth of experience. The band values the journey, however, and all parts of the band's history are represented as a result.

Above all, the band knows they are finite. But they also know that their music lives beyond themselves, making an album like Lowborn that much more special. It's a complete album in every sense, and the creative process that's present here marks a seasoned band that has diversified themselves in fine ways. Anberlin may be done, but their legacy is intact, and Lowborn celebrates that notion in a fitting farewell. class="coversize" align=right> Early Thoughts...
And just like that, Anberlin's impressive run has come to an end. While it's still tough to swallow that the Tooth & Nail legends are hanging it up at the year's end, it's still gratifying to hear one final batch of material, and Lowborn is the satisfying result. In many ways, it seems to follow the same alternative rock course that Anberlin's always taken; the guitars feel aggressive, Stephen Christian's vocals exercise their full range, and every track is easily differentiated from the others while still keeping the album cohesive. But yet it's unlike any of the band's previous albums on an experiential level. Pulling out all of the stops, Anberlin opted to take more risks than might have been expected, and they largely pay off. The new wave influence comes out in full force on "Stranger Ways," "Atonement," "Birds of Prey," and "Harbinger," while "We Are Destroyer," "Hearing Voices," and "Dissenter" are some of the most intense tracks of Anberlin's career (with the latter even featuring a hefty dose of screaming from Christian). The overall concept is unique, and this being the band's seventh album, it's surprisingly both uncharacteristic of and exactly what listeners could have expected. This early on, there's a certain finality to Lowborn that increases its intrinsic value from the start, but since Anberlin has always been a group to keep challenging themselves creatively, these ten tracks represent the band's remarkable growth in demonstrative forms. Showcasing the concepts that Anberlin has always been known for--risk, power, and heart--Lowborn is essential listening for the year, and it's shaping up to be a deserving swan song for a beloved band... --->

- Preview Review date: 7/2/14, Review date: 7/20/14, written by Roger Gelwicks of

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JFH Staff's Second Opinion

Anberlin is a group that captured our hearts in 2003 with their debut Blueprints For the Black Market and cemented that love with their follow-up, Never Take Friendship Personal. Even when they made a weaker album like New Surrender, the guys were still doing it better than most and provided an enjoyable experience. 2014 finds the guys releasing their final album in Lowborn. One listen proves it's apparent that Anberlin is going out on their own terms. Instead of harkening back to the Cities-era sound most fans love so much, they have instead opted for an 80's dominated sound with a strong dose of new wave influence. While I was hoping for a little more than 10 tracks for their final go-around, Stephen Christian and company have offered up a solid collection of tunes nonetheless. "We Are Destroyer" is a solid rocker that opens the record with great energy, but the 80's vibe creeps in quickly with "Armageddon." The top song for me is "Velvet Covered Brick." Anberlin mixes the rocking sound they are known for into the chorus and slows the verse to a calmer 80's feel that meshes nicely with the rest of the album. The only song that really becomes an auto skip is the somewhat industrial feel of "Dissenter." Christian's continuous scream throughout the entire songs grows old very soon (This is coming from a big metal fan too) and the track itself just seems to stick out from the rest of the bunch. On top of strong tunes are great messages in the lyrics. Just take a look at "Atonement" for a good example. While this isn't the Anberlin album the selfish fan in me wanted for their grand finale, it's a really nice send-off regardless and it's nice to see them go out the way they wanted. While it's doubtful that this will become most fan's favorite record, it will be one that every Anberlin fan should enjoy. July 22, 2014 will be a sad day for many, but we should focus on all of the joy Anberlin has brought us over the past 11 years instead of the sadness of their departure. On a final note… If you have never been to an Anberlin show, you should definitely try to catch them on their final tour. It will be well worth the price of admission. - Review date: 7/20/14, Michael Weaver



JFH Staff's Additional 2 Cents

    Saying goodbye is never easy when it's to something or someone close to your heart. When you've followed a band for over a decade and their music has been a soundtrack for a significant part of your life, it's especially bittersweet when a band releases a final album and announces one last tour for a long final bow. "Bittersweet" is the best way to sum up Lowborn, the band's last batch of 10 new songs. With it also being the band's shortest album, there's a definite sense of finality to it, with the earnestness of their previous album, Vital, notably missing here. It's a mostly calm and pensive finale, with highlights like the rocker "We Are Destroyer" and the restrained "Armageddon," "Hearing Voices" and "Birds of Prey." The album is largely influenced with New Wave, 80's synth-based stylings, but it works for the somber tone of the album. The only blight, and arguably so, is the fast and furious "Dissenter" which sounds like it wandered onto the wrong album from the B-sides bin. On a different album, it might be seen as exploration and something different for Anberlin, but on an album that's mostly subdued and melodic, it feels obnoxious. Still, by the time the closer "Harbinger" sounds, it's a farewell kiss that lingers. This may not be the mighty bow-out that all fans were hoping for, but it's easily some of the best alt rock of the year, regardless. - 7/20/14, John DiBiase of

    It's hard to process when a band you've fallen in love with decides to end their run. It's even harder when that run has been one of the strongest and most consistent, and happened to take place during, and be a soundtrack for, pivotal moments in life (getting a girlfriend, moving out for the first time, getting a different girlfriend, etc). This is Anberlin. I've been a fan since the opening riffs of "Readyfuels" in 2003. Now here we are with their final album, Lowborn. It's bittersweet, to say the least. But the quintet returns to Tooth & Nail giving it all they've got. Lowborn features all the idiosyncrasies you look for in an Anberlin album, plus more. The powerful rock anthems, the Depeche Mode-esque synthy tracks, and all the Stephen Christian musing you can handle. They've also added a miniscule amount of dubstep ("Armageddon") and one track that falls somewhere between Anberlin rock and emocore. Hearing Christian scream through the majority of a whole song is a little hard to process at first, but it turns out to be a good listen ("Dissenter"). I even hear a little Dead Poetic influence in "Hearing Voices." Anberlin is a class act, and Lowborn is an excellent way to go out. Of course, there's nothing that says that we'll never have another Anberlin album in our hands (remember, we all thought we'd never hear from Five Iron Frenzy again), it's still a sad thing to have to give them a farewell. They've left quite a legacy. Thank you, Anberlin, for the music you've given us and for playing a part of the last eleven years of my life. - 7/25/14, Scott Fryberger of

    Lowborn is a lot more mellow than what anyone might have expected for the final album of a beloved band. While "We Are Destroyer," "Velvet Covered Brick," and "Losing It All" carry the sound that Anberlin fans have grown to know and love, the two best songs ("Armageddon" and "Birds Of Prey") hit our ears out of left field, the former with its slow-building new wave synths, guitars and percussive beats, and the latter for its synthy hook and reflective lyrics ("Memories circle like birds of prey / Waiting for the right mind to drive insane / Don't look back, there's nothing to see /The grave is nothing more than a re-occurring disease"). "Hearing Voices" is another highlight, sounding like it could fit well onto Dark Is The Way Light Is a Place, and containing possibly the band's most overt spiritual themes ever. Unfortunately, Lowborn's biggest flaw is one that had been growing more and more evident on their recent albums, which is that the music often overpowers Stephen Christian's vocals to the point of intelligibility. But overall, while Lowborn may not be the "final album" most fans hoped it would be, that does not detract from its excellence. - 8/2/14, Mark Rice of

    Anberlin's Lowborn is perhaps the most distinct transformation that has ever taken place in band's history. While Vital did some minor experimenting with late 80s/early 90s era of electronic rock music in tunes like "Other Side" and "Innocent," Lowborn takes on a more prominent approach with a dark and edgy synthpop tone. It makes for a very interesting style as it exhibits qualities from past albums like Violator by Depeche Mode ("Stranger Ways," "Armageddon"), Technique by New Order, The Police, Code of Ethics (1993), and Technokraci. "Dissenter" is one of the most unique songs by Anberlin as Stephen Christian's vocals are very static and it feels out of place on this release, although towards the end of the song, we are provided with a very beautiful and peaceful segment. The album truly shines with the appropriate opener, "We Are Destroyer," as well as the lively, yet dark track, "Stranger Ways." At the end of the album, "Hearing Voices" provides some of the most incredible drum work yet by Nathan Young. "Harbinger" ends the album with a sad feeling which captures an emotion of just how we will truly miss this band. Even though this will be the last official release; Lowborn, along with their impressive catalog of other albums, have outlined moments throughout my existence ("Inevitable," "Time & Confusion" and now "Birds of Prey" are among some of the tunes that recall life events). Although this album is certainly a departure from past releases, it still provides a fresh sound that becomes more rewarding after each listen. - 8/5/14, Wayne Myatt of



. Record Label: Tooth & Nail Records
. Album length: 10 tracks: 40 minutes, 4 seconds
. Street Date: July 22, 2014
. Buy It: iTunes
. Buy It: iTunes
. Buy It: AmazonMP3
. Buy It: (CD)
. Buy It: (Vinyl)

  1. We Are Destroyer (3:29)
  2. Armageddon (4:05)
  3. Stranger Ways (4:42)
  4. Velvet Covered Brick (3:56)
  5. Atonement (4:17)
  6. Birds of Prey (3:55)
  7. Dissenter (3:15)
  8. Losing It All (4:14)
  9. Hearing Voices (3:34)
  10. Harbinger (4:37)
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