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.
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... --->
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