Goodbyes are never easy, but having a little prior notice certainly makes the event a touch more palatable. For Florida alternative rock powerhouse Anberlin, goodbye comes in the form of one final album – Lowborn – a fitting farewell in nearly every capacity.
Truthfully, it takes a lot of guts to go out this way. For a band with one of the most solid front-to-back discographies of the past decade, there’s a bit of a risk of tarnishing the band’s legacy with a faulty final step. Then again, Anberlin has never been known to disappoint.
The band returned to their original home at Tooth and Nail Records to release their final record, and hit the studio with their self-proclaimed dream team of Aaron Marsh, Matt Goldman and Aaron Sprinkle to record in a creative, pressure-free environment. The resulting product is not only a solid album in its own right, but also serves as an honest depiction of the band as they truly are in 2014.
Throughout Lowborn, Anberlin sidestep many of their own conventions, slighting stark tempo and atmospheric changes between tracks in favor of a slow burn. Lowborn’s songs seem to brood from one to the next, creating a steady swell that keeps you on your toes. Yes, “We Are Destroyer” serves as a combative opener and “Dissenter” refuses to fit within the album’s gentle flow, but as a whole, this might be the most concise and moody album in the band’s discography.
Lowborn finds Anberlin finally chasing a synthpop/alt-rock blend head-on throughout most of the record, sounding more like late-80’s New Order or Depeche Mode than a band you’d find on Warped Tour. The band has dabbled successfully in this sound before on their 2010 album Dark is the Way, Light is the Place, but this 2014 version is a more fully-realized effort.
“Armageddon” lays down grooving synthesizers and bass that flow subtly underneath vocalist Stephen Christian’s haunting lower register. Single “Stranger Ways” starts slow as well, but picks up pace behind Nate Young’s drums to push the song to a breathtaking crescendo at the end of the song’s second verse. Meanwhile, the synthesizers and guitars find their perfect blend on “Atonement”, allowing Christian to carry the song over the top during a chorus of, “Don’t want to be here / Don’t want to be here without you / I need to know you / I need to know you believe in me”.
Thematically, Lowborn is all about brevity, and fittingly, goodbyes. Even without any backstory, you get the uncomfortable urge to grasp at an unknown, fleeting moment. Throughout their history, Anberlin has had a knack for conveying story and emotion throughout the course of an album – the same stands true here. Lowborn moves patiently and darkly, remorseful of its own end while still managing to capture hope and reflection inside of the songs’ often surprising melodies.
So where does Lowborn fall within Anberlin’s superb discography? Its lack of oomph and diversity keep it from landing alongside Cities or Vital as the band’s best work, but it’s undoubtedly a more mature album than early releases like Blueprints for the Black Market or Never Take Friendship Personal. Instead, Lowborn fits well alongside Dark is the Way as an expression of the band’s obvious 80’s influences and ability to branch far beyond the typical alt-rock boundaries. That is to say, it’s a damn good album.
It’s hard to imagine the rock scene of the past decade without Anberlin. The band not only sparked a fire in the early-aughts post-punk landscape, but also managed a number one single on rock radio and became a nationally recognized name associated with intelligent and thoughtful, but aggressive rock. Their final lineup of Christian, Young, guitarists Joseph Milligan and Christian McAlhaney, and bassist Deon Rexroat has been one of the most formidable and talented lineups in recent memory.
Anberlin will truly be hard to replace. But then again, maybe we don’t have to. With seven solid albums released over the course of 11 years, the band left behind more than a few memories to carry on. Bookending that list is Lowborn, a proper and commendable final chapter.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.
Well, their sound changed, like almost all bands, but good album though.