There’s something existentially beautiful about those rare, unpredictable moments when an album or a song arrives in your life at exactly the right time. Music is a universal language, and it makes sense that it would impact us in these ways throughout our lives. It’s weird and random, but profoundly deep. It also tends to weaken our objectivity.
I say this because I believe Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is the best of Anberlin’s seven studio albums. You should probably take my opinion on this matter with a grain of salt, because it arrived in my life at the perfect time for me to end up feeling this way. And while I know this about myself, it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this opinion.
It should also be said that Anberlin never released a weak album, something that elevates their stature as modern day rock legends. It’s easy to hear arguments for albums like Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, and Vital and feel swayed. There isn’t really a wrong answer, but I’m often surprised at how little I hear the argument made for Dark is the Way.
I think the reason is found in the band’s own admission about the creation of the album itself. Leading up to the release, they described it as their “punk” album – not in genre, but in concept. Dark is the Way is Anberlin’s Kid A. It’s their Yeezus. There are elements found here that were further explored on Vital and Lowborn, but by and large, there is no direct sonic comparison to be made with any of their other work.
Coming on the heels of the band’s mainstream breakout with New Surrender, they entered the studio with Brendon O’Brien, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. It’s the kind of opportunity that strikes when you’re on a major label and just had one of the biggest rock records in recent memory (“Feel Good Drag”).
Anberlin didn’t necessarily take it as an opportunity to make an even bigger single or strike gold again. They took it as a chance to explore parts of themselves that they couldn’t under any other circumstance. It was the right move. Dark is the Way is not littered with “hits,” but it features some of the band’s best songwriting and still feels like a daring attempt to make something that would change the way people talked about the band.
From the loud, fuzzy intro of “We Owe This to Ourselves” to the dark, brooding “Closer” to percussion-powered “Pray Tell”, the album features endless moments of exploration and experimentation. But it does so while sounding like the band had been writing this way all along. Stephen Christian’s vocals soar in new ways on the chorus of “You Belong Here” and sounds angrier than ever on “To the Wolves”. Each track feels distinct without ever jumping off the rails.
The summer of 2010 was unquestionably the worst of my life. By the time September rolled around, it felt like months of emotional turmoil had finally begun to subside, ever so slightly. I was ready to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Dark is the Way, Light is the Place happened to be the exact thematic therapy I needed.
I still can’t listen to “The Art of War” or “Down” without shedding tears. I can’t experience this album without feeling everything I was feeling at that moment of my life. I felt alone, and Dark is the Way felt like a companion because it seemed to understand and articulate everything I was feeling. There are only a handful of albums that do that in one lifetime, and this one may be near the top for me.
Shortly after the album’s release, I made the bold move of reaching out to Stephen Christian via social media, sharing my story with him, expecting no response. I’ll never forget my feeling of shock when he replied. Or the comfort in the kind words he offered. I’ll never forget how the experience of everything this album made me feel gave me the courage to start writing again. And how that led to opportunity which led to the creation of this very website.
So I’m biased. And I’m fine with that. I do believe that Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, and everything it encompasses, stands as Anberlin’s finest hour. But even if it’s not, it will always mean more to me than I’m able to put into words. And I love that feeling.
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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.