In a world lacking any sort of defined narrative or guiding myth, it’s no surprise that ends rarely exist. Everything is perpetuated by technology, creating an eternal present without beginnings or ends. Perhaps this is the reason behind Anberlin‘s decision to make lowborn their last album and internally announce an end to the band. While some may applaud their autonomy or denounce it as genuine, there’s no doubt they’re making a statement––the question is, of what sort?
Rewind a little less than a decade ago, when the band were exploding on radio stations and playlists everywhere with infectious singles like the driving “Paperthin Hymn” and the downright rambunctious “Godspeed.” Even in later works, Anberlin would go on to define their unique alt-rock sound, often consisting of distorted guitar hooks and soaring vocals from singer Stephen Christian’s polished pipes. Their sound matured and veered into poppy territory, but it never lost its edge.
Now fast forward to lowborn, and where is the band? It’s hard to tell; the best descriptor of the record might be “experimental.” The band selected their own producers for their specific part, resulting in recordings with longtime collaborator Aaron Sprinkle, Christian metal producer Matt Goldman, and Copeland singer Aaron Marsh. Indeed, the fragmented nature shows, prominently in the disruption of Anberlin’s typefied sound. Gone are the unforgettable choruses and mountainous lines that made Anberlin so successful. From the synth-heavy intro of the first track, “We Are Destroyer,” it’s clear that the band are doing whatever the hell they want and not caring about fitting into preconceived genre expectations.
That being said, this isn’t really Anberlin as we’ve come to know. Even if you recognize Christian’s vocals, you’d think this was an electronic side project of his. The chorus of “Destroyer” is more house music than anything, and it’s hard to imagine the seasoned rockers two-stepping to the beats in the vein of Family Force 5 or––shudder––I See Stars. Even worse, “Dissenter” steps into some odd electronic-meets-hardcore material, with Christian yelling over stuttered guitars and frantic, party-beat drums. It’s easily the band’s weirdest song to date, and perhaps the worst. That’s not to fault Anberlin––their freedom is deserved and justified. However, it simply doesn’t work here. The liberty of not caring, it seems, is a double-edged sword.
This isn’t all bad, however. “Birds of Prey” is an unexpectedly successful marriage of electronic instrumentals and sparkling croons courtesy of Christian. It shows the band’s ability to make their own mark on the scene, albeit in a different way than before. The melodies dance carefully on top of the laid-back beat, making the song the equivalent of sparkling white grape juice. “Velvet Covered Brick” is the tried-and-true formula mixed with some atmospheric verses and more exploratory vocals that represent the best of lowborn. Here, it’s the perfect blend of Anberlin’s collective ear for melody and catchiness and the freeness of doing what they want for their last album.
Anberlin purists (if that is a legitimate title) will probably dislike most of the album, but diehards will fawn over it and hail it as an innovative and appropriate end to the band. For what it’s worth, since Cities, their well-earned smash it, the band have been morphing into something else entirely, and that’s proved by lowborn. This is Anberlin on their own terms, for better or for worse.