Written by: PP on 10/11/2012 16:17:16

Anberlin's new album "Vital" has been receiving praise across the board for being their best album yet. After spending a considerable amount of time with the record, this review will go against the grain and claim the exact opposite in an argument that can best be summarized as don't fix what isn't broken. For five albums now, Anberlin has been playing arena-sized alternative rock with an emotive touch that has seen them balance on a tightrope between a commercial alternative rock sound (see "Dark Is The Way. Light Is A Place") and an emotionally charged subtype found on "Cities" and "New Surrender" in particular. They've never challenged the top spots on any end-of-year charts, but have nonetheless always stayed above average in their genre, if not outright under-appreciated for their catchy emo anthems and their more powerful and aggressive rockers.

After five albums, I just don't see why the band must change their sound as radically as they have done here. You could of course argue that it's a logical continuation of "Dark is The Way.." from two years ago, where they expanded their sound's reach tremendously in all directions thanks to Brendan O'Brien's mainstream production, but even that seems far-fetched because large portions of "Vital" sound nothing at all like the Anberlin we've grown fond of over the years. The first few tracks might fool you into thinking otherwise, however, as "Self-Starter" and "Little Tyrants" are as emotive as before, and feature that slight strain on vocalist Stephen Christian's voice that was always the edge that pushed Anberlin from being mediocre pop rock band into something better. Here, they present themselves as the fast, arena-sized band with echoing and screeching riffs delivered over a far-reaching soundscape, which is what their success has always been built on. Just check out the track "Someone Anyone" for a good lead single candidate.

But here's where the ugly parts start increasingly manifesting themself. There are songs here which are undoubtedly the biggest and most ambitious Anberlin songs to date, but it comes at the cost of the catchy hooks and memorable vocal melodies of previous albums. The band begins experimenting with influences and elements that have never been a part of the Anberlin repertoire, ranging from hefty amounts of electronic effects, to more ambient tracks where superfluous empty spaces and electronically modified soundscapes become the core ingredient of their sound. There are keyboard-laden atmospheres, electronically echoing and way-too-simplistic instrumental passages which are intended to carry the songs, when in fact just the opposite happens. They feel artificially inflated and anonymous, lacking the charismatic emotional charge that the band always injected into their songs to stay relevant. Take songs like "Other Side", "Innocent", or "Type-Three" for instance. These are arena ballads with a makeshift mysterious curtain of smooth ambience shrouding the soundscape overall, which results in neither interesting nor particularly memorable songs. The tempo drags, and there's too much production trickery that distracts from the listening experience. It's as if the band dissected and analyzed the reasons why they have been successful over the years, and then decided to abandon all those elements for all but three songs on the record.

The result is simple, really. "Vital" is a boring record, which is a first for Anberlin. If they could previously be compared to bands like Armor For Sleep, Hawthorne Heights, Bayside and others, that's simply not the case for the majority of the tracks on this record. Proceed with caution as an Anberlin fan.


Download: Self-Starter, Someone Anyone, Intentions
For the fans of: Anchor & Braille, The Smashing Pumpkins, U2, 30 Seconds To Mars
Listen: Facebook

Release date 16.10.2012
Universal Republic

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