Dark Is The Way. Light Is A Place

Written by: PP on 13/10/2010 06:00:27

I've always found the burning desire by bands to evolve from a sound that's already clearly a winning formula strange and counter-intuitive to the long term future of the band. There are only a handful of examples where a sudden and unexpected change in sound - especially that towards a poppier and more predictable sound - has worked out for bands beyond just one album, usually dragging the band in question down to obscurity come the follow up. When you have a ton of fans already on your boat, why abandon ship in search for something more...ambitious? Seems retarded to me. And how does this apply to Anberlin and their new album "Dark Is The Way. Light Is A Place", their fifth album overall and second on Universal Republic? I'm glad you asked.

Two years ago, Anberlin finally released the album that many had been expecting for about three albums now: a record consisting of arena rock mammoths but with the edge and emotional charge of an emocore band. It followed closely on the footsteps of "Cities" from the year before that, bettering and fine-tuning the formula laid forward there that finally saw Anberlin write interesting hooks and merge them with monster catchy choruses. Fast-forward two years, and here we are. Mainstream producer Brendan O'Brien has been assigned the knobs, you can pretty much guess what that means. The sound is now over-inflated and over-polished, if it wasn't sort of like that to start out with. The sound is now even more pop rock / arena rock oriented than before, but at the same time, with an annoying reach towards the band's really old material but without the riff-driven approach to writing songs. Sure, opener "We Owe This To Ourselves" is closely reminiscent of the Hawthorne Heights brand of cheesefest "cut my wrist and black my eyes" emo soundwise, but the overall focus has clearly been placed on emo ballads instead of the power anthems and emocore riffage of past albums.

The good news is that Anberlin have always been very good at writing stadium-sized pop rock songs, and shifting these into the quiet/loud ballad dynamic isn't much of a problem, despite O'Brien's attempts of robbing the soul of each song. He's undeniably a good producer, but he doesn't have the faintest of clues about how to get the best out of a band Anberlin, simply because he has some fundamental misunderstandings about the emo/emocore genre having never really produced much in the field. He seems to treat every song as a playground for echoing, spacey production, where often a tighter, more confined one would make an already good song a great one. The only place where the humongous inflation that his production brings really works is on "Closer". The echoing chorus benefits from being able to swirl across the soundscape freely, and really impact the listener with some simple, yet touching lyrical work. But take a song like "Impossible". It flirts with an emotional pop punk sound similar to Bayside, but isn't allowed to properly flourish in such a spacey environment. It's still a great track and one of the highlights of the record, but any fan of the genre can imagine how it could be even better.

To Anberlin's credit, they've yet again improved their songwriting, as a song like "The Art Of War" so clearly demonstrates. It's emotional charge is intense, and the vocals sound real and believable throughout the song. It's a ballad, sure, and honestly stands no comparison to "Feel Good Drag" or "Blame Me! Blame Me!" from previous albums, but it'd be unfair to stand here and not call it a good track. And that's essentially the gist of "Dark Is The Way. Light Is A Place"; it's an album full of ballads, some better than others, with a couple of simply awful filler tracks thrown towards the end of the record. It takes Anberlin even further towards simple mainstream rock, though with Stephe Christian's singing tone being as emo and angsty as it is, the emo connection will always be there no matter what they do. In the end, it's a good record that suffers from some bad decision making in both the sound direction and production ends, which smells major label influence from a mile away. Have this as a guilty pleasure and stick to the older work in the meantime.


Download: Closer, The Art Of War, Impossible
For the fans of: Hawthorne Heights, Bayside, National Product, Armor For Sleep
Listen: Myspace

Release date 07.09.2010
Universal Republic

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