Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place
The list of bands that unapologetically deliver earnest, anthemic, mostly optimistic rock is as short as those bands are big. It includes U2, Coldplay and Switchfoot. Judging from the 10 songs on Anberlin's fifth studio album, Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place (a line from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' Poem on His Birthday), this alternative rock act from Winter Haven, Fla., would like to join the club.
The quintet got its start in 2002 and quickly signed with Tooth & Nail Records—a move that caused many to classify Anberlin as a Christian band. But while its members don't shy away from talking about their faith, being lumped in with the Christian music scene wasn't something they intentionally pursued. In 2007, frontman Stephen Christian told thisweeknews.com, "[My faith] affects every single aspect of my life. But I'm not a preacher, I'm an entertainer." In a separate interview with Chart Attack in 2006, he added, "I think we're categorized like that [as a Christian band] … because we're on Tooth & Nail Records, which, years ago, was known as a Christian label and never lost that reputation. I don't care who listens to our records. If it helps people in whatever circumstances they're in, that's amazing, but I definitely don't classify us as a Christian band."
This latest effort includes a couple of songs that could be interpreted as having spiritual messages. But for the most part, the band's soaring melodies and arena-rock vocals pay tribute to the possibility of lasting love and express determination to overcome the hurdles that stand in its way.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
"Pray Tell" compels a person caught in deception to quit hiding and tell the truth: "Do you like the shadows in there?/ … Why are you hiding there? Why are you lying there?" The song could be written from the perspective of someone trying to coax a friend or romantic partner to tell the truth. Equally plausible, though, is that the song is written from God's perspective, as the narrator says, "Why do you hide yourself away?/I'm the only one that can save you now." Likewise, "Depraved" encourages someone who feels trapped by past mistakes to stop begging for mercy that's already been given. ("You're not a slave/So get off your knees/ … Are you depraved or are you deceived?/Excuses aside, stop saying please, please").
"Down" expresses regret for past "bad decisions" as a man asks to be restrained before he does something terrible ("Please hold my hand before I drown/Tie my hands before I burn this town"). The oblique "We Owe This to Ourselves" seems to denounce violence (perhaps relational, given the album's romantic focus) and dig for a better outcome ("Since when did bullets start to sing?/It didn't have to end like this/ … We owe this to ourselves/We just can't let this go").
"Take Me (As You Found Me)" confesses a man's deep love for a woman and the satisfaction he feels being with her ("Since you've come near/All I've ever desired/Is here with me"). "You Belong Here" is equally unabashed in its expression of love ("You belong here/You were meant for me") and the hope that the relationship will last a lifetime ("You'll be the better part of me/For the rest of my life"). Lyrics on "Closer" explore the reasons for mistrust that have led to increasing emotional distance between two people … and long to close that gap.
While more than half of these songs offer hopeful takes on romance and overcoming relational conflict, several chronicle connections that have foundered—and the singer sometimes reaches for hyperbole to express his pain. "Impossible" yelps, "Take what you want from me, it means nothing now/Take everything you wanted, it means nothing now." "Art of War" laments, "There are songs I'll never write because of you." "Take Me" includes this dank line: "Who's going to drink my blood/Now that you're gone?/ … Who's going to tear my flesh with a siren song?"
A sensual allusion turns up on "Impossible" ("I made your lips slip and your moans quake").
Regarding the themes on Anberlin's latest album, frontman Stephen Christian told music site drivenfaroff.com, "Love is a friction, a chemistry. We need to fight it out in a good way, not with threats of leaving, but to, in love, find an understanding."
That summary jibes with the way I experienced Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place. Several songs grapple with the dark side of relationships gone awry. But the upbeat tracks—and there are slightly more of them than the melancholy ones—shed light on the experience. It's at least a glass-half-full proposition that ultimately offers a realistic yet hopeful appraisal of the place of love in our lives.