For a dozen years, Anberlin has mingled moodiness and introspection with faith, doubt and reflection. Now this hard-rock outfit from Florida has decided its seventh album, Lowborn, will be its last. "I would rather somebody ask, 'Why are they breaking up?' than 'Wait, are they still a band?'" frontman Stephen Christian told USA Today recently.
But there's more at work here than just a fear of drifting unnoticed into irrelevancy. "My passion has shifted, has changed to being with my family and living a different life," Christian said. "If I continue going on with Anberlin, when the winds have already shifted, I feel like I'm ripping them off, that I'm not putting my heart and soul into my performances on the stage."
Passion, heart and soul are still poignantly present on Lowborn's 10 new tracks, though. As are doubt and struggle right along with hope and tenacity. Because when it comes to Anberlin's always-dense lyrical content, the one thing you can be sure of is that you'll have to trudge through some darkness to get to the light.
Some of the most interesting—and dense, as noted—lyrics on the album come in the first song, "We Are Destroyer," on which Christian challenges an entitlement mindset ("Take our time for granted/Entitled in this life/Give us what we want/What we don't want to earn") before taking on those who legalistically think their identity is defined by their own hard work ("No one gives you what you want/Don't get what you don't earn/Can't have what you need/Only what you deserve/ … If all we are is just what we've earned/We are the destroyers").
"Atonement" mentions that titular word obliquely ("I found peace in a foreign atonement") before affirming a man's deep desire to be forever with someone he loves ("Don't want to be here without you/ … I don't want to go alone/I don't want to do this all on my own"). Similarly, the tender "Losing It All" applauds a man's commitment to stay with his beloved come what may ("I promise to be good/I'll be good for you/Hard work through harder times/ … We'll see the other side together/It's not losing it all if we have each other/In the end it's all, in the end it's all that matters"). The song also wonders, "How could I say good-bye?/We've come too far to turn back now/Who are we without each other?/Too entwined to untangle now."
The Nine Inch Nails-esque "Armageddon" broods about our tendency toward self-destructive choices ("I can find a way to leave/I try to find my escape"). The song alludes to the allure of sin ("'Cause losses start to take/What our sin wants"), but admits that caving into temptation creates "a personal hell" and "my own Armageddon." Exploring the difficult feelings and thoughts that torment us at times, "Hearing Voices" ponders two pointed paradoxes: "Everyone wants to see heaven/But no one wants to say good-bye/Everyone wants to see heaven/But no one wants to die/ … Everyone wants to know God/But they're afraid of what they'll find/Everyone wants to know God/But they want to live like He died."
"Velvet Covered Brick" challenges us to realize that we must live well now because death comes for us all. "Birds of Prey" advises letting go of hurts from the past and tells us to "Hold on to the light/ … Let go of the dark." Album closer "Harbinger" perhaps looks forward to an afterlife of eternal connection with those we love ("We'll live forever, forever, forever/We'll come together, together, together").
"Stranger" arguably splits the difference between being romantic and creepy. Here a man seems to glimpse a woman who stirs his heart at a club ("Locking eyes, waning glance, mistook chance"), then admits, "You keep me up late at night/Is it all right if I call you lover, even though we don't know each other/And probably never will?/Would you stay with me, here in my dreams?" In the end, he imagines being "a little bit closer to loving you/A little bit closer to holding you/A little bit closer to knowing you/A little bit closer to touching you."
The song titles seem to say it all: "We Are Destroyer," "Armageddon," "Velvet Covered Brick," "Birds of Prey," "Dissenter," "Losing It All." Indeed, none of us get through this thing called life without loss, disorientation and grief, Anberlin's angst-riddled songs insist.
Still, despite those soul-wearying obstacles, the band's swan song ultimately affirms a hopeful path. Stephen Christian and Co. tell us one last time that the way forward requires letting go of the past's regrets, reckoning with our sinful brokenness in the present, and committing to those we love the most as we step forward into the future—no matter what that future may hold.