Album Review :
Anberlin - Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place
Album: Dark Is the Way, Light Is the Place
Label: Universal Republic
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Reviewer: Eric Pettersson
1. We Owe This to Ourselves
3. Take Me (As You Found Me)
5. You Belong Here
6. Pray Tell
7. Art of War
8. To the Wolves
In 2003, my friend Jordan and I debated which band was Tooth & Nail’s best new signee. Seven years later, I must assent that Jordan was right and I was wrong. Clearly, it was Anberlin for the win. Now on their fifth record, the emo-rock quintet from Florida is a driving force in the alternative and punk world. I went to see them live when they were touring on the last release, 2008’s New Surrender, and I’ve never seen a crowd get that excited for a band that wasn’t playing a hometown show. Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place is Anberlin’s first album to be fully released through Universal Republic, and despite what the punk and indie scenes always fear, the step up to a major did not hurt their artistic integrity. In fact, the music on this record did the same thing as Anberlin’s name: it got bigger, more powerful, and harder to ignore.
Anberlin has always been very tight in the studio, and they’ve been just as tight live since at least 2007. They’ve only improved with this release, not only as musicians but also as songwriters. If New Surrender took a more straightforward alt-rock direction, abandoning much of the emo flair of previous records, Dark Is the Way continues this course, taking the hard-hitting guitars and radio-friendly melodies to a bigger, darker, and edgier place than before.
I hate to use the term, but this really is a more “mature” release. And that doesn’t mean they’ve mellowed out. It really does mean they’ve grown up a bit and they’re writing in a way that shows meaningful growth and life experience. I, for one, am very glad to finally see an Anberlin record without a misogynistic song like “Foreign Language” or relationally complicated songs like “A Day Late” or “Feel Good Drag.” Not that I’m opposed to darkness or moral ambiguity being explored in music. One of my favorite bands is Emery, after all. Those songs just rubbed me the wrong way by talking about bad relationship habits in a way that seemed to view them as acceptable. I could be wrong in my interpretation, but either way, those songs are immature at best. Thus, the new record is more mature for its lack of such a song.
Getting back to my friend Jordan, we continued to debate music in 2005 when Never Take Friendship Personal was released. He got it first, and he told me it was exactly like Anberlin’s first record, only better. This has come to be how I view their entire career. There are no big surprises with each new record. We know what sound to expect from Anberlin, and it’s what we keep coming back for more of. But each time, it’s done better and better, and Dark Is the Way is no exception.
Songs like “We Owe This to Ourselves” or, my personal favorite, “Pray Tell,” show the band at the most rocking and most energized. The former is heavy and fast paced while the latter is fun and creative, winning the title of “Song on This Record That Most Makes Me Want to Move.”
Elsewhere, “Impossible” and “Take Me (As You Found Me)” show the band stretching into more mainstream appeal. Both songs seem influenced by U2, from the guitars to the vocals (especially on the verses of “Take Me”).
As always, the album ends on an epic note, although “Depraved” is not as intense as New Surrender’s “Miserabile Visu (Ex Malo Bonum).”
Overall: Anberlin fans will love this album, but the band has also grown enough that people who may not have been thrilled with their past releases should give it a listen. It’s still the same style, but better than ever. As a side note, I bought a digital copy that included a PDF booklet. I really like the idea of this being included, but in this particular case it was not very important. I like album art, so it was good to see that, but I also really like lyrics, so I was disappointed to see them absent. Still, this is a minor point. All in all, another excellent release from one of today’s top bands.