My memories surrounding Anberlin’s fifth studio album, Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is kind of a mixed bag of emotions. While on one hand, I found the aggressive and darker tones to the music presented here as a nice change of pace from the brighter material that came before this, I couldn’t help but feel like some of the lyrics on this record were a tad too repetitive to connect with me on a deeper level. Anberlin worked on this record with veteran hit-maker Brendan O’Brien, and under his watchful eye, the band was able to create some of their best material as well. From the brilliant first single “Impossible” to the thoughtfully-crafted “Take Me (As You Found Me),” the band appeared to be hitting the right groove in the latter stages of their career. While some fans of the band regard this album as a rare misstep in the band’s evolution, I feel like Anberlin were at the cusp of something incredible during this moment in time. When asked about the possible impact of this record, Stephen Christian replied in one interview, “I feel like we’re on the brink of something…either world domination or destruction, but either way we’re on the brink.” By pushing themselves to the brink of creativity, the band have made an album that fits nicely into their storied discography.
”We Owe This To Ourselves” kicks off the album with a lightning-quick guitar lick that sets the tone for a record that is filled with plenty of aggressive moments. Christian sings passionately on the second verse, “If every man became a king / (We could start it all with this) / We could do more than just dream / (We could start it all with this) / Well I feel, I feel, the change is here,” and it’s hard to not take him seriously as he convinces his audience that the band is changing for the better.
”Impossible” follows the great opener with another amazing guitar riff courtesy of Joseph Milligan, and the song remains one of my Top-Five favorite Anberlin songs of all time. From the careful verse build-up to the pop bliss of a chorus that shouts, “Take what you want from me / It means nothing now / Take everything from me / It means nothing now,” it all connects perfectly into place on the major takeaway from the record. It’s one of those incredible songs that connects with you from the very first listen and makes you reach for the repeat button to keep that euphoric feeling deep inside for a little bit longer.
Some of the repetitive lyrics begin on songs such as “Take Me (As You Found Me)” where Christian continues to sing about keeping this person “here with me.” It still makes for an enjoyable listen, and the song is reminiscent of the Cities-era classic “Inevitable.” Other examples of repetition, whether intentional or not, are found on tracks such as “Closer.” Christian sings on the second pre-chorus, “Am I keeping safe distance? / Pushing you arms length away? / Am I keeping safe distance? / Oh, it’s you that feels betrayed,” and it’s eerily similar to the structure of the first verse/pre-chorus/chorus pattern. Repetition can be one method of driving a point home in your lyrics, and in some ways, Anberlin does this masterfully throughout this record. By repeating key words and phrases on songs such as “Pray Tell,” the band are able to paint a picture of a vision they had sought out for this album.
Other key pop elements found on this record are found in tracks such as “You Belong Here,” that seemed to be perfect fodder for commercial spots on singing competitions such as American Idol. The nicely crafted pop chorus fits well into the mix of tracks on the record that never has a shortage of soaring melodies. The track even features one of my all-time favorite lyrics by the band in, “But, a heart that’s not worth breaking isn’t worth much, not at all.”
”The Art of War” continues to find the band writing uplifting choruses with darker-toned verses that highlight the contrast between the darkness and the light, much like the album artwork and title showcases. “To the Wolves” continues down that pattern of implementing a stark contrast between the verses and chorus by driving the point home of how easy it is for the lines to blurred between good and evil. Christian sings confidently on the repetitious chorus, “Who needs enemies when we’ve got friends like you?” and he makes it clear that these relationship lines can be just as blurred as well.
The great acoustic guitar-driven song “Down” fits well into the singer-songwriter element of the band that they explored in the latter stages of the career. I can remember going to the tour in support of this album, and this song sounded absolutely beautiful with just an acoustic guitar and Christian’s voice carrying to the highest parts of the venue. The tender moment of reflection is needed on this album that is filled with so many aggressive, and at times, abrasive moments that bring out the best in the artists.
Album closer “Depraved” never really did much for me on repeat listens, but it serves its purpose of summarizing the material that came before it. The repetitive lyrics in both the verses and chorus come to an almost distracting boiling point as Christian sings many of the same lines repeatedly. For example, the line “You’re not a slave, so get off your knees” is repeated several times in the song, and while it’s an impactful line, it seems to lose its luster when the point is driven too forcefully.
Dark is the Way, Light is a Place continues to be a record that I still fit into my weekly record rotation, and it includes some of my favorite Anberlin songs to date. The way the band is able to explore the contrast of darkness versus the light in ways that make for a deeper dive into the record is a credit to their impact as talented songwriters. It’s easy for the lines to be blurred all too many times, and the band does an amazing job of exploring this contrast and tackling the grey area in between. Overall, the good far outweighs the slight missteps on this record that continue to be just as relevant as it was ten years ago.