If ever there was an experience in music that could be classified as “once in a lifetime”, it is the chance to listen to what you already know is the farewell album from your favorite band. Saying that listening to Anberlin’s final record is a moving experience is an understatement. Lowborn is an absolute rollercoaster of emotions that you simultaneously cannot stand and that you hope will never end, all the while knowing that it must. But I’ve already written extensively about what Anberlin means in my life, and that’s not the reason you’re here. You’re here because you want to know three things: 1) How good is Lowborn? 2) Is it better than Vital? 3) Where will it rank in the band’s discography? The short answers are: 1) It is everything that it should be. 2) Yes. 3) Near the top. Only time will tell exactly where it ends up.
What doesn’t require time to explain, however, is that Lowborn is an indisputable triumph and Anberlin are saying goodbye at the very top of their game. It is clear that, knowing this was the end, the band and producers went into the studio with just two goals in mind: take plenty of risks, and leave every last drop of sweat and blood in these songs. Therefore it is only fitting to do a complete analysis, song by song, so you can see in full the final beast of an album that Anberlin has unleashed into the world.
“We Are Destroyer”: By now you surely know what to expect from an Anberlin opener: heavy guitars, call-to-arms lyrics and piercing vocals in an opening burst of heavy-hitting emo-rock, and “We Are Destroyer” fits the bill again. While not quite as fast-paced as “Readyfuels” or “Godspeed”, it hits just as hard and the electro-themed opening sets the tone for what Lowborn is all about: different, expansive, yet plenty of the same Anberlin you’ve always known.
“Armageddon”: The first of a few left-field experiments on the album, “Armageddon” initially feels like a strange follow-up to “We Are Destroyer” due to its slowed-down, moody and atmospheric tempo, haunting guitar lines and even a few wub-wub dubstep-like touches. The second half of the song sees the band kick back into the full-on rock mode they’re best known for, but you get the sense this is the kind of direction they may have explored further had they not decided to call it a day.
“Stranger Ways”: For some reason many music fans tend to fear the word “maturity”, but in the case of “Stranger Ways” the band’s steady growth over the years is fully encapsulated in this beautiful indie rock song. Laying out their classic new wave influences along with some synthesizers and passionately yearning lyrics, Christian delivers some of his most poignant vocals and Nate Young’s impressive drumming is constantly at the forefront. Its pure catchiness makes it feel much shorter than its five-minute run time.
“Velvet Covered Brick”: The heaviness is turned back up to 10 for this song, with guitarists Joey Milligan and Christian McAlhaney delivering some of their most crushing riffs while Young lets rip on the drums and Deon Rexroat drives the whole rhythm with some excellent bass lines. Although matched by some strong lyrics, the only thing that feels off about “Velvet Covered Brick” is that Christian sings nearly the entire song in his lower register. He sounds great as always, but such a huge chorus surely would have benefited from him dropping the restraints and belting it out like the rest of the band. It’s still an excellent song though, and instrumentally everyone is at the top of their game here.
“Atonement”: Just like a heavy-hitting opener, every Anberlin album must have a beautiful, heartstring-tugging ballad and on Lowborn, it is “Atonement”. The best ballad the band has done since the legendary Cities duo of “Unwinding Cable Car” and “Inevitable”, this uplifting mid-tempo song is Stephen’s personal explanation of why Anberlin is breaking up as he pours it out in a message to the fans (“I’ve loved where I’ve been, yes I love where I’ve been/But my heart’s where I’m going”). It is an emotional listen as it’s the first real reminder that you’re listening to the band’s final album, but it is perfectly crafted and will be a fan favorite.
“Birds of Prey”: Driven by a slow but extremely catchy electronic beat and the focus on Christian’s stratospheric vocals (including his criminally underused falsetto), “Birds of Prey” is one of the bigger risks the band takes on Lowborn but the song’s entire formula works stunningly well. With some of the best lyrics on the album (“Memories circle like birds of prey, waiting for the right mind to drive insane/Don’t look back, there’s nothing to see/Regret is nothing more than a lover’s disease”), the chorus will be stuck in your head on first listen. More punctuating bass lines from Rexroat are just the icing on the cake as this song, more than most, makes you wonder where else the band might have expanded to in the future.
“Dissenter”: While it is a guaranteed mosh pit starter should it appear on the farewell tour’s setlist, the recorded version of this song will divide opinion among fans. If “Velvet Covered Brick” was the band’s heaviness at 10, “Dissenter” sees them turning it up to 13 as Christian brings back his well-known yet rarely-heard screaming – for nearly the entire song. In some ways it calls to mind Thrice’s Fire EP from The Alchemy Index, with the focus on the heavily distorted screams, crushing guitars and some of Young’s best drumming on the album. It feels very strange, though, following the much slower “Birds of Prey”, and I think the effects of Christian’s screams would have been more fully maximized had he just screamed the verses and sung the chorus instead.
“Losing It All”: The band promised there would be a bit of nostalgia on this album, and they provide it in spades on “Losing It All”. Sounding like a long lost song from Blueprints for the Black Market or even New Surrender in its lighter upbeat tone, positive relationship-based lyrics (“How could I say goodbye/We’ve come too far to turn back now/Who are we without each other/Too entwined to untangle now”) and a faster pace, it is the most radio-friendly track on Lowborn and is sure to satisfy the longtime fans. And if you’re a sucker for piano in your rock songs, there are some nice touches of it here. A lovely throwback to the band’s earlier days.
“Hearing Voices”: If there is one song on Lowborn that is a complete culmination of what has made Anberlin so special over the last 12 years, it is “Hearing Voices”. Not only is it the best song on the album, it may well go down among the best songs in the band’s entire discography. Layer upon layer of Christian’s finest soaring vocals, jingling guitar lines, memorable lyrics, a heavy-hitting chorus and colossal drumming from Young…it is the kind of song most bands spend their entire career trying to make; for Anberlin, it’s just another brilliant addition to their arsenal. If you’re reading this having never heard their music and want to know where to begin…go listen to Blueprints for the Black Market and work your way up to this song and album.
“Harbinger”: If you were holding out hope that Anberlin would just go away for five years and then reunite like every other band seems to do these days, one listen to “Harbinger” will lay those hopes to rest forever.
Lowborn’s closer very much encapsulates a “final song of our career” feel with somber opening guitar lines, a light electronic beat and atmospheric vocals from Christian. It is Anberlin’s departing message to every single one of us and for the longtime fans especially, this song is going to tear your heart to shreds. Hearing Stephen Christian sing “I don’t want to go now, but I’ve got to/For you to remember me in this light” with the words “We’ll live forever” floating in the background was more than I could handle emotionally, and I suspect many others will react the same way. You hate the song because you know it is the end (in more ways than one), but you love it even more because you realize there was no better way to say goodbye. It is…a beautiful last piece of music.
Lowborn may be a little slower, a little darker and moodier, and shows more electronic risks than you normally expect from Anberlin, yet it is still the same beautifully controlled chaos with plenty of classic new wave influences and even a nod or two to their early days. This is the result of a band still completely in sync that went into the studio with no more fears, no more restraints, and the fires burning as brightly as ever. Is it not perfect, and some fans may not “get it” at first due to the multitude of styles explored, but stick with it and you will find it is one of the band’s most rewarding albums.
So thank you, Anberlin. Thank you for going on this incredible journey and allowing us to be a part of it. Thank you for giving us one last album before you go, and for the chance to say goodbye later this year. They are right when they say they will live forever. Long after we all have come and gone from this world, their music will still be here – bringing joy, mending hearts, uplifting spirits, and saving lives. And nothing could ever be more comforting than that.