After releasing the masterpiece that is Cities, Anberlin returned to the studio to record their major label debut. The end product, New Surrender, is a very solid, straightforward album but falls short of expectations.
Anberlin has a knack for starting albums off with a bang, and New Surrender follows suit with “The Resistance.” It’s one of the most rambunctious songs the band has written and it certainly delivers when it says “Too late to make demands/You’ve got a riot on your hands.” The ending riff coupled with frontman Stephen Christian’s harsh scream is extremely reminiscent of the band’s first two albums.
New Surrender’s biggest strengths are when the band allow themselves to put a little of the bite back into their music. “Disappear” uses some of the synth left from Cities and complements Christian’s soaring vocals very well. “Feel Good Drag” is a re-recorded version of the track that originally appeared on Anberlin’s second album, Never Take Friendship Personal. It’s a solid choice as the first single as it represents the band as a whole very well.
The band’s softer side is where they seem to stumble a bit. “Retrace” shows that they are capable of taking a softer edge to a song without losing their sound and emotion. “Younglife” and “Haight Street,” however, are arguably two of the weakest songs the band has written. The latter’s combination of a bouncing bass line and acoustic guitar strumming create a sugary pop overload, and the former is simply a bland pop rock song. This causes the second half of the album to drag a bit, until you reach the final two tracks.
“Soft Skeletons” is an eerie song, but also one of the band’s most powerful. Christian paints a somber picture with lines like “Dear little one/ Life was so much pain/ Time you can’t replace/Trapped inside/ Too afraid to cry/ And now hands and bruises cover face.” This song shows Anberlin at their darkest, but also at their strongest.
Continuing their tradition of closing albums with sprawling epics, Anberlin produce one of the best tracks of their career with “Miserabile Visu (Ex Malo Bonum).” Starting with a simple drum beat and keyboard, Christian tells the tale of the coming of the Anti-Christ and the end of the world, but with a gleam of hope as he repeats “Look children to the eastern sky.” This hauntingly beautiful track is the highlight of the album, and ends it on a high note.
New Surrender sees Anberlin falling back into a safer sound than that of Cities. While there are some really standout tracks, specifically “Soft Skeletons” and “Miserabile Visu (Ex Malo Bonum),” the overall product is a letdown.