Blueprints For The Black Market (2003)
Never Take Friendship Personal (2005)
Kim Kirkpatrick: I have hundreds of CDR’s on various spindles, all from numerous, kind friends trying to expand my musical interest. I get to them all eventually, embarrassingly, it might take a year or two, but I do hear them all. In particular, I put off listening to Anberlin’s Blueprint’s For A Black Market for so long I could not track down who sent it to me*. One of the more amazing parts of this experience was seeing this disc pop up in the iTunes genre column as Gospel & Religious -- say what?
Anberlin was formed in 2002 in Florida and quickly released a full length CD on Tooth And Nails Records, a label known for Christian Rock releases. Personally I don’t get the religious link, not only for Anberlin but several other bands I have explored on the label. Ya know what, I am going skip most of the specific facts, and background this time around. Rather then figure out how they fit in to the history of Rock (or Christianity, Kings X anyone?) I want to just write about the music, how I reacted to all three releases as a whole.
Fast, tight, high-energy rock n roll, with an intense appeal to teenage boys and young men (I imagine), Anberlin is full of musical chops, emotion, and thoughtful perspectives on life. In spite of three different guitarists in the line up, they have matured, maintained, and refined themselves over five years and three full length CDs. Granted, I had to listen to the newest one (Cities) several times to appreciate it as much as the other two releases, but at this point I think all three present a logical and improving progression.
One powerfully consistent element, in sound, philosophy, and attitude is the founding member and vocalist, Stephen Christian (...coincidence?). He sings all of the lead and significant back up vocals, practically a call and response experience on many of the songs. His vocals remind me a bit of Jon Anderson but I shall not explore that thought, going back to Yes’s catalog would probably be too painful. Christian is way up front with his vocals and he projects a personality of being an intelligent young man with an underlying sensitive nature. His intensity and strength as a singer and leader is sure to make the girl’s swoon (with a complete absence of any cock rock attitude).
Christian’s vocal delivery is high pitched on their debut, Blueprints For The Black Market, (2003) he is clearly young and in comparison to just a few years later, inexperienced**. The guitar playing on the first release is straight ahead rock n roll, bit of that '80s MTV sound but also displaying an awareness of the straight edge movement and much of the guitar work of recent origin. Never Take Friendship Personal (2005) has more of a progressive metal sound, with deeper, heavier playing from all of the members. The title came from the exit of guitarist Joey Bruce, this due to creative (and lifestyle) differences with Stephen Christian and the band. It is admirable to hear Anberlin step up their intensity and skills on this second release, in spite of the loss. Also surfacing on this release are a couple of songs with a slower ballad style, showing Christian’s sensitive side***. This is an expansion in their sound, with cascading (even chiming) guitars, vibes, romantic atmosphere, a shift away from the relentless speed and push of the debut release. More positively, I’d have to say this is just one example on Never Take Friendship Personal that reveals the maturity and diversity the band had grown into, in just two years! Move ahead another two years and Cities (2007) continues the rise in strength and improvement of Anberlin. Stephen Christian’s lyrics are emotionally more interesting and his singing voice is much stronger, superior to the hard rock vocalist that generally make me cringe and wish for an instrumental version****. Anberlin’s drummer, Nathan Young really shines on this latest release. He pushes the band now, with more powerful, complex patterns and accents. Deon Roxroat on bass is forceful as well, with occasional bursts worthy of John Entwistle. The lead guitarist, Joseph Milligan is more on the edge then ever, with incredibly tight, highly compressed playing, and excellent spot on interaction with the other guitar player, Nathan Strayer*****. The soft side reappears on a track or two, and the CD has an overall more atmospheric sound, one that is darker and heavier (by far) in tone. Cities shows a powerful and improved ability to change the dynamics of Anberlin’s sound to serve the music, both the pace and volume are tightly under control. Anberlin is a fine example of a band that has played together and worked really hard for years. Four of the five members have been together from the start, and you could hear their maturity and seriousness from the start. But with the release of Cities the band’s progress towards a tighter, more powerful destination or expression is palpable. I’ve said it before in other musical reviews but once again with feeling, these guys rock!
This past summer Anberlin were on the Warp tour and if I’d had an idea when they’d be on stage I would have happily gone to see them. I would have taken my thirteen-year-old Punk/ Goth daughter to see them as well. She is into the heavier aspects of the band, not the softer ballad material, just like her mother. I have made sure she does not know Anberlin previously toured with her fav band My Chemical Romance, not sure she would ever recover. I hope to see Anberlin soon, while they are still on the rise, possibly at the peak of their creativity. I’d expect them to have a blow you away intensity live. These guys are smart, musically talented, technically adept, and I suspect perfectionists. Finally praise to Aaron Sprinkle who has superbly produced all three releases for Anberlin.
Having asked numerous friends I now believe it was a brief contact I had with a young guy from Oklahoma. I had outbid him for a CD on eBay and he offered to pay me for a copy. We subsequently had a short but intense exchange of ideas and music.
Roll through the videos from each release chronologically, you’ll see Christian and the entire band mature in just a few minutes:
"A Day Late"
Christian and Anberlin have more going on then what is on the surface, more diversity and interests then a casual listener might note. Check out these various cover songs they have recorded:
“Like A Rolling Stone”, Bob Dylan
“Love Song”, The Cure
“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, The Smiths
“Enjoy The Silence”, Depeche Mode
I could write pages about this subject but I will make it brief. I have always been attracted to hard rock guitar, AC/DC to Death Metal, etc., but 98% of the time I cannot handle or ignore the vocals. Must be the macho nature of it, or the growling, seemingly possessed singing… I don’t believe them, their darkness and bad boy personas, so it makes them silly and really annoying. Anberlin and Stephen Christian’s excellent singing voice are a big exception to this chronic problem for me.
Strayer left the band as Cities was being released, replaced by Christian (...coincidence?) McAlhaney.