Anberlin - Vital (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Vital (2012)


Anberlin struck the right chords with Cities and Never Take Friendship Personal but their last two records seemed a bit lacking. They weren't bad but didn't live up to the hype, which is why I was keen to see if they could garner that charisma and edge they boasted back in 2007. Vital had many waiting and despite a swift and solid opening act, the album sadly fizzles out in the middle and wobbles at the end. Anberlin cut back on the grit, aggression and energy I liked for a sound that seemed too electronic, lazy and dependent on synthesizers. I could see them playing off of Stephen Christian's amazing vocal strength a lot, but they saturate those attempts too much here in a clear-cut attempt at a Top 40 album.

There are bits and pieces of indie, alternative and contemporary rock that Anberlin arrange well. It's evident with the catchy "Self-starter" and "Vital," which itself boasts sublime intertwining guitars and hooks as well as solid lyrics. It's a myriad of ups and downs from here. Skeptics over the hype would find it hard to pour accolades as many tracks seem watered down too much to give that preachy vibe that Anberlin avoided a lot, surprisingly, in the past. "Intention" sounds like a pop-experiment by We Are Scientists, while "Type 3" and "Orpheum" stick to some formulaic ballad foundation that just doesn't work. This letdown has nothing to do with the perpetual Christian affiliation but with the fact that musicianship and instrumental delivery were clearly sacrificed too much to showcase Christian's highlight reel. "Someone Anyone" is another forgettable exposition where pop, melody and harmony once more seem too much of a product than a natural, cohesive flow.

There's the usual array of catchy choruses, whether upbeat or at a slowed pace, which Anberlin make their name on. The tempo and emotion on the record seem a bit based more on style than substance, although "Other Side," with its indie vibe, helps bring a bit more positivity back. Christian touches on many topics, relationships included as usual, where "Desires" stand out. The bassist and drummer finally get a bit of the spotlight, but that doesn't last long. Accentuating Christian's voice takes out too much momentum from the record, which leads to "Innocent" and "Modern Age" petering out quickly. Anberlin had a knack for songs that touched upon FFAF or Emery, but here it's bogged down with a synthetic sound. I can't see their linear progression to this record being gold standard, despite the variety of sound and lyrics. Tinkering with a cleaner sound didn't pay off, and you're left wondering if Tooth and Nail Records would have gotten a better album from them.