Sound — 8
There are plenty of bands that meet their untimely end before really hitting their stride, and there are also plenty bands that linger too long and fall from grace, but every once in a while, there's a band that travels a healthy course from an eager start to an amicable finish. After being in the music scene for twelve years as a solid alt-rock band in the noughties, as well as a brand name in the Christian rock scene, Anberlin announced that this year would be the final year for the band; with their scheduled seventh album being the last one they record, and the shows they perform this year being the last shows they ever perform. While the announcement was initially met with lament from their listenership, it was soon followed with an air of mutual, respectful acceptance - any fuss about Anberlin walking out on their fanbase was in the begrudging minority, for the rest were aware that all things must come to an end, and were filled with a bittersweet happiness about experiencing the band's completion.
With "Lowborn" being the final installment for their discography, Anberlin opts to use it as a step in a different musical direction instead of simply doing what they've done before. Gravitating towards a new wave/electronic rock sound, Anberlin also show that their final album won't be an explosive finale, but rather, a mature denouement. The synthesizer elements found throughout the album are what kindle the majority of songs, and while sometimes they take the lead throughout the softer, more pensive songs like "Stranger Ways," "Birds of Prey," the acoustic-guitar-infused "Atonement," and the deep finisher "Harbinger," they also manage to hand the baton over to Anberlin's alt-rock side to usher in powerful crests in "We Are Destroyer," the piano-infused "Losing It All," and "Armageddon," which flaunts just a pinch of dubstep influence. Only in a few songs do the conventional rock elements resonate stronger than the electronic elements, and while the arena-rock-inspired "Hearing Voices" is an impeccable penultimate track, "Velvet Covered Brick" leaves much to be desired.
The black sheep track ends up being the track that invests the most in a conventional-rock-driven sound; "Dissenter," which borders on post-hardcore and stands on an odd and uncomfortable side of the spectrum for Anberlin. The song doesn't want to fit on the album, and one can assume that its role is to satisfy the fans who don't dig the intrigue of the dominant electronic rock flavor on the album, but this represents something deeper: "Dissenter" is the sentiment of not accepting Anberlin's end. Just like the minority that may want Anberlin to keep making records for eternity, "Dissenter" refuses to let the rock cease in the face of change, only to realize that it can't work out. As it displays, if Anberlin kept doing the same thing with no end in sight, they would render themselves into an overwrought band only functioning to cling to its former glory and desperately try to top it - and in one song, Anberlin answer the question why they feel compelled to responsibly call for an end: things can't stay the same forever.
Lyrics — 8
On the surface, the lyrics on "Lowborn" seem like business as usual, with hearty helpings of Christian themes to drive meaningful messages- like the plague of post-modern mentalities in "We Are Destroyer" or the inner struggles detailed in "Armageddon" and "Velvet Covered Brick" - but upon further analysis, the biggest subject that echoes throughout the album is, of course, Anberlin's end. Several of frontman Stephen Christian's lyrics bear undertones that ring with the reality that these songs will be the last new moments between Anberlin and the multitude of fans that have been connecting with the band for years, both indulging in the shared forlornness of finality (like "will I see you again if ever?" in "Stranger Ways," "how can I say goodbye?" in "Losing It All," "but no one wants to say goodbye" in "Hearing Voices" and "I don't wanna go now, but I know I've got to" in "Harbinger") and consoling that sorrow (like "don't look back there's nothing to see/regret is nothing more than a lover's disease" and "hold on to the light/let go of the dark" in "Birds of Prey," and "it's not losing it all, if we have each other" in "Losing It All,").
Christian gets the most obvious about the issue in "Atonement," where his first verse ("I've seen faces I may never see again/I've been places I never could have dreamt/I've touched hands with those who touched me") all but speaks directly to the fans that he's met over the years of touring, and later on in the song, reflects once again on his life as a part of Anberlin but knows the band's end is the right decision for him ("I've loved where I've been/yes, I've loved where I've been/but my heart's where I'm going"). Christian has also talked about how "Harbinger," being the final song on "Lowborn," is the absolute goodbye to the listener (if the line "so many changes, taking places/we need to walk away" wasn't obvious enough for you), but with the chorus repeating the line "we'll live forever," Christian expresses to the listener that even if the band is decommissioned, their music will live on forever.
Overall Impression — 8
Though the nightmare of ending a career on a bad album would make plenty of bands stress every detail when making their final album, Anberlin seem unaffected by a neurosis of giving everyone what they think everyone would want. Like the sense of freedom and clarity that's realized in the wake of terminality, Anberlin's worry-free approach ends up sculpting "Lowborn" into a distinct album, further establishing its landmark status in the band's catalog. Even in the flaws and questionable decisions on the album, Anberlin show that they weren't concerned with "Lowborn" being flawless; they were only concerned with the last round of music they would make as a band, and they express to the listener not to yearn for more, but to simply enjoy the end of the ride. It's that ethos that makes "Lowborn" a success of a final album.