Sound — 8
This album marks the 10th year that Anberlin have been around, and in those 10 years they've slowly and steadily been working their way up the ladder in the mainstream music world, helped further when they signed to Universal Republic in 2008. However, upto now, their best work is almost universally agreed to be "Cities" back in 2007. "New Surrender", the follow up and first with Universal, although commercially successful with massive hit "Feel Good Drag", was seen by many as a step in the wrong direction; being overly produced and quite poppy. Lead singer Stephen Christian described "New Surrender" as the album the band thought the label wanted. After "New Surrender", the band went on to write "Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place", an album which promised so much and delivered very little. Although returning to the darker writing style seen on "Cities," the majority of songs didn't fulfill their own potential, and never really went anywhere. What this album did do however is show a band reaching the age of maturity, with almost all the of the poppy songs seen on "New Surrender" replaced for dark and moody low notes. But, like its predecessor, was still seen as a step down musically from their previous work. A lot of fans, although appreciating the band had to keep moving forward, complained the urgency had gone from their music. Well, in 2012 the band recorded its 6th studio album, "Vital". After reuniting with producer Aaron Sprinkle who recorded their first 3 albums, fans had high hopes this would indicate a return to form... And so it did. What "Vital" does is take everything the band has learnt over the last 10 years, and put it into 11 tracks. What that means is you will find the heavy hard hitting songs ("Self-Starter", "Little Tyrants"), the lighter poppy songs ("Intentions"), and the slower more thought provoking songs ("Innocent"). But unlike their last two albums, the songs somehow feel more genuine, like they were crafted out of a love of music, and not because the label was pointing at their watch and saying "it's time to make us another record, get to it". This album does feature heavy amounts of synth, and there are a few saying things like "why does every band now have to go down the electronic/synth route?". Well my response to that would be that you don't know what you're talking about, Anberlin already went down that route with it's 3rd album "Cities" back in 2007 before it was all the rage, so really they're going back to it, not simply following a trend. Although having worked with Neil Avron (Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard), and Brendan O'Brien (Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen), Aaron Sprinkle has proved yet again that if you understand what a band wants, you don't need to be a big shot producer to extract the very best out of the songs. He proved it with "Cities", and he's back proving it with Vital. Every song is balanced just right, bursting with energy, heart, and most importantly honesty.
Lyrics — 7
To say Stephen Christian had a way with words would be an understatement, however in recent times they've been a little hit and miss (who can forget "closer... Closer... Cloooooseeerr" from the last album). But this album sees a balance between the depth we heard on "Cities", with the personality of New Surrender, and the moodiness of "Dark Is The Way". There are many underlying meanings for each of the songs, but the one I will mention is "Innocent". Many will believe it's simply another love song, but actually Stephen wrote this about the passing away of a close family relative last year during their tour in Brazil, and I think once you listen to it knowing that bit of information it completely changes your appreciation for the lyrics, and for the song. Although what really stands out on this album are the vocal melodies, which are the best we've ever seen from this band. Dynamically twisting from verse to chorus, they are so beautifully crafted you have to consider how this band are not bigger than they are. These are not just great melodies, they're world class.
Overall Impression — 8
Since 2007 fans have been waiting for a follow up to "Cities", and "New Surrender" and "Dark Is The Way" have not been it. What that means is people have been turning back to "Cities" for comfort, and that must be awfully frustrating for you as a band, to know your fans still think your best work is something you did 5 years ago. What "Vital" does is finally give fans the follow up to "Cities" it deserved, but more than that, it actually rivals it. After 10 years, and 6 albums down the line, Anberlin are still around... Still being creative, still moving forward, still learning and growing and getting better. A lot of bands churn out the same sounding record over and over, and it's an understandable habit. But Anberlin are very aware that you have to keep evolving, and not stand in one place too long. Well, "Vital" you might call a moment of reflection. The band have stopped, and looked from above at everything they've achieved. Then they've picked out all the best bits, combined that with the experience they've gathered, and created "Vital".