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Anberlin – ‘Silverline’

Great bands aren’t born. They form, grow in stature, evolve, release a series of classic records, burn brighter than a comet and, finally, at the height of their creative powers, bid a graceful farewell. Then get back together a few years later. Welcome back Anberlin, we missed you.

For the unfamiliar, Anberlin were an alternative pop-rock band whose emo-tinged third record ‘Cities’ catapulted them onto a major label – and that wasn’t their creative highpoint. Four(ish) records followed, culminating in 2014’s ‘Lowborn’ by which time they were rock heroes with a nigh-on faultless discography. This means ‘Silverline’ isn’t just an EP, it’s the band stepping back into the ring, facing their history and saying ‘we can still do this’. It has to prove that they’re still relevant and can still make quality music – it can’t afford to be a misstep. That’s a big ask and they have really risen to the challenge.

The five songs here pick up where Anberlin left off, taking the soft rock and synth sound and committing to a new direction. Sure, you can still hear their roots but this has clear purpose and though they’re slotting into the scene alongside bands like Rain City Drive and You Me At Six, they’re offering something different. In many ways, the music lacks the urgency of these contemporaries, and even their own previous work, but makes up for it with more expansive soundscapes, quality songwriting and hard-earned wisdom. This is not a re-tread or a lame reheating of the Anberlin of yore, it feels new.

As a Christian band it’d be a waste not to call this a resurrection but joking aside, Anberlin have been tagged as religious rock since their early days signed to Tooth & Nail and it’s a label they’ve never quite shaken off (not helped that their lead singer’s name is Stephen Christian). Lyrically, however, he avoids overt religious musings so you don’t need worry, the lyrics are abstract enough for atheists and offer inclusive, affecting warmth. Like always, his voice is a real draw here. It’s smooth like old whiskey, with a distinctive, powerful edge that he weaves the songs to make them memorable and affecting. His talent for interlocking melodies is also difficult to understate, resulting in really great songs.

Immediately, ‘Two Graves’ grabs your attention. Anberlin might be older and wiser but they’re not afraid of rocking out. It’s noisier than you might expect, and although using backward-sounding drums during the verses, it’s meaty enough to get your pulse racing, especially as it dips its toes into post hardcore for a big outro. Similarly ‘Nothing Lost’ pushes further into a synthy-keyboard sound but it’s underscored by a bassline that could saw through a forest. Both songs have a familiar feel almost like the band are holding your hand, guiding you so the final three tracks can plunge deeper into more experimental territory.

‘Body Language’ is an upbeat pop song that might feel indebted to ’80s power ballads but isn’t a copycat. Using a layered keyboards and gated-sounding drums it fills the space and allows Christian’s voice to intertwine with the backing, making for an impressive and arresting hook. Yet it’s ‘Asking For’ that really stands out. The music evolves from soft electronics, to rock song, to powerful ‘stadium emo’ ballad which showcases the band’s creative side, allowing the vocals to tell a heartrending story of regret. It’s beautiful and heartfelt enough to make the hairs on your neck stand on end and given the band’s maturity it’s surprisingly honest and artfully fragile, enough to justify the band’s reunion on its own. Finally, ‘Circles’ briefly revisits the full-band rocking-out sound but only so that it can upend your expectations making for a sweeping and grandiose closer.

The EP sounds great. While it’s difficult to say exactly why Anberlin’s records always sounded so good you could always feel the weight of the drumsticks and the hands pressing the synthesiser keys, and was an important part of their sound. Here, it’s back, the synths are weighty and strikingly real. It’s important, almost as important as the return of THAT bass tone and the driving ‘Nothing Lost’ opens with a lovely filthy buzz, combined with slick guitar riffs and tight drums it makes the EP worth listening to simply to appreciate the production.

Interestingly ‘Two Graves’ is a straight-up rocker, cut apart and stitched back together to fit with the EP’s overarching sound; maybe a more straightforward song would have hit harder but there’s no denying its various experimental flourishes keep it feeling fresh.

With only five songs, the EP has limited breadth but its cohesive sound stands in its own right. It’s a shame they didn’t get to explore further, earning it its place amongst Anberlin’s impressive discography. In many ways they belong in the same bracket as Thrice who hung up their guitars only to return at their creative best (and also have ties to Christianity but keep their faith separate).

Older, wiser and still with something to offer Anberlin make a welcome return with ‘Silverline’. Exploring new ideas without losing sight of what always made the band great it’s a mature, thoughtful EP with a clear beginning, middle and end. An unexpected delight.

IAN KENWORTHY
 
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