Anberlin’s Debut Album Turns 20

AN NRT WAYBACK EDITORIAL, Anberlin's Debut Album Turns 20

Rock label Tooth and Nail Records has been responsible for some of the best Christian (or bands with faith-themed lyrics) rock acts over the decades. The 2000s were their golden age, with multiple new acts emerging each year, bringing their unique blend of pop/punk/rock to the scene. Although these bands achieved different levels of success over the years, one of the label’s most notable achievements came in 2003 with the debut album of alternative rock band Anberlin.

Blueprints For Success

On paper, Anberlin could’ve been another alternative-emo rock band with angsty relationship-based lyrics. But despite wielding many of those genre hallmarks, Anberlin always seemed to strike at something a bit deeper. While sonically, songs like lead single “Readyfuels” appeared to be another in a long line of genre standards, the call to purity added a thematic depth missing in many of the tunes. Similarly, songs like “Cadence” expressed the singer’s gratitude for a meaningful relationship, while tracks like “Glass to the Arson” showcased their protest against spiritual warfare with their unique stylings.

Musically, the band would eventually become known for their epic driving melodies. And while songs like “Autobahn” and “Naive Orleans” may come off as pure pop/rock that would be at home on radio stations, the dynamic driving rock of “Glass to the Arson” and “Change The World” were a taste of the greatness that Anberlin would be known for in the coming years. 

Changing The World

Subsequent Anberlin releases, Never Take Friendship Personal and Cities, would become massive cult classics, making the band one of the most-known names in Christian rock. Like many bands of this time, Anberlin avoided the outright “Christian band” label, but the faith themes in their music were unmistakable. And while their relationship-driven tunes may not have made them at home in a church setting, their spiritual themes often probed deeper spiritual themes than many of the paint-by-the-numbers hits that did make Christian radio.

It would be soon that the band would be signed to a significant mainstream label. And while they achieved notable success with the single “Feel Good Drag,” their unique rock style would ultimately remain more of a niche in the music world. Their following was passionate, sizeable, and loyal. Still, after three more albums on their mainstream home, it became clear that becoming a household name would not happen for them.

Anberlin, the band, ended their initial run in 2014 after producing a “final” album. They had been making music for just over a decade.

The Undeveloped Story

The band’s legacy through the years has remained strong with their fans. Some may criticize their association with Christian music as they’ve straddled a fine line. However, since ending their full-time run as a band, lead singer Stephen Christian has become a worship leader and released a few worship albums. Anberlin has come out of retirement for limited touring, live streams, and even a new EP. But the band’s cryptic mix of relationship and faith themes remains, and perhaps that darker mix has kept them as more of an acquired taste for Christian music fans.

Still, their impact on the genre is vital. For many who came of age in the 2000s, Anberlin contributed to the soundtrack of their adolescence. And while the faith-tinged musings of songs like “Paperthin Hymn” and “(*fin)” may not have been as blatant as some of their contemporaries’ lyrics, they still provided a lot of lyrical meat for Christian listeners to chew on. 

While only a select few regard their 2003 debut as close to their magnum opus, it was a definitive and attention-grabbing beginning that kickstarted a notable music career. Anberlin’s successful debut has a ripple effect, leading to related projects like Christian worship music. Its impact can be felt in various offshoots that have emerged from it. As this album turns 20, it’s an excellent chance to revisit it and the band’s catalog.


J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He’s published the novel ‘Because of Austin’ and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. His new novel, ‘When Miracles Can Dream,’ is out NOW!

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