I might be the rarity who thinks NS was the natural step from Cities. Cities was very dark and introspective; a lot of NS is melancholic and full of longing, which makes sense. I'm glad they never tried to make another Cities - imo, only with DITW did they mis-step a bit, but I give them props for never trying to sell out an appeal to a bigger audience. They seem to genuinely write songs that they love and for the fans they have.
I agree with you sir. I think that New Surrender never had a chance of doing well after the acclaim that Cities received. I think the band needed albums like the poppier New Surrender and the more melancholic DITW to get to where they are today. New Surrender and DITW were great albums on their own, but really never had a chance given what the fans craved.
That all being said, this is Anberlin's most cohesive effort to date. I am in love with the balance and Sprinkle's production is palpable on every track.