The Anniversary imploded at the end of 2003, leaving behind some great records and a disappointed fan base. After the breakup, members of the group headed off in directions that made the reasons behind the split obvious. Josh Berwanger, James David, and Christian Jankowski started the roots rock band the Only Children; Adrianne Verhoeven sang with a couple of bands before resurfacing as a indie soul singer; and -- wildest of all -- Justin Roelofs went to Mexico, flipped out, and delivered a strange and wonderful album under the name White Flight. The double-disc collection Devil on Our Side: B-Sides and Rarities documents the beginnings of the band, charts its rise, and sheds some light on the last moments before the band disintegrated. The first disc is made up of demos recorded in 1998, and on them the band races through emo rocker after emo rocker, showing plenty of heart but not much originality. The first six tracks are studio recordings from January and sound slightly inhibited and slick. Much better are the tracks the band recorded in a home studio later in the year. Not only are the performances tougher and looser but also the songs have an added sense of urgency, and they use Verhoeven's vocals to greater effect. A couple of the songs turned up on the band's 2000 debut, Designing a Nervous Breakdown ("The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," "Till We Earned a Holiday"), and it's no coincidence they are the strongest songs of the batch, though the dramatic and very Superchunky "Kids in Carolina" would have been a nice addition. On the whole, the first disc is of interest mostly to Anniversary fanatics -- there are no great finds or hidden classics, just solid modern rock & roll.
The second disc is divided between songs that ended up on split singles, compilations, and EPs between 1999 and 2001, and tracks recorded after the group's 2002 masterpiece, Your Majesty. The singles show a band growing and getting more impressive with each successive release. Particularly impressive is 2000's "I Believe That the End of the Reign of Terror is Soon Near," an epic-length, deeply felt song that anticipates the emo-prog (progmo?) approach the band later perfected. The tracks recorded after Your Majesty are interesting, but again, there's nothing thrilling in the vaults. Mostly the songs sound like a band with no clear idea of where to go next. They dip into slogany frat funk on "Che," try folky balladry on "Ain't That Bad" and "Lover," attempt some slightly unseemly tribal psych-funk on "Kali," and on "I Know What's Best" they lay down some acoustic hip-hop. These songs are decent enough, but they show none of the ambition or sonic majesty of Your Majesty and the only track that makes an impression is the truly weird "Let It Slip" -- and that's only because it approaches the hip-hop dub insanity of White Flight. In retrospect, it's easy to hear the different factions of the band splitting the enterprise into pieces as the compilation ends, and in a sense it was a good thing. The Anniversary went out on a very high note, and whatever that third album would have turned out to be, judging by the songs here, it would have been a huge disappointment. Even though there is no treasure trove of unheard music on Devil on Our Side: B-Sides and Rarities, it is a useful piece of the puzzle for the Anniversary fans, especially those who wondered why they broke up so soon after creating such a brilliant album as Your Majesty.