Defeater - "White Oak Doors"
The relationship between heavy music and I has become more strained with every stilted display of aggression that leaves me jaded and unmoved. In a genre that needs honest passion as a backbone to function, where's the solace? With metalcore's sovereignty in recent years, overflowing with breakdowns devoid with emotion, I can remain grateful in being able to trust hardcore bands such as Defeater as my oasis and supplier of heavier music I can get behind. In the same way that 2010 brought me the introspective wildfire that was Pianos Become The Teeth's Old Pride, 2011 has broken down my doors and arrived with Defeater's sophomore double LP, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights.
The album is split between Empty Days, the section of the record that will feel most familiar to fans of Defeater's hardcore sound, and Sleepless Nights which contains four acoustic tracks that see the band exploring an avenue that was touched upon in the acoustic track "Prophet in Plain Clothes" from their previous full-length, Travels. As it was one of the defining characteristics of the band's first release, it should be no surprise that Defeater's stories in Empty Days & Sleepless Nights surround the continuing tales of a post-World War II family, with a new focus on the older son and all the glorious daddy issues that unfold in the process. The story itself doesn’t contain the greatest amount of depth, but the concept pulls the emotional weight of the album and even managed to tug on my heart strings more than once through my listens.
As I am unaccustomed to the speed in Defeater's sound, the initial kickoff of "Warm Blood Rush" is a synapse-singing introduction to the unrelenting qualities that permeate Defeater's composure in their sound. While carefully not fringing upon brutish, the throaty performance by Derek Archambault is an abrasive experience that requires listeners to hold on for dear life and become familiar with its raspy qualities as he makes his way across the wave of relentless guitars to remain the front man within the cacophony of aggressive sound. The confusion settles long enough for the most straightforward song of the Empty Days section, "Dear Father", to play out the son's confusion and anger toward his father and his family's expectations of his life. I could make an argument for the repetition of the words having the effect of lessening the impact of the song’s intended emotion for me, but by the time Archambault begins frantically screaming "Where are you? Where are you?/ You coward, you coward" over the increasing tempo of the guitars, I have a hard time making any case the gritty anger displayed in the closure. It's the most accessible outburst found on the record, and one that listeners will probably revisit the most even after repeated listens.
The most endearing trait of Empty Days is when it displays Defeater's willingness to step out of their comfort zone, whether it is audible in the thick, low bass line in the quiet start of "Cemetery Walls" or the half-time explosion of spatial guitars that create a wall of atmosphere within "Empty Glass." This record isn't composed of simple straightforwardness or tunnel vision; it takes great lengths to explore Defeater's ability to stretch behind the confines of the speed in their usual sound and truly exhibit something special. This exploration of dramatic build and release isn't monopolized on however, as the aforementioned "Warm Blood Rush" and the similarly relentless barrage of "No Kind Of Home" won't find it necessary to drag you through emotionally-building instrumentation for you to find the heart of Defeater still nestled in their intensity and aggression.
Even though fans of Defeater will find solace in statements like that, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights’ shining moments are most obvious in the decisions where Defeater takes their fan base on the path they want to walk rather than succumbing to expectations of their sound. The gradual build of "White Oak Doors" and its utter denial of release and character-ending lyrics are nothing short of spectacular decisions on Defeater's part. Instead of ending an album in an explosion of typicality or capitalize on context, Defeater gives their fans an attached leg of four acoustic tracks that come after the abrupt ending to absolve their need for release. It's a decision that would have been absolutely golden on its own, and ends up being a little hindered by the fact something actually follows the sudden silence rather than allowing fans to swallow it alone.
The quality of the acoustic tracks shouldn't be disregarded entirely; they are solid work that will give City & Colour fans a feeling of reminiscence of that type of raw emotion that unfortunately falls just short of justifying the overall addition. Listeners will be able to tell that Sleepless Nights isn’t simply an acoustic adaptation of themes from Empty Days, but it ends up crumpling under the fact that the acoustic tracks would have fared better as an EP rather than feeling like an afterthought to a solid record of a radically different sound. It's great that fans get both types of sound in one place, but it hurts the overall quality of the package with its slapped-on inclusion.
The record itself isn’t without its own faults though; by the time "Quiet The Longing" and "At Peace" come on, I find myself jumping around to the acoustics to give myself a quick reprieve from the monotony of the last few songs of the album (excluding “White Oak Doors”). Long-time listeners will scoff, but Defeater’s greatest strength of exploring different sounds on this record ends up being their Achilles’ heel in that they simply didn’t take it far enough for casual listeners like me and others who are intrigued by the sound but need enough variety in the substance to stay interested.
If anything, my want for a further exploration into their sound is a sign of how much Empty Days & Sleepless Nights has captured me. It’s true that I'm left greedy with the thought of the possibilities open for Defeater stepping out of their comfort zone even more in their next release simply because of how enamored I am with this one. With so many directions to take with not just the sound, but the story of the family as well, Defeater has the opportunity to flex the freedom of their sound even further. Monotony and missed chances aside, Defeater’s Empty Nights & Sleepless Days is simply put, an impressive and noteworthy release that deserves your attention.
Buy it here.