Saturday, July 20, 2013

Album Review: Defeater - Letters Home

Album Rating: B
Perhaps the most decisive question to ask yourself before listening to Letters Home, is which Defeater do you prefer? Did you fall for the brutal anger and honesty of debut Travels? Or were you more taken with the progressive Empty Days and Sleepless Nights? If you unquestionably lean toward the former and not the latter, then Letters Home is likely to tick all the boxes which the sophomore release failed to. There is no “White Oak Doors” to be found here, and you’re certainly in no danger of finding four acoustic songs glued to the tail of the album. By all intents and purposes, this is Defeater going back to Defeater, a notion which lead vocalist Derek Archaumbault enthusiastically confirms: “Letters Home brings it back to why we started this band in the first place five years ago.”

Now it wouldn’t be a Defeater album without a World War II concept story now would it? Travels saw the youngest brother of a dysfunctional family murder his father and live a life on the run, whilst Empty Days... saw the older brother of said family struggle to pick up the pieces and keep some semblance of normality - ultimately failing. This cheery tale has been expanded upon once more, and the veteran father of the story takes precedent on the aptly titled Letters Home. Seeing the same events through a third set of eyes, this in-depth concept story is likely to be a divisive selling point for lyrical connoisseurs, with fans likely to be unperturbed and critics quick to say the story has been spread too thin.

As has often been the case in the past, some of the most powerful moments Defeater crafts is when the music dissipates and Archaumbault is allowed to scream unaccompanied, as if delivering the message purposefully to you and you alone. Letters Home is no different, and these moments still contain the ability to make those hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention and salute. As Archaumbault laments “And still all I see is that bastard in me” on opener “Bastards” the passion is palpable, but it’s the use of the very same words on album closer “Bled Out” which makes them unequivocal – all the while fading to a fitting and dramatic conclusion. It’s perhaps true that none of the moments live up to that moment on “Empty Glass” where Archaumbault’s voice wavers with pain, but Defeater still show that they know exactly where their strengths lie and how best to elicit emotion.

Where perhaps the riffs shone on Travels, it’s the drumming which commands on Letters Home. The one-two assault of “Hopeless Again” and “Blood in my Eyes” sees the toms and cymbals exquisitely pounded, jolting the bare-bones songs into life whilst ensuring that Archaumbault has to bring his inner most angst to accompany them. The duo hearkens back to the band’s early days with the frantic riffs and heartfelt yells of the debut, and whilst they bring the intensity which was lacking on their sophomore release, they benefit from a new found accessibility which has blossomed through experience and time.

The fact that the album consists primarily of these straight forward, and some may argue, by-the-numbers Defeater songs, is surprising. After all, very few bands escape from their musical cocoon only to realize they miss its relative comfort and familiarity. Letters Home is the latest chapter in Defeater’s ever spiraling tale, and if you enjoyed the simplistic brutality of their debut, then the screams of Archaumbault and their unique brand of melodic hardcore will likely strike a chord with you.

Track List:

1. Bastards
2. No Shame
3. Hopeless Again
4. Blood in my Eyes
5. No Relief
6. No Faith
7. Dead Set
8. No Saviour
9. Rabbit Foot
10. Bled Out

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