Bridge Nine Records
15 July 2013
On Defeater’s third full-length Letters Home, their conceptual story arc about an exceptionally dysfunctional wartime family continues. Previous albums have told the story of a brother each, and this record imparts tales of the violent patriarch’s earlier life. However, the band have clearly not learned from George Lucas’ mistakes, as adding preceding events to canon does not make for particularly riveting storytelling.
Each release has represented a stage in the bands’ progression (preceding album Empty Days & Sleepless Nights even contained some acoustic moments), and established them as a potent force, arguably placing them at the very forefront of the vanguard of emotive post-hardcore once known as “The Wave”. It’s a shame, then, that Letters Home sees them regressing rather than pushing on.
It’s not that the material here is particularly bad; it’s just far too familar and retains little of the effect it once had. Take opener ‘Bastards’ for instance – sure, it rocks like a beast, but it falls some way short of the excitement levels tracks like ‘Blessed Burden’ and ‘Warm Blood Rush’ reached. The hallmarks of Defeater are all present and correct, with Derek Archambault’s unmistakable visceral vocals raging and seething over excellent dueling guitar work by Jake Woodruff and Jay Maas, but the band display nothing on this record that the quintet haven’t done before. Treading the same old ground just isn’t as exciting three albums down the line.
Other than a few select moments, the majority of the album is eminently forgettable. A superb guest spot from Make Do And Mend’s James Carroll on ‘No Relief’ aside, the mid-section lurches ungracefully from one virtually identical track to another – even the most ardent of fans would have difficulty identifying the variety between ‘Rabbit’s Foot’, ‘Dead Set’ and ‘Blood In My Eyes’. Even the last track (traditionally a territory where Defeater excel) contains little that even slightly resembles the emotive fortitude tracks like ‘Cowardice’ and ‘White Oak Doors’ held. Spreading itself out rather thinly over six and a half minutes proves that taking the pace down and the volume up does not necessarily guarantee impact. Previous finales have been crushing and harrowing; ‘Bled Out’ ends up sounding a little like a drab, third-rate ‘Jane Doe’.
This is not a meritless record, just a formulaic one. There are real gems to be found in here, such as the slow-burning ‘No Savior’, which provides the emotive gut-punch the predominate part record so sorely lacks. With the impending return of the likes of Modern Life Is War, one might expect Defeater to make a record that stands up to their forebears, but instead they’re threatening to become melodic hardcore’s Status Quo. Fans satisfied by a stationary and devolutional record will find a lot to enjoy here, but those anticipating the next step in progression from ED&SN will be sorely disappointed.
Sounds Like: Travels by Defeater, Lost Ground by Defeater, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights by Defeater
Standout Tracks: No Relief, No Savior, No Shame