Review Summary: Dead Swans nothing new? No problem
Hardcore is certainly a phrase that has managed to stretch itself so far in terms of reference that it's almost become a parody of itself to claim anything to be defined as such. Yet, in the musical sense, the term implies a classic approach to an aggressive punk genre that invests the majority of its roots in attitude encased by rough edges and a particular "do-it-yourself" work ethic. Such is the case with Dead Swans third legitimate release "Sleepwalkers." The album brings a familiar basement atmosphere to the scene and fits properly in Bridge Nine's worthy catalogue amongst Have Heart, Reign Supreme, and Polar Bear Club. Their previous efforts (a prior record with Thirty Days of Nights titled "Southern Blue" that was shelved as it was released in February 2008, and a split with Architects that was released in December of the same year) have yet to leave their mark, yet the band is already here with another release just a few short months later. Dead Swans have a simplistic appeal that revolves around shifting chord progressions and thundering drum beats that climax to modest breakdowns and gang shouts that emphasize the groups perspective on their position in the world. The Earth has washed out civilization, and Dead Swans are here to provide the soundtrack for the remaining survivors.
The album kicks off with a pretty convincing opener as "Thinking Of You" lets out yelps that bring back fond memories of The Hope Conspiracy's "They Know Not," which held out a pretty monotonous strum over the first minute and a half of the song until finally kicking into some spot-on strumming followed by single pedal foot work that establishes such a firm rhythm, you would wish you had a dance room in the house to drop down and windmill kick like you know you can. Once the first verse affirms the fact that Dead Swans can rock like any other generic hardcore act should be properly capable of and the band switches to a mid-tempo two-step jig, the group kick into, what could be considered the signature one liner from the album "you weren't there, and I just can't stop thinking of you." It is very probable that there is tons of merch on back order with the infamous singer-reach-out-into-the-crowd-with-the-mic picture that has the text imprinted on the top and bottom of the photo. From there, it's pretty much a beautifully mastered and produced kick in the head and directly into the depths of up-beat anthems and what an experienced listener would call generic contemporary hardcore.
Certainly, the diy-ethic fades away with the production being such a mint feature on the disc, but if assessed properly, it can be seen as a guilty pleasure. Do not let production fool you, as this trait does not indicate Michael Keene produced glass bass drum ticks, or Ash Avildsen drafted rookies. This is an experienced group connecting on a proper platform and are maintaing fury and passion for their songs as they click one by one. For one, this is certainly one of the greatest performances by a drummer on a classic hardcore disc that has been caught to tape. Think Sammy Siegler's performance on Glassjaw's "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence," and you may come close to the cymbal work, and interplay from fast constant bass drum beats to a groove oriented all-American rock out tom work. For an accurate depiction, reference "Winter Overture," for a Deftone's influenced intro to a rather ambient strum to its accompaniment. Aside from the fact that this is no progressive rock outfit and that the drummer probably only has one cymbal and a three piece going into the studio, Benny the boy can certainly nail a solid time signature.
The guitar work is up to par with expectations, as there is really no possible way a group can actually do wrong with three to four chords in a single progression that pretty much rock out for two or three verses at a time, only to shift in nature by the beat of the drummer (which again, is very, very exceptional). There is an interplay between guitarists in the band as certain chords often start sailing off into the heights of attempted leads, however which don't add a large amount of depth to the songs, as most compositions of this nature are very short lived. The guitars know where the kids at the show will be floor punching and attempting mic grabs, and therefore conduct themselves in a nature to spotlight the lyrics and rhythms of the band, rather than displaying a talent-fueled string section. Again, the approach of this band is to be a back-to-basics aggro-unit with a goal to be as high-octane as possible and get in and out with the twelve songs they decided to track.
The voice on record is certainly suitable for the attempted attitude on "Sleepwalkers" as Nick is reminiscent of classic figure heads as such Carl from Earth Crisis (only a little lower, and more towards the "Gomorrah's Season Ends portion of their career) and maybe even one of the two guys from Embrace the End that managed to overcome the severe layoffs the group initiated in their massive reorganization for the release of "Ley Lines." The lyrics are something to speak for in this case, as the majority of the poems here aren't in reference to overcoming obstacles, fighting to survive, and putting down that beer and picking up the yoga. Instead, the context here is more about life falling apart around us and the methods individuals implement in order to maintain their livelihood under these conditions. It isn't the most refreshing or revolutionary concepts and it most certainly is not thought provoking, however it makes for a good vibe and complements the attitude of the diminished chords and pummeling drum beats.
"Sleepwalkers" certainly won't make you reevaluate your appeal to classic hardcore and it probably won't make you blow the dust off that Snapcase record you haven't listened to since they toured with Boy Sets Fire late in the 90's. However, it does generate a particular hope for those of us who have been sitting around for that Earth Crisis album that was released and yawned two minutes into the opening track. Dead Swans have worked hard for their Bridge Nine release and the effort is certainly visible. There is a sheen of toughness that surrounds this album and its production and there is a certain joy found in following the record through from start to finish. It is a quick ride that makes for a worthy listen and capitalizes on a few signature aspects of the genre that remind the aged listener of the atmosphere and approach that made the scene so appealing in the first place.