Review Summary: Redundancy and beauty clash head to head.
The life of one tormented family is captured in a series of two albums, containing a grim exhibit of crushing vocals and heart-breaking lyrics. These things come winding together seamlessly to demonstrate an appealing and rigorous line of albums under the alias of Defeater. Although the story is the forefront of the Defeater show- do not fear that they are a one trick pony- Defeater know how to deliver. However that is not to say that Empty Days and Sleepless Nights is without flaws. Enticing vocals, energy and instrumentation the band lures the listener into the world of one young man to tale you the tale of his pain and misery.
Once a family under the oppression of a drunken, abusive father- now under the oppression of grief and anger for past actions and a will to do right. That is the premise of Defeater and they will remind you not only through Travels but through Empty Days and Sleepless Nights of this fact over and over again. This basis however becomes problematic due to the repetition involved. The story of the family is beautifully arranged and represented through the emotional delivery of the band. The emotion of anger and regret displayed by the band is nothing short of breathtaking but it can also become quite tiring after realizing all corners of what the album is attempting to offer.
This exhaustion stems from the brother’s grief. Not only is he fatigued but he is exhausting to listen to. He moans and cries his way through the tracks bitterly hanging onto the remaining shards of memory representing his once beloved father. His anger is represented in a straight forward fashion, and unlike Travels does not provide any thought provoking lines or personal correlation to the listener. He is sad that he lost his dad. We get it. However we continue to be told about his boring habits over and over, regardless of the song selected from the album it all covers the same similar topics. In Travels the character went on a life adventure for redemption, in Empty Days and Sleepless Nights the character barley does as much as leave his home. He does not develop as a person, progress or learn from his mistakes. Rather he remains static. What joy is there in watching a lonely man wallow around like a bitch for an hour only to have him die?
Opportunity to make the story more interesting is lost via twists and plot devices added then quickly withdrawn by the content of the songs. This is especially true for the songs “No Kind of Home” and “White Knuckles”. Two new characters are added to the story only to underdeveloped and unheard from only to be overshadowed by the plot of one brother’s rambling. The love of his life is added to the story and does not perform as anything interesting besides being killed and yelling at him for drinking. Then there is the bookie who may seem like a potential component to the plot but he essentially no other objective than to sinisterly add terror into the life of the brother.
Besides character development opportunity is also lost in the process of the song writing as well. “White Oak Doors” being the longest Defeater track is a very interesting one indeed. Short interludes throughout the song are effective at portraying lapses in time and the nervousness of the brother and just like the nerves of the brother, the song is a long crescendo. When the murderer reaches the cold steel tracks the drums pound away and mimic the noise of a train approaching. The sound proceeds to heighten until all goes silent where the brother meets his death. This alone is genius however it is hard not to think that it could have been so much more. The silence is unfitting, abrupt and leaves the listener confused. It would have been much more effective if the vocals would have climax in some form of a desperate plea then faded out with the sound of the train passing. Instead the song ends at the climax rather than smoothly introduce a decline in volume, this results in the song ending in a sloppy fashion.
Empty Days is only part of the focus of this record. Sleepless Nights is a much more mellow section of the album. Although the songs may be lighter do not think that they let up in emotion and passion. The vocals are nothing short of excellent just as they are in Empty Days. The song “Brothers” acts a real gem for the latter half of the album. It is instrumentally the happiest song on the album with an original sound to it which sets it apart from the rest of the album. The focus of Sleepless Nights works very well in contrast with the first half of the album due its divergent perspective. It tells the story of the family on a much lighter note without the transformation brought out upon by the troubles which they faced and shows the small amount of joy these people had in their lives as well as a level of intimacy unfound on the first half. It makes the characters much more realistic and believable because it shows a whole different side of the family’s outlook on life. “I Don’t Mind” is often regarded as one of the weaker tracks however when placed in context the song is so necessary and perfect. The entire story of the brother’s wife even after this standard acoustic ballad remains about as clear as mud. If it were not for this song and “Headstone” the love for which the brother had for his wife would not be properly expressed because her loss came so suddenly in Empty Days that it did not have the impact it could have if this love was expressed before her inevitable murder.
Although it is hard to deny that the lighter tracks would be out of place amongst the angst and fury of Empty Days it is still a flaw in the mould of the story telling which this album essentially places at the forefront-which is that Sleepless Nights feels like a collective of songs simply awaiting at the end. That’s what Sleepless Nights really feels like nothing more than a random collection of soft songs. They do not follow the chronological order of the album like the rest of Defeater’s songs and comes off as out of place. Due to their awkward placing the emotion and ideas which develop the characters in the album cannot be met before the information is already useless. What good is there in knowing about how the brothers played around when they were kids if he is already dead? What good does it do knowing how much the brother was in love with his wife after she already died a few songs ago? It ruins the potential attachment and emotion it could have brought on if the songs were to be placed in their appropriate slots chronologically. Some sort of attempt should have been made to transition the hard songs and soft songs to flow together. A lack of attempt is rather disappointing to see.
Regardless of its flaws Empty Days and Sleepless Nights is still a solid album. It has its flaws however the story telling is intricate and poetic. Each member of the band does their job well, the vocals are furious, raw and emotion filled. While the instrumentation is likely the best which Defeater has done to date. Awkward development and over exaggeration on a plot which is reaching its expiration date holds the album back from classic status. Story telling is what Defeater does best and this is essentially where the album succeeds, the entire bands comes together to paint you a mosaic of one tormented family. Their story is told boldly and to the point while lacking in proper development at some stages resulting in a faulted masterpiece of both literature and music. If this is your first Defeater album prepare to be blown away, if you are an avid fan prepare to be underwhelmed.
Warm Blood Rush