Review Summary: “Aint this what, Ain’t this what brothers are supposed to do”
It’s been years since he left, but the damage that he left behind is still palpable. You lift the lit cigarette to your lips and breathe it in as you stare out at the cold grey sea, you legs dangling weakly over the decaying wood of the pier. “I’ll kill him” you think to yourself “I’ll lay his head against those tracks if he ever comes back, I don’t forgive, I don’t forget.” You know that back home your mother is drowning herself in her latest fix, smiling as she pumps the toxins into her veins, but you can’t bare to take away her one remaining solace. The waves rock you into a trance, and your mind drifts back through your life searching for some hint of meaning. Your running through the battlefield now, gun in hand while explosions take their deadly toll on your only friends, then your standing in the kitchen fists clenched over the body of your father as the door swings closed behind your brother, you hear the whistle of a train and the cold steel of the tracks on your bare feet and your brother is running from your side crying, and at last your in your room listening to your father scream and your brother wail as your mother tries weakly to defend him. You get up shakily and clear your head with another drag on the cigarette; you have lots of memories like these ones, and they’ve proven too much even as you’ve aged. You think about breaking down and sobbing, letting your tears topple down your face and fall into the salty wash of the sea, but your father wouldn’t respect that, he didn’t tolerate cowardice. You snuff your cigarette out and kick it into the water, and with your hands buried deep into the denim of your pockets you decide to visit the ‘Ol man’s grave. Maybe the stone will have some answers, at the very least the walk will help you to get the images out of your mind, but you don’t ever forget and you don’t ever forgive. You change your path on the way to the cemetery, and instead head up the road to the white oak doors of the church, you figure you’ll surprise your mother there, take her out to eat maybe, and tell her everything will be alright. You don’t really want to kill him, he’s your brother, and you just want a way out. In the distance the train whistle sounds and the sun shines down on your pale face. You push open the church doors and breathe in the pungent scent of old wood and incense. You see your mother slumped over praying like she always does, rosary dangling from her hands, and you look up into the rafters where tiny cracks let the light in. Maybe everything will be alright…
When listening to an album like Empty Days and Sleepless Nights, its important to remember that context is everything. The visceral screams, the soaring guitars, and the blistering drum fills are all just part of the story –and the story is heartbreaking. It’s drenched in the alcoholism and the domestic violence of a post WWII New Jersey family, and the tension drips from every anxious note. Defeater have proven on their latest release (The second installment in the story of family), that they are masters not only of the innovative brand of hardcore that they play, but that they can take that musical prowess to a level that transcends simple song craft. One listen to the take-no-prisoners chorus of “Dear Father” or the suspense filled plodding of “White Oak Doors” reveals that Defeater have become quite adept at mixing their anthemic hardcore leanings with the painstaking songwriting required to keep the story consistent throughout the three works. The return of the story’s original ending only serves as another powerful way of making the tale come full circle, and illustrates how well the band has become at narrating their bleak story.
Of course the story is lent its incredible immediacy by the crushing beauty of the instrumentation behind it. On Empty days Defeater has crafted the loftiest and perhaps most accessible installment in the story thus far, relying on a wide array of highly melodic guitar riffs, frantic drumming, and of course the emotion drenched screams of frontman Derek Archambault. Each and every song aches with the urgency of the twisted suburbia Defeater are seeking to describe, and defeater have no qualms about creating sentimental atmospheres such as those found in the slower moments of “Waves Crash, Clouds roll” or “Cemetery Walls”. Perhaps the greatest strength of the record lies in its ability to sound diverse and refreshing within the Defeater catalog, but still evoke the same emotional response that the story has provided us with so far. The acoustic tracks provide a nice change of pace, and even provide some of the albums musical highlights as brooding tracks such as “brothers” give us a much more intimate look into the twisted dynamic that the more upbeat tracks seek to describe.
Ultimately Empty Days and Sleepless nights comes out as a landmark release not only for 2011, but for hardcore music in general as it seeks to reconcile the tender aspects of its dark storyline with the brutality and innovativeness that we have come to expect from the top names in the genre. Defeater have created a classic here, but in order to see it for what it truly is it is necessary to take it in context. Empty days and Sleepless Nights in indeed the soundtrack to its namesake, the brittle tale of crippling filial piety and sibling rivalry told through brooding bass lines and heart wrenching melodies. It is the auditory expression of a broken home, and by expressing our darkest emotions through their own crushing lens Defeater speak to us. Will we listen?