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The amount of hype that has been stirring for Defeaters sophomore album, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
, is borderlining on the ridiculous. You really got to hand it to Defeaters current label, Bridge 9; they basically took all the initial hype that the band had generated with Travels
, and essentially quadrupled it for Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
. Strategies like the release of Lost Ground
, then the album sampler EP, Dear Father
, are making fans practically chomping at the bit for the release of their sophomore album. This can be seen as a two-edged sword, one side yielding the edge necessary to come out the victor, the other capable of backlash. This was the case for The Carrier’s sophomore album, in which they failed to capitalize on their hype. But now it’s Defeaters turn and to sum it up, they have pierced through flesh and bone, and straight down to our souls with the release of Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
While it is still way too early to make any lasting judgments, it won’t be surprising if the ten-track LP, Empty Days
, goes down as one of the best hardcore albums in the modern era. Typical of Defeater, first song, ‘Warm Blood Rush’, doesn’t give the listener any time to prepare as it wastes no time in delving into the story arch that Defeater has been painstakingly creating since inception. Taken from the viewpoint of the opposite younger brother from Travels, Empty Days
is a much bleaker affair than the debut album, as if it were any more possible. Touching upon the subjects of alcoholism, a drug addicted mother, the sins of the father, love found and, ultimately, love lost, Empty Days
owes a huge debt of gratitude to the story established throughout Defeaters discography. In a sense, the storyline of Empty Days
is a no-brainer, given the themes and structure of Travels
. But don’t take this the wrong way, of course, as it doesn’t necessarily handicap the album in any way.
‘Dear Father’, coupled with following track, ‘Waves Crash, Clouds Roll’, could very well be two of the greatest hardcore songs the past decade has heard. Taking direct inspiration from acts such as Modern Life is War and The Effort; these tracks follow a very lo-fi approach to the genre that, married with lyrics of the death of the father and the subsequent consequences of such, yet again adds to the overall dark atmosphere of Empty Days
. The driving drumming and the crashing palm-mutes felt on ‘Waves Crash, Clouds Roll’ perfectly amplify the already bursting emotion from the front man. A surprising theme of love found is touched upon in ‘Empty Glass’, featuring ‘hole-in-the-wall’, dive-bar, the Copper Coin. This strangely positive storyline only helps compound the feeling of loss in ‘White Knuckles’, where that love is tragically, and violently, ended. It’s easy to get lost in the story that has been created, a gimmick on Defeaters part that has been capitalized and hyped upon. There is no denying the storytelling talents of vocalist Derek Archambault; he’s no Mark Twain, mind you, but in this day and age of the same lyrical topics like straight-edge lifestyles, and heavy religious subjects, he is more than just a deep, heavy breath of fresh, crisp air.
But let’s be honest; Archambault tends to eclipse all elements of Defeater. This doesn’t hinder the exceptional talents that the rest of the band possesses, but it does take the attention away from the band in some ways. ‘No Kind of Home, ‘Cemetery Walls’, and ‘At Peace’ carry the storyline nigh perfectly, yet these are examples of what happens when the talents of one individual member of the band tends to overshadow the rest of a group. But we can also be rest assured by this fact that Empty Days
carries as well: the fact that while these problems might be present, they are seemingly trivial in the overall scheme of the album. Small nitpicks in an LP that is nearly pure gold for a genre. But probably the most controversial move on Empty Days
is final track ‘White Oak Doors’. Following a sonic formula similar to the concluding song of Modern Life is War’s sophomore albums closer, ‘White Oak Doors’ once again follows a lo-fi, reverb heavy assault that builds and builds and builds, with the main protagonist finally confronting the brother that abandoned his family, leaving our hero to fend for both himself and his ailing mother. The tone of the song becomes more dramatic with a final showdown on the rail tracks; the buildup becomes extremely tense, yet right when there is final catharsis the track abruptly ends. True, the storyline from the song calls for this type of ending, but like a cut off message to a very important voicemail, it doesn’t help the feeling of ultimate disappointment to the song. It will clearly serve as a dividing line between listeners and fans of Defeater.
Ultimately, Empty Days
can be seen as a crowning achievement for Defeater. After the praise and accomplishments that the band did with Travels
, it’s almost incomprehensible that a band has finally been able to take all the hype that has been thrown at them and actually prove to be up to par with it. Other, greater bands have fallen from this same type of marketing, but Defeater have shattered all expectation with Empty Days
and made an album for the ages in doing so.
While officially packaged as a single release, Defeaters sophomore album is actually split into two separate parts, one featuring a more traditional hardcore release titled Empty Days
, the second a four-track EP titled, Sleepless Nights
. Probably the main reason for the separation is the fact that Sleepless Nights
is an acoustic ballad more akin to Rocky Volotado and Bob Dylan-like. For those who have yet to hear Defeater, or are familiar with a more classic approach to hardcore, this might come off as quite a shocking surprise and surprising it is. Once again, coming into the foray as the main head of the band, Derek Archambault leads with exceptional vocal talents that have, for the most part, been previously untouched in Defeater. His high-strung lullabies carry an honest timbre to them that makes the EP very easy to fall in love with.
But Sleepless Nights
, on its own, is by no means perfect. An honest, border lining playful release, it showcases a whole new side of Defeater that is fun to listen to, but unimpressive when compared to the greats of the genre that Defeater is experimenting with. The subject matter of the EP follows the same story of Defeaters full-lengths yet puts them into the first person, as if Archambault embodies the soul of the brother playing along with the guitar. It’s an impressive effort that makes the subject matters a bit more relatable, as compared to the distant story telling of Travels
and Empty Days
. Truth be told, it almost seems unfair to use this EP as a sore thumb, but Sleepless Nights
just fails to capture the nigh-perfection that Empty Days
carries. The bright light that shines on their full length only helps to further accentuate the flaws of Sleepless Nights
, making it seem quite a bit dimmer. No one will fault Defeater, or Sleepless Nights
at that, for the ambition that was put into the creation of the EP; hell, ‘I Don’t Mind’ will undoubtedly get massive replays for its playful, more positive lyrics, but it should also be unsurprising that the EP is completely eclipsed by the previous LP.
When finally added together as one coherent release, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
is an album that attempts to reinvent the wheel and just marginally almost does exactly that. It’s quite amazing that with such a level of hype, a band has been able to successfully ride its wave in under two full-lengths yet Defeater have done just that. The passion, emotion and raw intensity that is witnessed throughout the album borderlines on the immaculate: not just a simple progression of musical ability that some bands can accomplish on their sophomore albums. The story created on Travels
has come full circle on Empty Nights
, and while relying quite a bit on the plot lines of their debut, Empty Nights
is a much more visceral, darker and desperate affair than its predecessor. Yet while it seems more like fishing for faults than anything else, Sleepless Nights
, when combined with Empty Days
into one album, hamstrings the whole listen: a different, more radical approach, yes, but not without its faults. In the end, even with its faults, Defeater's sophomore album serves as one that will most likely go down as one of the premier hardcore releases in recent memory.