Review Summary: A lot of people are accusing Defeater of beating a dead horse with their third release Empty Days and Sleepless Nights, and they’re not exactly wrong. But some horses make a really good sound when you hit them, so why stop?
The hype around this band, both good and bad, is overwhelming. So let’s be quite clear about this. This review will not dissect and analyze Defeater’s 2011 album Empty Days and Sleepless Nights
. I’m not going to tell you that “the guitars are crushing” or say “it’s overflowing with so much emotion that my brain hurts” and go on and on and on and on making hyperbolic, ridiculous claims about how Defeater are “peerless” and how Defeater are “the best”. Nobody likes that, and it’s been done. Instead, I’m going to focus on the concept, and why I like
For the uninitiated, Defeater is a melodic hardcore band from Boston. Their debut LP, 2008’s Travels
, introduced us to the conceptual lyrical approach that Defeater would later become defined by. The lyrics from both Travels
and their 2009 EP Lost Ground
tell detailed wartime stories. Travels
is a rich and detailed story about a father and his two sons(none of them have names, or they aren’t known). I won’t go into the story of Travels
here, but just know that it exists.
Empty Days and Sleepless Nights
is the follow-up to Travels
and has a concept of its own, sort of. Empty Days is told through the eyes of one of the sons, let’s call him Gus. I’m not quite 100% on the some of the details, but the story goes like this: Gus’ brother, we’ll call him Günter, has just killed their alcoholic, abusive father, we’ll call him Ganondorf, and run away. Gus can hardly start the shame and rage he feels. He is left alone to care for his mother, let’s go with Gertrude for her, whose heroin addiction grows worse after Ganondorf’s funeral. Gus swears revenge on Günter, if he ever returns.
Time goes by and Gus grows more bitter and angry. He “grows up,” but starts to drink way too much, mostly to cope with his Gertrude’s addiction. He meets a girl, we’ll call her Gaga, and marries her. They settle down, but he is never happy. His drinking gets worse and his relationship with Gaga deteriorates. Meanwhile, a bookie, we’ll call him Garfield, continues to harass Gus about Ganondorf’s debts which were unpaid at the time of his death. Gus dismisses Garfield, telling him that his father’s business is none of his problem. Well, Garfield doesn’t like that too much. One night, after a particularly bad drunken rage, Gus returns home to find Gaga in a pool of blood. Garfield has taken her life as a punishment for Ganondorf’s outstanding debts.
So more shame, more rage, Gus is in pretty rough shape. Then, Gertrude dies and Gus is left completely alone, waiting for his brother to return or death, whichever comes quickest.
One day, Günter finally returns and Gus greets him with the barrel of his shotgun. He marches him down to the same train tracks where the two of them used to dodge trains, screaming at him the whole time about what he has done and the pain he has caused. He forces Günter’s head against the train track and points the shotgun at his skull, waiting for the train. The train is coming fast, it’s almost there, when Günter mans up and pulls the ol’ switcheroo on Gus. At first, Gus is terrified and nervous, but as the train approaches even closer, the deafening roar calms him and he accepts his fate. A fitting end to a life filled with bitterness and regret.
At this point, we’re near the end of track 10 of 14, White Oak Doors. The song cuts of, in mid-sentence, mid-bar, riff, jam, mid-everything, as the train hits and kills both brothers. Like it or hate it, that’s the end of the story. For the record, I freaking love it.
The acoustic tracks, titled Sleepless Nights
, show that Defeater has an accessible side to their music, in that many people who don’t enjoy hardcore at all can still enjoy them. The songs provide some background information about the two brothers, mostly stories of them growing up together. Some see Sleepless Nights as a supplement to the “main album,” Empty Days, but I look at it more as the resolution after the climax of a story, four easy-to-digest, breezy acoustic songs. Just what the doctor ordered after a brutal train murder scene.
The music that accompanies the story (or perhaps it’s the other way around) is what one would expect from a Defeater album. It conveys the emotion of the lyrics very well, becoming more aggressive during Gus’s several rages, and more melodic during the calmer parts of the story, such as in Empty Glass, when Gus and Gaga meet each other. Defeater’s musical side is equally as engrossing as the story it is set behind. One aspect that stands out in particular is the superb drumming, notably on Empty Glass. The guitar lines throughout are driving, and melodically structured to go fit the shifting tone of the album.
But in the end, the concept is the divisive factor with this album. Some have accused Defeater of beating a dead horse with this, their third war-themed concept album, and they aren’t exactly wrong. But why mess with a winning formula? Forgive me for the terrible reference, but if Amon Amarth can get away with telling the same cheesy-yet-epic tales of Viking war and mead-drinking, why can’t Defeater stick with a theme? If it’s well-executed then who cares?
And that seems to be the only question for you, the individual listener. Are you on board with Defeater’s whole gig? I’m the last person to say that this is the second coming of Jesus, the pinnacle of hardcore music, blah blah blah. Personally, I think this is a phenomenal piece of music with a gripping concept. But what about you? Do you like the story? Do you think the concept is well executed? Does the music make you want to scream and dance in the middle of a crowded street? If your answer is yes, come join the fanclub. It’s great; we’ve got fruit punch. If your answer is no, go away, I’m listening to Defeater.
-White Oak Doors
-I Don't Mind