Review Summary: Defeater's third outing "Letters Home" is largely competent but ultimately forgettable, and sees the volatile Hardcore-quintet taking several steps back.
The essence of melodic hardcore distilled by Massachusetts band Defeater
has always been one with a lot flair for storytelling. Their debut album "Travels" and sophomore album "Empty Days and Sleepless Nights" were both albums featuring thematic strains -- centering on a dysfunctional family deteriorating amidst a World War II-torn America. Both albums were incredibly dark and lyrically intense and relied heavily on the dueling guitar work of Jay Maas and Jake Woodruff and Derek Archambault's haunting vocal delivery.
While many fans were divisive over the progression made on their sophomore album (featuring soft, acoustic tracks that rounded out the album) the album was mostly lauded by critics and one might assume that Defeater are likely to delve into more uncharted territory on their third go-around.
Sadly, this isn't the case; "Letters Home" is an incredibly by-the-numbers album by Defeater-standards that treads the exact same ground as before. While the acoustic elements have been scrapped in favor of the approach found on their debut album, Defeater seems to have completely forgotten about all of their advancements made on "Empty Days.." and instead settle for much less than what they are capable of.
The opening track "Bastards" sets a solid tone for the record and features edgy guitar work, pulse-pounding drums and a stirring chorus that brings out the best of Defeater's arsenal. Sadly, "Bastards" basically frames how the entire album sounds. Yes, Derek's harsh shouts and Jay's shrieking back-up screams are intertwined nicely and the intricate guitar work and Joe Longobardi's rhythmically sound drumming is here in full effect.
The problem is that Defeater showcase everything that they have already shown in terms of musicianship and lyrical content whilst refusing to tread outside of their comfort zone. Even more disappointing, is that this album lacks many stand-out moments -- you won't find a chorus here as stupendous as the one found in "Dear Father" or an album closer half as stunning or memorable as the incredible "White Oak Doors" from their sophomore effort.
Instead, songs such as "Rabbit Foot", "Blood in My Eyes" and "Dead Set" are cut-and-paste songs that all span around two-and-half minutes and sound too identical to one another, thus causing the tracks to bleed together with little variation to pick up the slack. Fortunately, "No Saviour" 's ambient, post-rock-inspired build-up and emotionally-wrought climax serves as the album's saving grace and the closing lyrics "I gave my faith away, I gave my brother a coffin, let me be downed"
provide the guttural punch that was sorely missing up until that point.
It's too bad that "Letters Home" didn't feature more of these moments, since Defeater's knack for providing catharsis through their extremely intense and emotionally-laden music has taken a bit of a back-seat on this album, whose best moments are mere reminders of the band's previous, far more refreshing work. After all, making a concept album only works for so long and Defeater proves that they have already extracted all that they can from this premise and relies on their tried-and-true formula throughout.
Still, Defeater's unique brand of Melodic hardcore is miles ahead of every "chugga, chugga breakdown" band saturating today's hardcore landscape -- so in spite of resting on their laurels, "Letters Home" is still an enjoyable, albeit largely forgettable effort that encapsulates what Defeater does best, and nothing more.