Review Summary: Without proper cohesion.
Dead Letter Circus have always sounded pretty much the same. From early the EPs to their first full length excursion This is The Warning
, delay-drenched, anthemic alternative rock has been their go-to since inception. Dead Letter Circus is considerably more reliant on atmosphere then their peers, and it’s an atmosphere entirely derived from Kim Benzie’s ethereal, yet poppy vocals bending and warping around the constant echo of the guitar work. The formula is unique, lending itself to a sound quite distinctly Dead Letter Circus, and as the years have passed the formula has been fine-tuned and tweaked to near perfection.
So moving into their sophomore album The Catalyst Fire
, DLC had two very viable options laid out before them. They could rest on their laurels a bit, coast on the success of This is The Warning
and essentially bring fans a part two, something identical thematically to what we have already heard but still new and exciting. Or we could see them moving away from their already established ideals towards some new and try to find a new sound equally as unique as their previous.
Instead they settled smack in the middle. Gone are the vocal hooks and catchy choruses of past works and instead we are left with what I can only assume is an attempt at breaking the vocal restrictions that they placed on themselves early in the band’s lifetime. Benzie is undoubtedly exploring new options within his delivery, and for the most part he sounds completely capable. Songs ‘Burning Man’ and ‘The Veil’ have him exploring territory of near A Perfect Circle’s subtlety, while ‘Lodestar’ and ‘Say Your Prayers’ lean to a more aggressive sound only hinted at on prior works. And even through this moderate reinvention the vocals, or rather their uncomfortable clashing with the instrumentals, end up being the downfall of the record.
For the rest of the band, nothing has changed. The builds in tension, and their eventual release, are still a major part of their sound. Yet instead of vocal climaxes to match, we are left with Benzie dancing around over the whole explosion of sound that would typically indicate a chorus, leading us in a general nowhere direction. This newfound progressive slant (much like the change in Ian Kenney's vocals between Karnivool's freshman and sophmore efforts) is way beyond that of the rest of the team. As a result, the disconnect between the two styles is readily apparent and a bit jarring, especially on tracks like ‘Alone Awake’ and ‘Insider’, and it ends up creating a desire for a decision to be made.
When it comes down to it, the album certainly isn’t a complete failure. ‘Lodestar’ harkens sharply back to Dead Letter Circus’s past and ‘The Veil’ turns out to be a perfect sound for them to progress toward. The ideas moving presented from Benzie are extremely strong and the rest of the members certainly have only strengthened their songwriting with time, but without proper cohesion, The Catalyst Fire
struggles to live up to the hype that its predecessors have laid out before it. Moving forward, the band needs to obtain a singular goal and make the common effort towards solidifying their style, regardless of which they choose.