Review Summary: Rocky, proggy and unashamedly catchy - but too much of the same thing holds This is the Warning back from ever becoming truly amazing.
Sometime around the first decade of the 2000’s, progressive music felt a new and rather sudden surge of energy. Platoons of new bands came storming onto the front line, earning themselves plenty of acclaim and a surprising amount of comercial success for a genre so often considered “inaccesible.” There were the obvious classics marching strong as ever; Devin Townsend with Terria,
Porcupine Tree with In Absentia,
dredg exploding into the spotlight with 2002’s El Cielo,
and so on. Then there was Karnivool, seemingly emerging from nowhere with their soaring melodies and instantly likeable sound. There was Fair to Midland, with their poetic lyrics and powerful vocals. There was Cog. The Butterfly Effect. And, of course, our very own Dead Letter Circus, a four-piece band hailing from Australia (a seeming hive of activity on the ‘prog’ front these days).
But, sure enough, this sudden “surge” burned bright and began to die fast. Whereas the stronger acts amongst the group survived, those that failed to make a name, identity, or any sort of direction for themselves, were quickly left in the dust. Karnivool continued to hog the limelight with 2009’s Sound Awake
. But say, what happened to Cog? Fair to Midland kept hold of our hearts with 2011’s Arrows & Anchors
...but did The Buttefly Effect ever really ever do anything that remarkable? What about dredg? I can’t say I know anyone who was impressed with Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy,
to say the least.
And, most importantly, where does this leave Dead Letter Circus?
Admittedly, they were a little late to the scene, but that doesn’t mean they were any worse off for it. Let’s lay it flat; This is the Warning
is a truly great album. It’s unique enough to make Dead Letter Circus stand out amongst the crowd; taking the hard-hitting rock sensibilities of many modern alternative bands and fusing this with poppy catchiness, electronic influences, some of the most intriguing vocals I’ve heard for quite a while, and enough off-the-wall songwriting to make them listenable to even the most die-hard progressive snobs. It's certainly a winning mix.
This is the Warning
doesn’t waste any time in getting going, kicking off with the soaring “Here We Divide.” It’s a stunning piece, bursting into life with powerful, energetic instrumentation, truly epic vocals and beautiful melodies; an instant highlight, and definately a showcase of what this band can pull of when they really try. There’s a nice handful of fantastic tracks spread across this album; “Cage” is an obvious highlight, exploring in depth an electronic side of their music not nearly delved into enough. Emerging as a sparse, quiet, emotional piece, it bursts into life with some fantastic synth work and an insanely catchy vocal line – “It comes and it goes/It comes and it goes/It’s never the same, one day at a time.”
“Big” is another thoroughly enjoyable track, easily proving that Dead Letter Circus can craft a catchy, instantly accessible, poppy, alt-rock tune as well as they can a more complex, brooding, 6-minute progressive epic (“The Drum”). Both of these tracks show the band at their full power; “Big” using uplifting, infecting melody to weld it’s way into your head, and “The Drum” builds into a huge climax, complete with Kenzie’s soaring vocals and pounding, dramatic instrumentation.
But, by the time the album is beginning to draw to an end, it’s clear Dead Letter Circus’ sound is certainly not without flaws. Although, in quality, This is the Warning
remains solid enough throughout, it becomes relentlessly repetitive at times. What is “Reaction” if not extremely similar to “One Step” and “Big,” only not as effective? “The Space On The Wall” and “This Long Hour” feel particularly samey and uninteresting – especially placed one after the other. “Walk” is completely unnoteworthy. It’s not that anything on the record is bad, not at all; it just feels very two-dimensional, too much like a one-trick pony. That electronica flair deployed on “Cage” could have added the much-needed third dimension, if Dead Letter Circus had even bothered to use it properly for the rest of the album.
And even if the band decided to mix things up a bit with their electronic influences on their next release, what then? How much is there in Dead Letter Circus’ sound to evolve upon and change? How long can they travel down this rather two-dimensional alternative rock road before it all just starts to sound like “another This is the Warning?
” Before it all becomes too samey and unremarkable? Before this pony has performed it’s trick too many times? It's worrying to say the least. Dead Letter Circus have promise and talent and are wonderfully unique, but is it enough to stop them from fading into the dust on a road that ends up far too well-travelled?
At the end of the day, their future is only the bands’ to decide and influence; and for now, we can enjoy and hold hope in the fact that This is the Warning
is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-written, and truly epic – if a little repetitive – rock album, and it certainly deserves credit for that.
Here We Divide, Big, Cage, The Drum, This is the Warning