Review Summary: A fantastic effort by Circa Survive that epitomizes the strengths of the band and blends together the very best of their past.
Circa Survive are back for their fifth LP 'Descensus'. It's been two years since they released the self published 'Violent Waves' and the band has decided to go with a new label this time around. Circa has become a relatively divisive group among fans. Some enjoy their first two releases and feel that their newer material isn't up to par. Others believe that their last few records have had a more refined and enjoyable sound. If you want some free entertainment, all you need to do is grab a bag of popcorn and ask a group of Circa fans what their favorite album is. Personally, I've always found it hard to grasp how anyone could adore one Circa album and vehemently despise another. With all of this in mind, how does 'Descensus' fare?
Pretty damn well.
The album begins with the single "Schema" and it's not hard to hear why. It's difficult not to get pumped up to the vicious guitars, furious drums, and wailing vocals. Anthony Green has described this as their heaviest release yet and "Schema" gives us little reason to doubt him. It's a fantastic opener with a roaring chorus and a breakdown reminiscent of their early years. While the rest of the album doesn't quite keep up this frantic tone consistently, there is plenty of intensity to be found throughout. Songs like "Always Begin" and "Quiet Down" serve not only as the other heavy hitting tracks here, but also as wonderful callbacks to 'On Letting Go'. The guitars sway and swing in ways that only Circa can deliver and Anthony's vocals guide them beautifully.
Then there are tracks like "Phantom" and "Nesting Dolls" that serve as breaks in between the madness. They're both mellow and experimental in the best of ways. "Phantom" in particular is unlike anything Circa has done before and it's a fantastic triumph on all fronts. This is some of the best vocal work Anthony Green has ever produced on a technical level. His lyrics aren't as direct as they have been in recent years, nor are they as cryptic as they have been in the past. This will be judged differently from person to person. The passion in his delivery however, has never been better. "Only the Sun" and "Child of the Desert" are prime examples of this and of the entire group's growth in general. These are two of the best tracks this band has ever come up with. The former having an incredibly captivating tone and the latter seeping into your mind and lodging itself there for days.
The flaws found on "Descensus" are more akin to slight disappointments. "Who Will Lie With Me Now" is nothing more than a short but sweet interlude. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but this is already the smallest tracklist of any Circa LP with only ten songs. It would have been nice to have another song in it's place or perhaps in addition to it. This is slightly alleviated by the fact that the rest of the tracks found here are quite meaty with no wasted space. The other disappointing facet of this record comes in the form of the title track 'Descensus'. This is actually a great track on its own and a departure from the expected, but it doesn't quite compare to the closing tracks of Circa's past like 'Dyed in the Wool' or 'I'll Find a Way'.
Still, it's impressive how Circa manages to blend both the variety and consistency of all their past works on this one release. It's a happy middle ground that perfectly demonstrates the strengths of this group. Whether you'd consider that a return to form or just another addition to an already amazing discography is up to you.
- "Always Begin"
- "Child of the Desert"
- "Only the Sun"