Review Summary: When worlds collide, inspiration strikes like a match
Dead by April has been on a downward spiral for the majority of their career; their first album was coated in delicious layers of synth-laden breakdown goodness, along with their second album to a lesser extent, but by their third album they had hit a new low. Interest in the band was starting to wane, and lower sales were more than likely making their label Universal stack on the pressure for a much-needed home run. Naturally, one would have been well founded for expecting a possible genre switch to increase accessibility and save their careers, but instead they did the complete opposite. Dead by April’s fourth album is the band’s crowning achievement; improving in every department by incorporating newfound competent songwriting, flairs of electronic ambiance, and a healthier balance between clean and harsh vocals that had been missing before.
One thing that’s no longer dead in the water is the guitar work, which is varied and fluctuates between a newfound surprising level of technicality, harder hitting breakdowns, and small flushes of experimentation here and there. Whether it be the adrenaline fueled picking and dashing key strokes in “This Is My Life”, or the ambient solo in the experimental ballad “Perfect The Way You Are”, there’s always something exciting to be found here. The songwriting as a whole has taken a huge step up, allowing for the strongest aspects of the compositions to shine more brilliantly as a result. The electronics rely less on the more pop-oriented plucks of previous efforts, and utilizes more distorted keys, echoed pads, and layered melodies. While the tried and true cliché of the bass doing nothing but following the guitars continues to be tried and true here, the drumming has taken a step up as well, forming a hefty backbone for a majority of the tracks with some creative fills and occasional machine gun speed sections.
The vocals have risen from the grave as well, once again utilizing the splatter scream / melodic clean split style from their first album to great effect here, helping even more to increase the variety of the tracks presented here. Far and away the star of the show is still the cleans, despite the screams having a much heavier influence on this record. Pontus Hjelm’s cleans on tracks such as “I Can’t Breathe” add a new layer of depth to already infectious melodies, and due to this album being the first one where he was allowed complete creative control over the other members, this newfound level of inspiration shows through and through.
While there are throwbacks to their previous efforts that fully work (“Playing with Fire” could have easily been on this band’s debut album), there are a few minor distractions that do remove the listener from the experience overall, such as the screams occasionally being too low in the mix, or the absolutely terrible vocal feature on the closing track “For Every Step”, which should have just had Pontus’s vocals and it would have made for a wonderful bookend to the album. Despite these minor setbacks, Dead by April have proven that they aren’t going to die this month, and if the quality remains this consistent, they won’t be dying any time soon either.