Dead Letter Circus
Dead Letter Circus (2018)


3.0
good

Review

by PistolPete USER (50 Reviews)
September 28th, 2018 | 20 replies


Release Date: 09/21/2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Dead Letter Circus’s 2018 effort unfortunately continues the slow and gradual decline that began back on their third studio album.

Some bands are lucky enough to catch fire on their first couple records, while for others it takes time for them to work their way into the ears of the ever-impatient mass that populates today’s stream-friendly world. Dead Letter Circus was one of the fortunate bands to find enormous success within Australia’s alternative/prog rock movement that sprouted wings back in the late 2000s. What tends to happen with bands who experience early success is that they get stuck in ideas that they know have worked in the past and get caught trying to re-ignite old ideas instead of pushing themselves. Dead Letter Circus in 2018 really does not sound a whole lot different from the one that released their first self-titled EP and This Is The Warning, maybe a little more tamed and well-produced.

That’s a bit of an unfair criticism for me to slap the band with, so let me elaborate further. They did try something slightly different on their 2015 album Aesthesis. There were noticeably more acoustic textures to that album, more focus on proggier song structures, and the back half centered almost solely around vocalist Kim Benzie’s vocals. Most of the other band members were mere afterthoughts by that point. Because of this decision, despite the tight song-writing on the first half of the album, most listeners merely shrugged the entire listen off as “too soft” and “lacking energy” compared to their earlier work. The band is well aware their older stuff is the more preferred, but they came into their 2018 self-titled item much the same way they wrote the previous one, with Benzie first writing vocal parts and the rest of the instruments built around that. The only difference this time was that Kim Benzie intentionally wanted to write heavier stuff again with more personal lyrics and so we have an album caught somewhere in between. It wants to sound like their older hits but was written like Aesthesis was, with Benzie’s voice front and center.

While the band could theoretically get away with merely making songs packed with their signature soaring, reverb-heavy guitar sound and strong vocals, the issue in 2018 is that Kim Benzie’s voice just isn’t as good as it once was. There’s nothing remotely close to the breathtaking vocal performances this guy conjured up on songs like “One Step” or “Alone Awake”. He sounds aged, especially on songs like “Trade Places”, where you can hear him actively avoiding breaking out into the higher notes and straining to come close on the chorus. His vocal work single-handedly ruins later song “Say It Won’t Be Long”, with oddly jarring tonal choices littered everywhere. What could have been a fiery late album highlight falls flat with vocals that don’t fit. This album also suffers from a huge deficit of well-written hooks, something the band leans on and something Benzie has historically had an ear for. “Change” and “Running Out of Time” each use the same cheap parlour trick of coming to a brief full-stop before emotionally belting out the hook, hoping it will mask its simplicity and ineffectiveness.

The band does have a great sound at its core, they always have. The energy they once had is back in some regards, just not as consistently realized. Older fans will likely look to the first half of the album for the stronger song-writing. Opener “The Armour You Own” is electric and passionate, starting with a Blue Sky Noise-era Circa Survive riff and a chorus that rushes through unexpectedly, hitting just the right spot. “The Real You” delivers the second punch with a nice build-up to undoubtedly one of Kim’s better vocal performances on the album. “We Own the Light” really feels like a song that an “entire” band made with guitars and drums that are equally impactful. The song in general really pops. Elsewhere, “Ladders for Leaders” joins the ranks of some of their best ballads to date, right up there with “The Design” back in 2010. There’s always at least one softer moment (or in Aesthesis’ case...five?), but this one is thankfully worth the time, with heartfelt lyrics, a sticky chorus you can’t help but sing along to, and a healthy sprinkle of piano in the mix. It’s powerful stuff.

An album like this will always have its listeners. The band has a unique sound not many bands are channeling even today and many will simply be happy with more of the same. All it does though is charter the band on a slow and gradual decline. They haven’t fully collapsed yet, but this new self-titled effort does not have tantalizing and juicy ideas flowing through it that are begging to be further explored. It reeks of a band simply going into the studio doing copy-and-paste work and high-fiving each other after making more of the same. But with Benzie’s ever-deteriorating vocals, it’s time for the other members of the band to throw their ideas into the hat. It could serve as the spark they need.



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user ratings (43)
3.2
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
PistolPete
September 28th 2018


5029 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

It's hard for me to really hate anything they do, I still liked Aesthesis quite a bit. But this deserved an honest review and this is how I feel at the end of the day. Like a 3.1-3.2.

bloc
September 28th 2018


57518 Comments


Yeah this sucked

Digging: Orphaned Land - El Norra Alila

Jom
Staff Reviewer
September 28th 2018


3155 Comments


Pretty strong start but really fizzles out in the second half. The guitars still sustain that iconic DLC sound but they're not as creative as when Maric was writing them.

PistolPete
September 28th 2018


5029 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Jom! I always like hearing from you.



Yeah I still have a soft spot for Aussie rock, always will probably. But a lot of the bands have deteriorated in recent years. Not as good as the glory days.

Jom
Staff Reviewer
September 28th 2018


3155 Comments


Well, Cog returned recently, and Memento seem to be partially reforming again, so that leaves hope for Karnivool and (big stretch) The Butterfly Effect to bring back to the early 2000s again!

Toondude10
September 28th 2018


14034 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I actually thought this was WAAAAY better than Aesthesis. I mean, I actually liked some of the songs off this

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
September 28th 2018


16651 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good review Pete. Couple of good tracks and that's about it. The Butterfly Effect are like... my last hope now.

Digging: Kayo Dot - Blasphemy

Mongi123
September 28th 2018


20545 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Agreed this is way better, about as good as TCF for me.

LunaticSoul
September 28th 2018


1265 Comments


I think it's too long and too identical. it flows and it leaves me with nothing much... but to be fair I never liked them that much

Mongi123
September 28th 2018


20545 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The album is 38 minutes long how short do you want it lol

bloc
September 28th 2018


57518 Comments


38 seconds

Alondite
September 28th 2018


310 Comments


Vocal quibbles aside, I still think "Say It Won't Be Long" is the best song on the record, and one of the few where everyone in the band actually sounds like they give a shit.

Easily better than Aesthesis. About on-par with The Catalyst Fire for me, but still nowhere near the s/t EP or This Is The Warning.

There are signs of life here, though, which is promising. But really, I find myself asking why I don't just go listen to Melancholia Hymns instead, though.

GhostB1rd
September 29th 2018


3744 Comments


These guys had a stellar debut but I haven't checked out anything they've done since.

SrpskiCekic
September 29th 2018


5 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

> Pretty strong start but really fizzles out in the second half.



Sums it up pretty much. And, I hope we see some TBE next year.

Faraudo
September 29th 2018


3129 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Solid 4.

Digging: Post Malone - Hollywood's Bleeding

JohnFire
September 29th 2018


657 Comments


Have only listened to this once so far, but liked it way more than Aesthesis

Toondude10
September 29th 2018


14034 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

yeah the second half is definitely weaker than the first half, but the last two songs are great imo.

Coldplaz
September 29th 2018


77 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This band hasn't been the same since Rob Maric left, they are just generic alternative rock band now. The lyrics are pretty uninspired as well.

Alondite
September 29th 2018


310 Comments


"yeah the second half is definitely weaker than the first half, but the last two songs are great imo." [2]

cageofman
September 30th 2018


121 Comments


i think they are a victim of their own sound and style.
A lot of their riffs are very U2 the edge type sounding, and i just think after a while it gets boring. and Feels limiting
Personally i think the problem is they haven't changed their sound enough (as opposed to not going back to the roots enough)



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