The self-titled album is an interesting concept. Where the eponymous opus is not a debut, it is usually installed into a band’s canon as a way of stating that a specific album is either a summation of everything that represents a band – their pinnacle and natural conclusion of a journey of sound – or a launch of a bold new chapter, a “look at me now” redesign and rebranding. Fourth album in, and Australian Alternative Rock act Dead Letter Circus have opted to go down that route as a way of combining both those factors – a presentation of all that they have been, and a refocusing and refining of direction.
I would make the accusation that Dead Letter Circus were missing the point by heading towards a more mainstream sound on their last outing, 2015’s Aesthesis (UNFD), as their hooks have never been of the radio/pop variety, being a band that works best on repeat plays as Kim Benzie’s winter coat of a voice wraps around your senses, and it is welcome to see that there are still elements of Tech Metal (albeit minus any of the djenty heaviness) and broad brush strokes of Prog (as in TesseracT Prog, not Camel Prog) that still weave in and out of their sound.
Relying less on synths and digitalisation, nonetheless, the production is still clean and hyper-polished as once again DLC are collaborating with Forrester Savell (Karnivool) and Matt Bartlem to achieve the culmination of a sonic vision that was progressed on Aesthesis. Yet there is an added warmth and substance to the tones; and while you shouldn’t expect anything dirty, grungey or punky here, there is a presence to the sound that presents this very definitely as a Rock album, still.
I was originally wedded to what I thought was a great simile for this album… that it brought to mind that perennial UK daytime TV show A Place In The Sun (particularly when Jasmine is presenting); nice and an absolutely fine background accompaniment, perfectly pleasant but not what you’d reach for out of choice when it comes to prime time, but then the subtle melodies of ‘Trade Places’, where Benzie reminds of Jason Perry (A) , and the restrained rhythms and understated chorus of ‘We Own The Light’, amongst others, rose to join opening pairing ‘Armour You Own’ and ‘The Real You’, and the consistency and quality of the album began to assert itself.
Dead Letter Circus (Rise) is definitely an album that gets better with each subsequent spin. The hooks are there without being hackneyed or cheesy, displaying a graceful tone. However, due to its very nature, there are far more exciting, dynamic and interesting albums out there, and DLC are in a danger of speaking too quietly in a world where everyone else is screaming for attention. So, it’s over to you lot as to whether you want well-crafted, polished, quality music, or if the bigger, badder, uglier, weirder, louder, darker, heavier, quirkier stuff of less substance but more style is going to grab your attention instead.