Album Review: Dead Letter Circus - 'Dead Letter Circus'

4 October 2018 | 2:27 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

The 2010 throwback we didn't need.

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Dead Letter Circus really survived the spectacular rise and subsequent fall of heavy radio rock. Throwback to 2011 when Big Day Out catered beautifully to fans of Shihad, Karnivool and The Butterfly Effectand you had a near-perfect wave for this Brisbane quintet to ride; from Triple J Unearthed stars to openers for Muse. Fast-forward seven years (an eternity in the world of pop-culture), and Dead Letter Circus are still able to sell out some of the most prestigious music venues in our fine country. Whilst also maintaining a fairly firm grip on what made them such an interesting musical adventure in the first place.

However, this ‘firm grip’ comes mighty close to towing the line of being ‘samey’ as time goes on. A problem that the Aussie heavy-hitters flirt massively with on their self-titled LP. Truthfully, it does make perfect sense that this is the sound of the band’s self-titled. After all, releasing a record solely sharing your band's moniker shows a statement that THIS is what will define the music; that this is YOUR sound. In that sense, this is definitely a DLC album. The rapid-fire palm-muted riffs and soaring leads are splattered all over this LP, accompanied by frontman Kim Benzie’s darkly beautiful vocal melodies and drummer Luke Williams' trademark flourishes. When it comes to listening to and digesting this record, though, I have on my hands a tale of two reactions: one bad, and one comfortably satisfied with where this band has arrived at this point in their illustrious career. And I'm going to start with the bad first.

First impressions of cuts like Change' and ‘We Own The Light’ will no doubt bring about the realisation that we've heard this all before from the band - tried and well-tested to varying degrees across three LP’s and seven years. While Dead Letter Circus is by no means a one-trick pony, they certainly play it safe to a monotonous degree on their titular effort. Some songs even feeling like long-lost siblings of older material. For instance, Trade Places’ would fit beautifully as a substitute for Next In Line’ off their debut, ‘This Is The Warning’, marked by extremely similar guitar tones, drum patterns and vocal lines. 

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Truthfully, over-familiarity is the thorn in the side of this band across all of their works. While This Is The Warning' and 'The Catalyst Fireare both solid albums - no one is disputing that - these albums don’t define themselves from one another nor offer something new to the very conversation that the band themselves once created. Their terrific third LP ‘Aesthesis’ does this to a far greater extent, which is why it’s disappointing to hear certain songs on this new record merely retreat back to the all-too-familiar territory that the Aussies comfortably mapped out so well over half a decade ago. As a fan of Dead Letter Circus's music, I know they can do better; I've heard better from them. And that's a nagging thought at the back of my mind whenever listening to this new album. 

This is, however, a review of contrasting reactions and frustrations from myself with certain songs aside. So, in terms of the good and what works, there are obvious reasons on this record that prove without a doubt why Dead Letter Circus are still a creative force to be reckoned with. Lead singles The Armour You Own' and The Real Youexpand the hookier, ‘cleaner’ sound the band explored on their last record, but with the added twist of heavier grooves and more space given to let the songs really grow. Running Out Of Timein particular doesn’t rush it's pace, rather marching along with definite purpose yet still twisting and morphing into an anthemic beast. This is where the band truly shines. 

As usual, the band have continued in their habit of putting the best track of the record second last (if you look back, Change The Concept’, 'Stand Apart' and ‘Walk’ are all penultimate bangers), with Say You Won’t Be Long'. It's clearly a DLC song but with an added heaviness that builds wonderfully towards the end before finally, naturally floating away. Closing number Home’ also offers something different too, building itself on solid riffs as opposed to floaty lead-line; ending the record on a real high note. 

It’s clear across this new record that DLC have tried to combine what they personally see as all their best sounds into the one, whilst simultaneously trying to move their sound forward. Unfortunately, there are just too many points on this record for me where the band pigeonhole themselves and end up saying the same thing that they very clearly stated on This Is The Warning’ and other previous works. Despite this, there are other points where the group continue to edge forward with their sound, resulting in easily the record's finest, most memorable moments. Just as how I'm torn between my love and my indifference for this album, the band seem to also be torn between doing what worked before and exploring new realms. 

With their self-titled, Dead Letter Circus may have created their best entry-level record for potential new fans. The problem, however, is that it’s unlikely that they will attract many new listeners with some of these tracks; many of which offer an all too familiar prog-metal palette to what has already been served up on past, better records. Yet with some patience and with some extra digging, there are some real diamonds to be found here that could evolve into something truly wonderful if given more time and depth on future outings. It's funny, no one really needed my review of this self-titled Dead Letter Circus, but no one also really needed this 2010 throwback either.

1. The Armour You Own

2. The Real You

3. Change

4. Running Out of Time

5. We Own the Light

6. Heartline

7. Ladders for Leaders

8. Trade Places

9. Say It Won't Be Long

10. Home

Dead Letter Circus's self-titled album is out now.