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Album Review:  Defeater’s Letters Home

Posted by Brandon Vesely on 07/26 at 05:43 PM

Grade: A

Defeater, a hardcore group from Boston Massachusetts, released their newest full-length album, Letters Home, on July 16 via Bridge Nine Records.

Defeater began playing as a group in 2004 but did not release any recorded material until 2008.  With the release of their latest work, the hardcore outfit has produced three studio albums and two EPs.

Their music is conceptual and outlines the trials and trepidation of the working American family in the years after World War II, particularly focusing on themes of hollowness, monotony, and loss.  Group members have described the post-WWII era as a sort of “gilded age” in American history, where America as a whole seemed to be on an upswing, but the prospects and living conditions of the working and middle class majority were not so promising.

Defeater typically combines traditional components of hardcore music, deep growls and heavily distorted guitar riffs, with a sprinkling of melodic elements.  They pride themselves as innovators of hardcore and emphasize the importance of creativity and a willingness to be different within the genre’s sometimes redundant landscape.  The quintet is not above producing softer tunes, and their biggest hit to date, “I Don’t Mine,” is an acoustic love song from their sophomore album Empty Days & Sleepless Nights.

Letters Home builds on the success and energy of Empty Days and certainly does not disappoint.  Like the band’s previous works, Letters Home is dark and brooding both lyrically and instrumentally and continues the group’s effort to chronicle the struggles of the American working class family.

The album opens with “Bastards,” a song that includes complicated, technical guitar work and vocalist Derek Archambault’s best screaming.  The intro track sets the tone for the remainder of the album, a pulsating testament to working-class angst, dissatisfaction, and inner strife.

“Bastards” is followed by “No Shame.”  This track is a rhythmically driven song with harmonic guitar work.  Archambault’s shrieks serve as a percussive element that complement the song’s captivating beat.  Lyrically, the song continues to delve into pessimism and discontent with the monotonousness gloom of day-to-day working class life.

Letters Home trudges on with “Hopeless Again,” a track that mixes musical elements characteristic of old-school hardcore groups with those used by contemporary post-hardcore bands.  The song includes a softer bridge followed by a catchy breakdown that makes the song a standout.

Next up is “Blood In My Veins,” another dissonant track, pushed forward by steady, unwavering guitar work and breakneck drumming.

The album’s first half finishes off with “No Relief,” another modern sounding track with harmonic elements.  The title of the song resonates with the emotional and musical feel of the album as a whole. The album delineates an inability to find refuge from the despondency of working class life and the record offers the listener “no relief” from the continuous onslaught of heavy riffs and screeching vocals as it charges into its second half.

The sixth track of Letters Home is “No Faith.”  The track’s unusually ornate guitar work makes it memorable, particularly because such instrumental work is uncharacteristic of the hardcore outfit.  The next track, “Dead Set,” recounts family turbulence and loss, a frequently addressed theme in the group’s music.

The album’s eighth song, “No Savior,” begins with a mellow guitar passage that produces an aura of hopelessness and desperation.  The intro shows the group’s unparalleled ability to express distinct emotions through instrumentals and distinguishes them as masters of varying musical styles.  After about a minute the vocals kick in and the song powers into a heavier section.  Regardless of the distorted guitars and guttural vocals, the emotion conveyed in the intro is undoubtedly still present and defining throughout the track.

The next track, “Rabbit Foot,” mimics the soft intro of “No Savior” and builds into a pressing vocal passage.  This track’s sophisticated drumming is particularly impressive and meshes well with the wall of distorted guitars to create a unique, memorable rhythm.  Like the preceding track, “Rabbit Foot” builds in intensity and finishes explosively with the help of Archambault’s passionate wails.

The album’s final track, “Bled Out,” is the longest track on the album and clinches the album both musically and conceptually.  The track’s lyrics bring together most of the themes and emotions touched on throughout the album,  and shows the musicians’ competence in a variety of musical styles.  Once again, the last track undeniably exposes the band’s unique ability to synthesize emotion through instrumentals and to utilize vocals as a rhythmic and lyric vehicle.  “Bled Out” is a satisfying conclusion to an emotional and unforgettable album.

With their third album release, Defeater continues to establish themselves as a force in the alternative/hardcore scene and to display their unrivaled creativity and emotional depth.  Their unique lyrical content and eagerness to step outside the established boundaries of traditional hardcore music makes them stand out among modern rock groups.

I highly recommend streaming the full album here: Defeater – Letters Home

{name} Author: Brandon Vesely
Bio: Brandon Vesely is originally from the Pittsburgh area and is currently a junior majoring in Public Relations and Spanish at Penn State. In his free time he enjoys reading, writing, biking, and spending time outdoors. His musical interests are wide-ranging and include a variety of alternative genres including post-hardcore, indie, noise pop, and pop punk. Some of his favorite artists are Bayside, Yeasayer, Phantogram, and Fireworks.

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