Defeater – “Letters Home”

(Photo Credit: rocktransmission.com)

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Bastards,” “Bled Out”

I was largely unfamiliar with Defeater before giving this album a listen. Despite growing up seeing Boston punk and hardcore bands, I never crossed paths with Defeater’s music. Defeater do their best to separate themselves from other hardcore bands. Hardcore is traditionally an incredibly formulaic genre; bands that experiment even a little are sometimes ostracized. But Defeater do not so much play with the formula as they do add serious depth to it. While most hardcore bands focus primarily on the heaviness, eschewing poetry for indiscernible, throwaway lyrics about fighting and drinking (or not drinking, depending on the scene), Defeater take the time to add detail to every element. There is screaming – exclusively – but it is melodic. The emotion in the lyrics, which are often understood, adds a pretty consistently haunting element. And the musicians behind the singer, sure the songs are fast and loud but it isn’t “123GO” at the beginning of every track. Opener “Bastards” blows out of the gate, but the album speeds and slows accordingly, in an attempt to make an actual album instead of a collection of hardcore songs.

As mentioned, hardcore bands are not known for their deep and piercing lyrics (here’s looking at you, Hatebreed). But Defeater took the Coheed & Cambria approach to music: telling a long, multi-album story. While C&C are a goofy group that concocted a fantasy-inspired love story, Defeater took a much deeper turn and have been crafting a story about a family getting torn apart by the horrors of WWII. This is, frankly, brilliant. WWII is a topic that appeals to many people, and it allows them to get darker and darker with their lyrics on each album. Indeed, some of the titles include “Rabbit Foot” and four No’s: “No Shame,” “No Relief,” “No Faith,” and “No Savior.” The album may be heavy, but it is the heaviness of the lyrics that weighs more on the listener than the heaviness of the screaming and pounding guitars.

That said, even for an album that leaves as quickly as it arrives, it does drag on a little. A majority of the ideas that separate tracks from each other are used on the first half. The second half starts to fall into traditional hardcore. It is saved (ironically) by “No Savior,” which starts off with an extended slow period, and the album’s 6+ minute finale, “Bled Out,” which repeats the chorus of “Bastards” to bring the album around to a whole. But moments on the album do tend to blend into one another a little too much. High intensity is great, but when it is unfaltering, it just becomes normal. Still, “Letters Home” is lyrically deafening, and is the best example of a band expanding to the limits of hardcore without going beyond it. There is a new high standard in hardcore.

If you like this try: “Sunbather,” the new release from Deafheaven. It’s shoegaze-black metal, a totally new genre that is getting them thrown out of the metal community. It’s also one of the best albums of the year.

-By Andrew McNally

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2 thoughts on “Defeater – “Letters Home”

  1. Pingback: Balance and Composure – “The Things We Think We’re Missing” | Post-Grad Music Reviews

  2. Pingback: My Fictions – “Stranger Songs” | Post-Grad Music Reviews

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