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Dead Letter Circus - The Catalyst Fire Album Cover

Dead Letter Circus - The Catalyst Fire

Reviewed by
9.0
Dead Letter Circus - The Catalyst Fire
Release Date: August 9th, 2013
Record Label: UNFD
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
Crafting a lasting, memorable debut is a difficult task. Creating a subsequent sophomore album that does the same and exceeds its predecessor is even rarer. In a typical fashion, most bands win some but lose more with follow up efforts that disappoint, or worse. Dead Letter Circus are very much guilty of producing such a worthy inaugural record with This Is The Warning in 2010. It would be a daunting task to surpass, since the album was recently certified gold and voted in the top 100 Australian albums of all time. With such critical acclaim, there was to be no playing safe, and making the same album twice would be counterproductive. And so, three years passed. And in that time, the weight of This Is The Warning would set in, set the the standard, set the expectation, and set the hype that would fall on the shoulders of The Catalyst Fire.

And you know what? The Catalyst Fire absolutely meets the hype. More than that, it is the perfect follow up to an already masterful debut.

Continuing the thematic and aural characteristics of This Is The Warning, "The Cure" opens with warm bass tones and fluttering guitar leads that immediately define the spacial ambiance that became a trademark for the band. The technical ability is all there, and enhanced, countering the fears that some had after the departure of long time guitarist, Rob Maric. Luke Williams sets the sporadic tone of "Alone Awake," with accented hits of each snare and kick combination that interlaces all other performances, though none are exactly on the same beat. This is not to say that the performances sound sloppy or poorly orchestrated, but more so mature and intricate so that each is individualized and highlighted. This is remarkable considering just how much the musical direction shifts gears within each track and throughout the album as a whole. Restrained grunge or refined post hardcore elements are employed to magnify instrumental goldmines ("Lodestar") while glossy guitars and electronic sub-tones can create space to let vocals take the spotlight ("Stand Apart").

This permeation of style brings out the absolute best of The Catalyst Fire. For starters, Kim Benzie's performance reveals an absolutely incredible vocalist, whose voice should be at the fore of modern post hardcore and is reminiscent of the great James Maynard Keenan in tone (and dare I say more versatile in range?). "I Am" features a reprieve that very well could be found somewhere in Tool's Lateralus, and the entire track in general sees Benzie taking his vocals to new height with his finest delivery and presentation to date. "Lost Without Leaders" brings about the peppiest track on the album with its quick pace and bouncy guitar lines, where guitarists Clint Vincent and Tom Skerlj have their moment to shine. The melodic compositions are so brilliant, whether ethereal like the softest pieces of Deftones's Koi No Yokan at times or frontal, in the vein of Superuknown, at others. Rhythmic patterns are solidified mostly by these impressive compilation of lead guitar lines, an interesting style of songwriting that flaunts a precise technicality interwoven with an unconfined ambition, to which "The Veil" provides more than enough proof of, as Benzie swoons between each instrumental comeback, with each explosion growing larger than the last. Rolling hits of Luke Williams and bursting notes of Stewart Hill increasingly layer the atmospheric flavor as the song passes, making the song absolutely massive as the convulsing bass undulates beneath smooth falsetto vocals and high pitched pulses of arpeggiated or tremolo guitar melodies.

Nearly every second of this album, and every individual component of those seconds feel fully developed yet remain natural and emphatic. This quells a common complaint of This Is The Warning, where some songs felt incomplete or simply filled play time. From start to finish, this record proves it is musical aberrant for a modern age, as it fuses together the progressive highlights of an entire genre's lifetime, returning a level of familiarity but taking it farther, not as a culmination of their influences but as a brand new entity with flairs of glorified aesthetics. Past the point of instrumentation, the lyrical mysticism is very well done, building upon a general motif of individualistic thought process, independence from preconceptions and freedom from totalitarian control on any level. While it may not be presented in the most prolifically articulated way, there is enough consistency and thought provoking subject matter that it holds interest and simultaneously corresponds with the tone of the music: be they anthemic ("Take me instead, I'll stand unforgiven."), somber ("It's in your mind"), inquisitive ("Will we see it fall down just like they dreamed it would?"), perplexed ("I know I could make it feel right, but if I caught it just as I reach, it's gone."), and so on. The emotionalism is so incredibly on point, it makes some lesser moments still feel resonant and personal, a feat that few vocalist achieve in the way Benzie does many times over.

Of course, there are minor nuisances here and there. "Burning Man" suffers from some awkward vocal melodies and off-kilter phrasing here and there. Compositely, these moments are still successful, though they feel misguided before a full phrase is completed. The same could be said for "Insider," even more so than the former.

And that's pretty much it.

"You'll be dying to breathe again when the feeling's over." The opening lyrics of the final song, "Kachina," are the perfect summation for The Catalyst Fire. The song itself neatly wraps the album to a close, with its vicious and boisterous bass tones that push every ambient lead and silky vocal melody forward, like an aggressive and ritualistic dance around a flame. The Catalyst Fire comes around full circle, in a ceremonial fashion. Stylistically impressive, technically proficient, thematically intriguing, and expertly produced barely begin to scratch the surface when describing the record. The surreal and mystical aura that exudes from The Catalyst Fire begs to be followed as it lures you in for more and more. After a single play through, you'll understand why Dead Letter Circus have crafted my album of the year (so far). The album will become its own catalyst to spawn further listens, a catalyst to listen closely so as to hear something you didn't notice the last time you listened, or the time before that, arranging a self perpetuating cycle that will be very, very hard to escape.

So let the fire consume you.

9/10
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 24
04:41 PM on 07/28/13
#2
WeltallAY
Je suis l'Alpha et l'Oméga
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Excellent review for what is sure to be my AOTY.
08:59 AM on 07/29/13
#3
Sanzen
Ricocheting
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Beautiful review; can't wait to listen to this.
09:26 AM on 07/29/13
#4
theagentcoma
Mouthpiece for the Mental
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Great review. Enjoyed the debut. Always a sucker for anything Tool related.
10:11 AM on 07/29/13
#5
WhatJulianSaid
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I love what this band does, haven't listened to the last album in awhile but I will surely grab this if I like what I hear.
02:43 PM on 07/29/13
#6
Micklovin
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Great to see some DLC on AP! Cannot wait for this album.
03:01 PM on 07/29/13
#7
Ravelle17
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Wasn't a fan of the single. Love their stuff before this. Here's hoping I dig the album.
04:09 PM on 07/29/13
#8
esperotic
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Kim's vocals in my opinion, are damn near unmatched by anyone! Whenever I start to think I can sing, i will listen to their music just to knock myself right the hell back off that imagined pedestal
06:04 PM on 07/29/13
#9
Steve Alcala
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Wasn't a fan of the single. Love their stuff before this. Here's hoping I dig the album.

You will. Lodestar is a good single choice but there are far better songs on the album
08:57 PM on 07/29/13
TwelveTribes230
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can't wait to hear this.

Is this album a lot more electronic based? I remember reading somewhere that they were going to increase their electronics?
09:00 PM on 07/29/13
Steve Alcala
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can't wait to hear this.

Is this album a lot more electronic based? I remember reading somewhere that they were going to increase their electronics?
It is. The only thing is, most of the time it's not so in your face like a few songs off the debut. There's a ton of electronics that are very low key and hushed, while others are more focused. It all works so well though.
09:04 PM on 07/29/13
TwelveTribes230
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It is. The only thing is, most of the time it's not so in your face like a few songs off the debut. There's a ton of electronics that are very low key and hushed, while others are more focused. It all works so well though.
Nice. That sounds good to me.
12:19 PM on 08/01/13
dmcaloon
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Oh wow. Looks like another album to add to my list. Good review.
01:42 PM on 08/04/13
Archael
listens to good music
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not a fan of this band.
03:32 PM on 08/04/13
WeltallAY
Je suis l'Alpha et l'Oméga
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not a fan of this band.

Then why post that here? Even though I believe anyone with at least a passing interest in melodic progressive rock could at least somewhat enjoy DLC they are very much not an "in your face" kind of band like maybe Asking Alexandia where similar comments are usually found.

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