Descensus review by Circa Survive

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  • Released: Nov 24, 2014
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 6.7 Neat
  • Users' score: 7.9 (15 votes)
Circa Survive: Descensus
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Sound — 7
Throughout his bountiful career, Anthony Green has always shown a love for making music as an end in itself rather than the success that comes as a byproduct from it. This was evident in the intentional obscuring of identities in the supergroup the Sound of Animals Fighting, but of course, the most notable story in Green's timeline is that he left Saosin even in light of the band picking up steam and becoming more than an underground darling. At the time, it would seem almost like a self-sabotaging move, but through that departure, Green would found Circa Survive, which proved to be the better horse to hitch a wagon onto out of the two bands.

As Circa Survive quickly climbed up in popularity - whether due to Green's ubiquitous and likeable persona in the scene, the band's intriguing style, or both - they would have their third record, 2010's "Blue Sky Noise," released with the gigantic Atlantic Records. This may seem hypocritical to the aforementioned characteristic of Green not caring about the money and success, but lo and behold, Circa Survive would part ways with Atlantic (even despite the success that "Blue Sky Noise" had) and self-release their fourth album, "Violent Waves," in 2012.

After "Violent Waves," Green would pay more attention to his solo work, and earlier this year, Green would end up surprising everyone by announcing his reunion with Saosin for live shows, with a possibility of creating a long-awaited third album with the band. But even with Green spinning all of these plates, Green hasn't forgotten about his flagship band, and Circa Survive have now released their fifth album, "Descensus."

In their early albums, it was easy to tell that Circa Survive had more to offer than the run-of-the-mill post-hardcore/emo band, and even the tinge of prog styling in the band's sound wanted to grow into something more than a prefix. "Violent Waves" showed them getting more elaborate and introspective than ever before, and with "Descensus," Circa Survive take their strong suits and get brainier in the delivery via less-common rhythms. The 6/8 of the pummeling "Schema" and the 5/4 of the following "Child of the Desert" are the new normal compared to the playful syncopation in "Always Begin" and the wonky count in the first riffs of "Descensus." Even the smooth and jazzy "Phantom" is fueled by a tight and jittery drumbeat, though it treads too close to being a clone of Radiohead's "Morning Bell."

Green's voice still carries that boyish register in both his rough and pristine moments, and the intertwining melodies are still there (though arguably not as strong as they were in "Violent Waves"), but "Descensus" takes another step forward by utilizing more droning textures and sections throughout. It's a noticeable but not overly pervasive addition to their sound, and it complements the strong output in the opening stretch of the album, but patience is required in some cases - patience that ardent Circa Survive and Green fans are likely willing to give, but to the less dedicated, waning enthusiasm may occur. The delicate and shiny guitar ballad of "Nesting Dolls" makes for a soft juxtaposition to the guns blazin' opening track, but being a little shy of seven minutes, the track laps around its quaintness longer than necessary. The same goes for the big ending track "Descensus," where the final six minutes of the song plods along with repetitive chugging, while lead lines and snippets of melodies are peppered in like the occasional tree or barn passed by while driving through the plains of Iowa - once again, a section that could have benefitted from some belt-tightening.

Lyrics — 6
With Circa Survive getting ambitious musically in "Violent Waves," Green also matched that ambition in his lyrics, integrating more social commentary amongst his expected emo subject matter of relationship troubles. Green's pen in "Descensus" doesn't continue to write about society, but with Green still wanting to move forward as a lyricist, he instead tries to augment his emo-styled lyrics in a prog rock fashion. Mainly, "Descensus" contains the concept of a breaking relationship throughout the album, which has Green sounding more jaded towards partnership than ever before - from ominously wielding self-mutilating imagery and terminality in "Schema," to articulating the growing disconnection and deceit towards his partner in "Nesting Dolls," to his seeming approval of growing disconnection and lack of initiative to fix things in the following "Quiet Down."

Green also tries flexing a prog-like esotery in his lyrics; though by attempting this, Green in a way limits his own ability of expression. Whereas Green was concretely elaborating lush narratives in "Blue Sky Noise," some cases of symbolism in "Descensus" - like the fantasy-tinged "Child of the Desert" or the eye-centric theme found in "Only the Sun" - feel obscured for worse rather than for better. Whether or not Green was aware of the daunting task of trying this out, he does also include failsafe lyrics that are as clear as day and shows Green more comfortable and successful in his delivery - "Descensus" is not only the summarization of the album's concept, but it also has the most quote-worthy lyrics to articulate such "trickled down your face/tears of pleasure mixed with tears of pain/they taste the same."

Overall Impression — 7
Circa Survive may have crafted "Descensus" with the same kind of "do what we feel like doing" spirit as "Violent Waves," but "Descensus" doesn't necessarily climb above its predecessor; perhaps that's just because "Violent Waves" was too good an album to be capable of being eclipsed. Regardless of "Descensus" not being able to stick every landing of the new moves it tries out, it's better than seeing the band make a follow-up that shamelessly repeats the winning formula they struck in the last album. "Descensus" may be a downtick from "Violent Waves," but it's also not an unforgiveable fumble. It's enjoyable, and if the few mistakes found this time around help Circa Survive make an even better sixth album, then it becomes even more worthwhile in the grand scheme of their catalog.

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    JPSkeebs
    Couldn't disagree more with this review. I thought Violent Waves was Circa's weakest album. And Descensus blows it out of the water. I'm liking it more and more with each listen.
    Guitarstrumn
    Big fan of "Blue Sky Noise", but I haven't listened to either of the two new albums since then. From one fan to another, would you recommend either album?
    deadbeatmax
    I would suggest you should listen to Violent Waves first to get where they were going towards Descensus. It's like a progression from album to album. There are really good songs on Violent Waves but although the production is a little bit flat against Blue Sky Noise's masterful production. But Violent Waves is still a good listen.
    TomWhaley
    I absolutely love the production on "Blue Sky Noise." I still think it's their most full sounding record. Tons of dynamic in that mix, on both ends of the spectrum. The bass in "Glass Arrows" and "Imaginary Enemy" absolutely rips.
    deadbeatmax
    I think that's why Violent Waves fall a bit flat on production. The dynamics in the songs got lost in the mix and most of the songs could have had a punch if they didn't produced it themselves. On Descensus, the mix and production felt much better and stronger. I don't know, but that is just me. But I think the way they produced the Violent Waves worked great with certain songs.
    a drummer
    I thought Violent Waves was so overlooked. I loved it, But i noticed a lot of people didn't enjoy that one as much. But this is like a "return to form" for Circa. Anthony sounds great, as does the whole band. Cant wait to see them in a couple months
    FlyingPirahna
    Oh man, you're in for a treat. They put on such a great show, and the crowd feels like a big family.
    Rands2113
    I'm at the opposite end of the spectrum here when it comes to this album. I love it, It's a huge step from Violent Waves. This album has so much repeat value, it's engaging and flows so well from song to song. VW had me feeling a little empty although there were some good tracks it just didn't fill the void like Blue Sky Noise did. Descensus is pure Circa Survive in their truest form.
    Mahoru
    Pretty much how I feel too. Descensus is a true come back to form and I'd go even further, in my opinion this is probably their best work to date as a whole. Of course I still need to give it more time, but I didn't enjoy any of their previous albums this much after just a few spins, and that's saying something, because Juturna and Blue Sky Noise are phenomenal from the get go.
    Jehuty
    Never heard any of their work, but I like Schema, so I'm giving the entire album a listen.
    Jehuty
    Update: Pretty cool stuff. Looks like I have a new band to delve into!
    deadbeatmax
    Give a listen to their previous stuff. Start from the beginning of their catalogue to understand they come from and then move album to album. It's like following their musical journey.
    Jehuty
    I appreciate the advice, but I think I will probably just work from here. Did the same for Mastodon; started with Crack the Skye and worked backwards. I have no idea whether or not they've deviated much from their sound though, Mastodon got heavier and heavier the more you went back into their discography.
    deadbeatmax
    Either way works. Forward or backwards. Going backwards on Mastodon must have been interesting. Mastodon started heavy and worked toward "accessible" music, I guess. Going backwards on Circa might be more ambience-y and "proggy" (I don't know the right word). You'll see. Have fun.
    edgarfriendly88
    So can somebody explain to me why he's battling a giant man with a baby's head? in relation to the lyrics, album, message, and vision?? Decensus means, "Beating ourselves up mentally?"
    Jehuty
    Somebody on Youtube said that it was about his wife having several miscarriages, so the video would be about him fighting his demons. I have no idea how accurate this is, I haven't looked for anything to confirm or disprove this, but if it is true, then it's packed with an incredibly emotional meaning.
    george.edward.a
    A quote from a recent interview... “When we did the new video, we couldn’t have gone in a more absurdist direction," Frangicetto told The Huffington Post. "I remember when I first showed it to my dad he was basically pissing himself just reading the comments. He was like, 'People are really trying to figure out the symbolism behind this baby beating the shit out of Anthony.’ Like, really going in-depth, and it makes you understand where conspiracy theories are born. If you don’t give them an answer, they will make up their own, and it’s beautiful.” Suggesting they were just having fun making a random video, not everything has to have a really deep meaning. Although saying that you can feel that some of the songs are influenced by Anthony's struggle to quit drugs. Pretty sure his wife has just had their third child so hopefully the miscarriage thing isn't true!
    GeekInThePink
    While I don't agree with your opinion, I appreciate your perspective. You definitely put more thought and time into writing this review than the average UG Team review. Respect.
    theblazinasian
    I have mixed feelings about this album. Overall, I like it. I greatly enjoy the instrumental experimentation, like the post-rock influence of Nesting Dolls and the proggy flavor of Descensus. However, much of the vocals disappointed me. The melodies strike me quite often as obvious. For me, Always Begin, Only the Sun, and Quiet Down are downright forgettable. A few of the songs feel safe. Some of the drum grooves and guitar lines seem recycled from Violent Waves. Even Schema, which I think is one of the strongest tracks, doesn't feel like it offers anything that The Lottery or Through the Desert Alone doesn't already. After the first few listens, I would dub Descensus as their weakest album behind Violent Waves. However, I have a feeling Descensus might grow on me in a way Violent Waves didn't. Regardless, I still enjoy both albums, and the silver lining is that they haven't written the same album twice yet.
    deadbeatmax
    I feel like this album was tricky to get into it start away, although i love their previous works. I feel mixed about but I do like the energy they are trying portray on this album. It's something new and i don't think it's shown in the previous work. I like it so far, but i will keep on repeats till i make my final decision.
    TomWhaley
    I also have mixed feelings about this record. It was one of my most anticipated records of the year too. I don't think the production benefits them here. It's a very tight mix (which works great for the locked in grooves of Nick and Steve), but I think Colin and Brendan's guitar parts require more space than is given here. I think "Juturna" and "Blue Sky Noise" pack their punches appropriately, but also are given the right amount of breathing room. There are a lot of vocal effects on Anthony. Some of the vocal overdubs don't sit quite right either (the distorted vocal line in the chorus of "Only The Sun"). I didn't think he had many memorable vocal lines on this record, much like the whole middle run of "On Letting Go" and most of "Violent Waves." "Schema" definitely starts off with a "The Lottery" vibe as well, though, I do love that locked in drum and bass part... Kind of has a Tool vibe (end of "Descensus" does too). There also wasn't a single song that jumped out at me. Not that every album needs an obviously big song, but after repeated listens, I'm still trying to find something memorable to grab onto. "Nesting Dolls" is definitely a new departure for them, but I still feel like that track could've offered a little more. I did love the post-rock elements of that though. Idk. It's still too early to say. I'm sure I'll disagree with everything I said a year from now, or maybe I won't... Either way, I'm still going to keep digging into this one. Like you said, this band definitely hasn't written the same album twice. Every one of their records brings forth different qualities from the last!
    raunorauno
    To the first reviewer - there's more people in the band besides Anthony Green.
    seance
    I think even fans of the band would say that Anthony Green is the main pull though. Without him, there just isn't much to care about (i.e. Saosin, and, to a lesser extent, Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer).
    TomWhaley
    Anthony might be the face of the band, but the BAND is the most impressive part here. Brendan and Colin are two of the seriously most underlooked guitarists out there. Steve is an absolute monster on the drums, and Nick is a great bassist. I don't think this band would be the same if any member in it left. They definitely function best as a unit, with all members bringing equal elements to the table. They're definitely not just Anthony Green.
    raunorauno
    While I agree, seance, I ask you to keep in mind that he already has a solo project. If Anthony, himself, thought of CS as his show, he wouldn't need the solo thing. In this case, I'd hope the band isn't run like Megadeth or something. I assume every member has an equal amount of say and creative input. Therefore it would be unfair towards the others to not be mentioned at all. As for the Schema video, ultimately the band is a client. Most of the visual themes (granted, with input from the band) are offered by the contractor. I just suppose the others were okay with not appearing in this one (perhaps, for the greater good of storytelling).
    godzillarissa
    nah... Zolof lost nothing when Anthony left. They lost it two albums later when they started overproducing and losing that garage feeling.
    MackyMac77
    I might be the only Circa fan on the planet that doesn't really enjoy Juturna as much as I should. :/ But I ****in love Descensus. Been jamming the title track since I bought the album. Even got the vinyl.
    napkinblouse
    I'd say you probably are. Juturna tops my list even after listening to Decensus, but I love EVERY SINGLE Circa album.
    TomWhaley
    Yeah, Juturna is at the top of my list too... From start to finish, my absolute favorite. "We're All Thieves" might be my favorite song ever from them.
    Dust_and_Guilt
    Definitely better than Violent Waves, but I have to say I don't ever think they'll touch Juturna or OLG. :'(
    FlyingPirahna
    Yeah, but does any band ever really touch their first few albums ten years into the career? It's just so rare.