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.