Sound: Dead Letter Circus are a four-piece from Brisbane, Australia who put together an interesting blend of music. I suppose I would classify them as a cross between Alternative Rock and Progressive Rock with some touches of Electronics and Indie Rock thrown in for good measure. The result is a surprisingly engagin sound that displays both musical competency and a good grasp of songwriting.
Drawing on bands such as fellow Aussie rockers Karnivool, Deftones, The Mars Volta and Muse but not sounding too much like any of them, Dead Letter Circus bring something quite new and interesting to the table, emerging from a rapidly growing Australian rock scene.
Their debut, self-titled EP was released in 2007 on 3Massive Records/MGM, consisting of six tracks it shows a remarkably polished and coherent sound for a band's first release. Singer Kim Benzie is very much at home in the higher registers, sitting comfortably somewhere between Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Claudio Sanchez. Unusually for someone who sings in a higher register, Benzie's vocals don't get on my nerves after a couple of songs, he keeps his delivery varied yet strong and although his range isn't too huge, he does manage to keep things interesting.
The guitar work from Rob Maric on this album is an effect-laden smrgsbord, with clever little licks thrown in between the heavy, crashing riffs and high-end hooks. It's not what you would call ground-breaking, but its intricate and solid.
The bass is audible above the rest of the instruments which is a good start and something that immediately appeals to me. And it deserves to be heard, since the bassist, Stewart Hill, pumps out some rather interesting, but hardly virtuosic basslines. He does however have a very growly, distinctive bass tone which adds some real drive and thickness to the bands sound.
The drumming on this album, courtesy of erstwhile drummer Scott Davey (now replaced by Like Williams) is very good. Solid, complex and agressive when it needs to be. Davey, it seems, was never afraid of adding in a couple of extra hits on the snare and throwing in a fill or two where ever space permits.
Now, a track by track rundown:
01."The Mile": the intro to this song is something I could imagine Muse coming up with if they all grew beards and starting living in log cabins. It's a high-end, high-speed riff carried along with a galloping bassline and aggressive drumming. The whole song is what I would call "high". There are high-rend guitar licks thrown in which interlace with Benzie's vocals nicely.
02."Lines": the song begins with some reverb-y guitar before shifting into a bass-and-vocal driven verse as the guitars and drums come back in for the chorus with full-force. Again, high-end guitar hooks which do well to highlight the vocalist's skills and accentuate his range.
03."Disconnect and Apply": I love the intro riff to this song, growling bass, double-speed guitars and well-paced drumming carry this thumping, 3 minute thrillride along.
04."Are We Closer": another strong offering, with another growling, thumping bassline and fill-heavy drumming. The guitar in the verses is minimal but does well to create gaps in the music where the others can show off their skills.
05."This Life Awake": some very spacey sounding guitars usher in this track, before some hard drumming and vocals kick in. This song is carried along by alternating quiet vocal parts and aggressive, guitar-driven verses.
06."Alien": the longest track on the EP at just over 6 minutes long, an ambitious outing for a fledgling band. This song gradually builds from a single guitar, gaining in volume and intensity as the drums and bass join it, before turning into Muse-esque soundscape. This song really shows off Benzie's vocal talents with soaring highs in the verses.
Overall this is a very strong offering from a band just starting out, if I could level one criticism at the band it would be that none of the songs are particularly distinctive. Whereas some intros may differ from one another, ultimately most songs become some more of the same. It's a good formula, don't get me wrong but six songs is probably about as many as I could stand. I still have trouble knowing which song is which without looking at the title first. I understand that these guys are just starting out so it may take them a while to spread their creative wings and experiment with different sounds. Nevertheless, this a very strong debut offering from a band who, if they keep on track will offer up some interesting songs in the future.
Check them out if you're a fan of fellow Aussie rockers Karnivool, or if you ever wanted to hear what a more metal-sounding Muse would be like. Hell, check them out if you're a fan of guitar-driven music in general. They might not blow your mind but I find it unlikely that they'll disappoint you. // 8
Lyrics: Benzie doesn't pen any particularly staggering lyrics, they are however a damn site deeper than most stuff out there nowadays. While not telling any sort of story or carrying a message, they are nevertheless interesting and do a good job of showing off Benzie's skill.
In all honestly, I do have some trouble deciphering the lyrics. Partly because I've never really TRIED and partly because when he goes to hit the higher notes, Benzie's voice becomes lost in the soaring guitars and it can make it kind of hard to hear him accurately. I consider the vocals less a means of getting across a message and more as a fourth instrument for this band, adding another layer of sound to the mix.
My one criticism of the vocals is that Benzie has quite a limited range as stated above. While he's obviously competent in the higher register he never really shows much desire to break out of this particular comfort zone. Again, however, I can overlook this on account of this particular EP being the band's first attempt and offering up some strong material despite its downfalls. // 7
Overall Impression: The important thing to remember, really is that Dead Letter Circus have their weaknesses, like every band, but to make up for them they excel in other areas that matter. The instrumentation of this album is very good with each player showing a decent amount of skill with his respective instrument. All in all, this is a solid offering, which, (at the risk of repeating myself) wont knock you off your seat and leave you drooling for more, it's not average but its not the next masterpiece of rock, it's solid, it's good. I enjoy listening to Dead Letter Circus, I enjoyed writing this review for Dead Letter Circus and I can only hope that future releases from this little-known Australian quartet will get the recognition that I fell (and hope by that time) they deserve. // 8