Sound — 6
There are very few figures in history whose words are best remembered for how loudly they shouted them. Mussolini and Malcolm X may have been able to up the decibels on occasion but, generally speaking, it was the content that mattered. Bleeding-heart hardcore crew Defeater operate in a similar way; their melodic chaos is perpetually ramped up by the eye-watering rawness of Derek Archambault, but never to the point of incoherence. He knows that people often listen best when they're having something screamed at them. Fans of that abrasiveness will be pleased to hear that "Letters Home" is a return to the sound of their 2008 debut "Travels," which was a throat-shredding blast of dissonance where its follow-up flirted with soft tones and balladry. Obvious influences include Modern Life Is War and Touch Amor, who take the blueprint of melodic hardcore and introduce tougher drums, abrupt tempo changes and visceral, unprocessed vocals. "Blood in My Eyes" marries modern, rolled-sleeve hardcore with old school sensibility, while "Bastards" stops and starts with new drummer Joe Longobardi working tirelessly to hold every groove in place. The slow, melancholy march of "No Saviour" is an obvious highlight, its isolated vocals evoking the finest moments of La Dispute. Chords bleed together on this album, with each new guitar part bearing streaks of dissonance from the last harmonic resolution is incredibly scarce, which means the dust never settles. It's an emotional whirlwind.
Lyrics — 8
This is where Defeater get really interesting. They are effectively a concept band, telling the story of a dysfunctional family and the tragic fallout of their father's service in World War II. Think Coheed & Cambria with food stamps and trench foot. Previous two albums tracked the two sons; "Letters Home" follows the story of the father, later to be murdered, as he wrote to his friends and family from the frontline. I shouldn't spoil all the twists and turns, but rest assured they have some impact. Using punk music to tell a coherent narrative set 70 years ago - one which resonates so strongly that fans are moved to sing along, go to shows and get tattoos - takes some talent. Despite the incorporation of softer sonics to prevent overcooking the distortion, Archambault's way of pushing each word as hard as he possibly can means the emotional intensity is relentlessly high from start to finish. The album isn't long but so intense is the delivery, so insistent is the music on its own importance, it can be rather taxing to get through if you're not in the mood.
Overall Impression — 6
For Defeater there is material to be mined from the old ground which they retread. With bands that rely so heavily on naked emotion there will be gems to unearth for as long as the fire burns. However, the more a band repeats themselves, the more they need to deliver on intensity and this album consistently hits the absolute limits. It won't be sustainable for long. Expect them to experiment again in future, but for now "Letters Home" is neither here nor there. It's troubled music for troubled people, not for the faint but the heavy hearted. If you're not ready to put everything into this record, it may pass you by entirely.