Defeater - Empty Days & Sleepless Nights (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Empty Days & Sleepless Nights (2011)

Bridge Nine

On their second LP, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, Defeater make it clear that "hardcore" is no longer defined by a certain sound or a rigid set of rules forged in the '80s, but rather, a mood sitting somewhere between desperation and anger. Throughout the new release, the band adopts multitudes of sounds, but remain undeniably "hardcore" throughout the proceedings.

Most noticeably, while older hardcore records were often monochromatic, expressing a singular musical concept 13 times in a row, Defeater are comfortable in letting the music form into its own shapes. Although the music flips between a drifting aerial sound and a harsher buzz attack, the polished production links the pieces together, giving the piece a coherent thread, albeit, not a static one. Interestingly, this gives the music somewhat of a structured feel. While "Dear Father" has guitars that seem to drift like jellyfish, and "Empty Glass" whirls like a rusty Stuka propeller, both seem to build their phrasing around a steady drumbeat, filling in the gaps as opposed to just being thrown forward in an attempt to stay atop the wave.

Vocalist Derek Archambault keeps his delivery in the style of most modern hardcore. His scream seems to build from a reserved howl to all-out vocal cord shredding. Although he's able to keep the sound of his voice behind the ragged yell, giving the vocals some distinction, at times, the sound becomes somewhat of a flatline. Pulling of the gas a little here and there would really give aggregate emphasis to the band's fairly strong sense of dynamics.

Where Archambault does excel is in the lyrics themselves. Although the release is a concept album about a family suffering through the struggles of life post-WWII, Archambault skillfully ties the concepts to the words, giving them greeter meaning when viewed in light of the band's intentions, but also allows them to stand for something independently, neither needing, nor being weighed down, by an intricate background story.

Further arguing that "hardcore" is a concept and not a sound, the band ends the release with an acoustic coda composed of four songs. "But Breathing" begins as little more than a voice and sole guitar, and even skirts daringly close to John Mellencamp territory. But, by the time the group reaches "Headstone", they've also waved to the Pogues as well as Dylan, using a series of understated instruments and chords.

Although understated isn't usually a word that can be applied to hardcore, Defeater makes it work. Really, "concept album" is sort of anti-hardcore, but along with a certain other group, Defeater are either making new rules or just forgetting the old ones. For that fact, Dylan is not exactly hardcore fodder, but, the times they are a-changing, and Defeater seems to be one of the engines behind the shift.