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Dead Letter Circus - The Catalyst Fire CD (album) cover


Dead Letter Circus



3.59 | 31 ratings

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4 stars Still Searching

I feel my bitterness towards The Catalyst Fire has mostly passed by now, so it's a good time to finally address it. It's strange, I don't think anyone expected this sophomore release to have a hair against This Is the Warning, especially not me, but when it dropped I was still disappointed in it. Maybe it was the hordes of people saying that this was an improvement that rustled my jimmies a bit, to the point where I was shouting "THE CATALYST FIRE SUCKS YOU'RE ALL WRONG OMG" everywhere. So of course, I then got to the embarrassing moment when I started to enjoy this record, and I had to swallow my pride a bit and admit I did judge this a bit quickly.

But, of course, in comparison to This Is The Warning, this is a pretty pitiful record, and the only reason you could ever prefer it, in my mind, is if you heard this first. As much as Dead Letter Circus would want you to believe otherwise with their videos leading up to the album explaining how much they did differently, this is more or less the same DLC we've always known. If you're here for the instrumental part of their music, you won't be disappointed. Sure, it's missing a few of the absolutely ridiculous riffs that littered This Is The Warning, but it's still the same old delay drenched guitar playing those pretty cool lines all over the place. The difference here is in one person, the man that made This Is The Warning one of the best albums of all time, and the man who has made The Catalyst Fire one of the most frustrating follow-ups ever. Kim Benzie.

Kim's vocal parts are the best part of DLC's music. I don't know many people who deny that. Sure, those instrumentals are bloody cool, and the drums are incredibly intricate, but honestly, most of us are here to sing at the top of our lungs, not listen to drumming and comment on the use of 32nd notes. And what Benzie as here is the same problem I noted on "Wake Up", he's just not quite hitting the hooks. I hit it a while back, the little thing that just irks me about this album, is that the vocal parts seem unfinished. They sound like vocal lines that he came up with when first hearing the instrumentals, by randomly singing notes and searching for the elusive hook. And so many times he misses completely.

Take the intro to "Say Your Prayers", with Benzie singing over a minimal backing. The notes he hits here just don't seem to mesh, they just don't seem to be cohesive, he's just aiming somewhere and looking for the hook, the part of their music that makes them so good. And it just doesn't come. Unfortunately, the sound of Benzie hitting the same note over and over again pretending it's some form of emotional melody becomes a regular occurrence in this record, like in one of the better tracks "Stand Apart", where Benzie is just singing one note for the entire chorus, before going into what could be described as a hook. You can hear in the way that he sings that he wants this to sound brilliant and epic, like a lot of the choruses on This Is The Warning, but it doesn't, it sounds tired and empty.

I exaggerate though, because there are still hooks here, otherwise I wouldn't like it, they're just so much more spread out and less exciting than anything on the debut. Take "Alone Awake", which is probably the best track here. It has a pretty strong intro, a nice little refrain, and one of the catchiest little hooks on the record in the verse. But the chorus is just so? anticlimactic. It builds pretty well, as most DLC songs do, but the chorus doesn't use any of this energy, Benzie just slots into a mediocre vocal line and belts it. Sure, the way he delivers it is pretty good, but honestly, you'd have to be Kim Benzie to make anything out of that vocal line (oh wait?)

But I should digress from complaining, which I always seem to do. Because as much as I could list a hundred things that This Is The Warning does better, every time I hear it, I have this nagging feeling that if I had heard this first, I would absolutely love it. As I've said before, there are no bad Dead Letter Circus songs. Sure, "The Veil" and "Kachina" come pretty close, but those aren't bad, they're just uninteresting and insignificant. And I know for a fact that if I find a record that I like every track but two to a certain extent, I'm ecstatic. My love for The Catalyst Fire has been tainted by the fact that its predecessor was nearly a perfect album.

There are moments here that are truly great. I love the explosive intro to "Burning Man", opening up with that huge chorus. I've mentioned in my single review that I'm a bit fan of the first riff in "Lodestar", it feels epic and overwhelming, similar to the final section of "Cage" that I was such a huge fan of. The instrumentation on "Stand Apart" is another great moment, where it takes the turn for the hectic and crazed, something that I feel they could develop more, after they hinted at it on "The Drum".

In the end, The Catalyst Fire is a decent album, but it just seems like a half-assed attempt at recreating the debut. Sure, most songs here have a pretty catchy hook within, but on This Is The Warning, there were three, even four sometimes, in one track alone. The choruses on This Is The Warning were a level above, every step taking the song higher, but here I'm often finding that the verses are more interesting, and they build up to a weak pay off in the chorus. Some of the tracks here, particularly Lodestar, Alone Awake and Stand Apart, could rival some of the best on This Is The Warning when you hear the intro, but they just fail to capitalise on the energy created and land somewhere in mediocrity. I like this record, but you line up every song here against every song on the debut, the best song here would probably only be better than 3 or 4 songs there.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Gallifrey | 4/5 |


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