24th November 2014 – Sumerian Records
02. Child Of The Desert
03. Always Begin
04. Who Will Lie With Me Now
05. Only The Sun
06. Nesting Dolls
07. Quiet Down
09. Sovereign Circles
This album almost didn’t happen. It’s almost horrifying for fans to think of now, but the waves of destruction that have crashed over Pennsylvanian five-piece Circa Survive in the past year or two might have buried any other band. Certainly, with the insidious tragedies that have befallen various of the members – drug relapse, personal tragedies and the like – you wouldn’t have blamed them, but somehow, yet again, Circa Survive have pulled together and delivered a showcase of compositional triumph and emotional resonance.
There’s a pristine sort of dichotomy to the record. “Schema” is perhaps the only front-to-back aggressive song, but there are plenty of tangible moments of upbeat energy: the wild climax to “Child Of The Desert“, the bounce of “Always Begin“‘s intro, and the tribal nature of the title track, which closes the album. These are then contrasted by varying degrees of melancholy, particularly in Anthony Green’s lyrics. “Nesting Dolls” in particular hits hardest; a brutally honest and exquisitely painful track. “Quiet Down“, too, exudes a kind of mournful anguish; it’s heavy stuff.
“Only The Sun” is the track which, for me, ties the whole thing together, espousing both facets. Its initial lyrical introspection – “Will you evaluate my art? I don’t know if I can”) – is matched by an urgency in the high, rising, delay-ridden tremolo of the guitars, but it gives way to a more hopeful mood – or at least one of self-acceptance – in the climactic final act of the song. All the way through it feels like something is happening to the music – getting incrementally more insistent – but you don’t quite realise a payoff is coming until it breaks. The chorus has a big hand in this, stripping back the weighty, delay-rideen tremolo of the guitars, so that when the finale breaks it feels massive. It’s genius.
Because above all, Circa Survive are exemplary songwriters. I can’t think of any song in their catalogue – of an impressive 60-odd – which sounds so alike as to be mistaken for another, and that’s damn impressive. Descensus continues this fine tradition, standing as perhaps their most mature and thought-provoking work to date. There are beats and swells to this record that feel like the ebb of a mighty ocean – which brings me to the artwork, created once against by American surrealist Esao Andrews.
This is one of those records where the artwork ties in so closely with the music. The pyramid – is it being dragged down by some dark, serpentine creature from the deep, or lifted from the water by the balloons; stoked by the fire at its core? It’s most likely both; something the talented quintet represent deftly with their considerable experience. It’s hardly surprising, given that the five have been writing together for at least a decade now, but it’s always rewarding to know the band still have this level of guile.
Descensus is not an easy listen. Technically impressive and beautifully delivered, it’s often like smoke between your fingers; hard to grasp and harder to quantify. For this reason, it is likely not for everybody, but wherever the band goes from here, they can feel accomplished that they’ve created another astonishing and important record.