Circa Survive’s biggest competition in this scene is themselves. When their fifth LP Descensus was announced, the buzz centered on what the band was going to do next, how their sound would evolve for this release, and which barriers they would break now. There is a ton of pressure on Circa Survive to remain one of the more innovative bands in this scene, staying true to their punk and post-hardcore roots while still experimenting with other genres. While their 2012 release Violent Waves might have been toned-down compared to their mid-2000s hard-hitting angst, Descensus packs a bigger punch than expected. Heavy with southern rock, blues, and industrial influences, the band’s newest release further solidifies Circa Survive’s spot as one of the most innovative bands in the alt rock scene (as if we needed any more evidence).
The album opens with the lead single “Schema,” which immediately sets the forceful tone of this album. A super heavy bass line and Anthony Green’s haunting vocals creates an eerie mood before breaking into a loud chorus. The dense reverb and background vocals gives the song a cool industrial feel, heard throughout the album.
The southern rock guitars are first noticed in the second track “Child of the Desert.” The song seemed like a classic Circa song until almost four minutes in when guitarist Brendan Ekstrom churns out an incredible guitar solo. This solo punctuates the last part of the song, where Green finishes it out with this punk-blues shouting that is heard throughout the album. Later in the album, “Sovereign Circles” also has a prominent blues influence in the instruments. A little more subtle this time around, this track is a cool fusion of the genre experimentation while still being a quintessential Circa song.
Perhaps what the song that stuck out the most was the seven-minute banger that marked the middle of Descensus. Fans of Circa Survive’s Appendage EP will be stoked to hear “Nesting Dolls” channels the same ethereal elements. Soft vocals and slow, lush guitars open the song, with Green repeating the lines “I don’t want to feel like this / ever again.” Even with the repetition in the first couple minutes, the instrumentals are beautiful and vary just enough to keep the listener interested. The drums softly make their way into the track as it progresses into giant indie rock sound. This is probably the most appropriate time to compliment Will Yip on the production of this album. “Nesting Dolls,” in particular, is just one of the tracks where the production is absolutely incredible.
“Who Will Lie With Me Now” hits the same sort of spot, just in a lot less time. The song, under a minute, serves as an interlude into “Only The Sun.” This along with “Quiet Down” are the tracks on Descensus that you always expect to be on any Circa Survive album. While nothing incredible mind-blowing or crazy, they follow the equation of a heavy bass line + repetitive drums + creative guitar riffs + Anthony Green giving some cool variety in vocals. It’s not a terrible route to go as it’s sure to please any long time Circa fan that might not be into this bluesy direction they’ve taken in other aspects of the album.
Is there any other way to close out the punch in the face that is Descensus than with a nine-minute track? Eh, I doubt it. Although the song is an easy listen and definitely a favorite from the album, I expected something that hit a little bit harder to close the album. The post-rock jam has pauses several times to highlight Nick Beard’s loud, repetitive bass. The track keeps a moderate pace throughout as Green takes a step back from the fast-paced, in-your-face vocals. Yet, in contrast to album opener “Schema,” his words seems to get under your skin more. “You have everything you could need / and you wasted on a partnership that you hate / so you break it”
Overall, this album’s tracklisting creates a cool contrast between the really heavy, southern-rock inspired tracks and the lusher indie rock slow jams. Whether or not you’re a fan of the direction Circa Survive went for this album, it’s hard to deny that the blues influences are extremely well-done. In combination with the subtle industrial undertones heard in nearly every track, the innovation and creativity from this band is unprecedented. Although it might not be the next Blue Sky Noise (Donald might disagree with that), it is certainly another welcome addition to this band’s stellar discography. It’s been nine years since the release of Juturna and all I can say is: long live Circa Survive.