When chronicling the potted history of Anthony Green’s musical evolution – finding his first piece of major recognition with Soasin before moving onto The Sound Of Animals Fighting and ultimately Circa Survive – there’s a number of parallels that can be drawn with AFI and Davey Havok. Both found their most noticeable push through catering to certain zeitgeists – Green with the post-hardcore of the mid-2000s, Havok in the post-Misfits world of horror-punk – before ultimately focusing their attentions to something more grounded and, for lack of a better term, mature. Even the streams of side projects spawn some similarities, with both embarking upon more niche ventures with ultimately greater stakes of self-expression (Green with The Sound Of Animals Fighting and his numerous solo albums, Havok with Blaqk Audio and XTRMST), and even a late-period desire to return to a more straightforward, throwback sound that led to Havok’s involvement in Dreamcar earlier this year and Green returning to front Saosin for 2016’s Along The Shadow.
But where these comparisons really hold weight is when the latest output of each “main” project is placed side by side – AFI’s The Blood Album and Circa Survive’s The Amulet – and how much the underlying similarities really dictate the quality of each. Both see their creators embracing their more subtle, open-ending affectations for albums that favour slowly unfurling atmosphere over immediacy. And just like The Blood Album, The Amulet stands as an album that’s immaculately crafted but with precious little that sticks after an initial listen.
That’s made evident from the very first track Lustration, with guitars adopting a lighter, more tactile indie-rock sound and the impressively complex, almost jazz-like drum work. And on its own, that’s all fine, since Circa Survive clearly have the adept musical skill to pull it off. This is very much a musician’s album as well, putting their post-hardcore influences on the back burner to focus fully on a more progressive style. It gives a sense of grandiosity to tracks like Flesh And Bone with plays around with chilly minor chords and pianos for that wintery ballad feel, or the heavier Stay which pitches its instrumentation into more traditional alt-rock territory in the closest that The Amulet comes to reconnecting with its post-hardcore roots. Above all though, this is definitely a straighter album across the board, largely sticking to that delicate progressive indie template and performing it rather well, especially with regards to the vocals. Green may sound distressingly like Kellin Quinn but he’s nowhere near as screechingly obnoxious, and with the sort of control that means he can actually temper his vocals to fit the more serene, equable mood; it’s telling that his attempts at reaching out for screams on Rites Of Investiture and the title track are the only real moments that feel out of place.
But this alone brings up where The Amulet‘s main fault lies, with the fact that Circa Survive place such an emphasis on instrumental proficiency over basically anything else. Green’s tamped-down vocals might match up with the direction the instrumentation goes, but the doesn’t mean this is a user-friendly album, or one that’ll spur on any sort of emotional peak beyond prog fans and guitar-heads rubbing their hands with glee. Just because there’s talent here doesn’t mean that translates into interesting material; a track like Premonition Of The Hex feels so static with its complete lack of dynamics or gear shifts beyond a mid-level plod, and At Night It Gets Worse tries to spread its spidery guitar lines and drum fills over almost six-minutes but ends up feeling remarkably flimsy as a result. And with the frail, glassy quality in Green’s vocals that’s trapped in a distant falsetto for almost the entire album, there’s a lack of motion on all fronts that prevents the genuine qualities of The Amulet from being cashed in.
And after all, it’s easy to see what Circa Survive are going for here, distancing themselves from some of intensity of their previous five albums to open up new areas for number six. But that intensity was gave those albums such drive and vigour; here, this feels like a band stripping away such a defining keystone of their sound and spreading a half-speed effort over an entire album. Admittedly there’s enough instrumental colour here to prevent The Amulet from being outright boring, but even with those generous qualifications, this is okay at best, and Circa Survive have proven time and time again that they’re capable of a lot more.
For fans of: Coheed And Cambria, The Dear Hunter, A Lot Like Birds
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Amulet’ by Circa Survive is released on 22nd September on Hopeless Records.