Deadlights – The Uncanny Valley


Artist

Album

The Uncanny Valley

Label

Greyscale

Year

2021

For Fans Of

Polaris, Underoath, Architects.

Summary

Definitely human; almost great.

Rating

60 / 100

“The name of our album, The Uncanny Valley, is the uneasy feeling you get when you look at an object that is supposed resemble something human, but you can clearly tell it’s not. This uneasy feeling is all too common when viewing the modern world and thinking of the future. Nothing is quite right, but it gets so close.”

That’s a quote from Deadlights about their second album, ‘The Uncanny Valley.’ As it turns out, that idea of something being “off,” of something not being quite right when you look at it, is a self-fulfilling prophecy for their new LP. No one could realistically state that there are no good songs here: there’s most certainly great moments spread. Yet there’s some glaring parts to ‘The Uncanny Valley’s runtime that feel under-cooked for me. Close but no cigar.

Of course, it’s not all bad! On ‘The Uncanny Valley,’ Deadlights has never sounded bigger or as polished; self-produced and then mixed and mastered by Chris Vernon (of label mates Belle Haven), he’s outdone himself by capturing them right in their element. It’s a tighter, far heavier release for the band than ‘Mesma‘ (2017) ever was. The four-piece have matched one of this record’s overarching themes of post-humanism with pitch-shifters, digitised voices and a larger emphasis on synthesisers to have their musical form play further into that theme of technology having such potential but not quite achieving it. (A metaphor for this record overall.)

It’s an album dealing with multiple possible futures and what the generations after us will experience, on global and personal levels. While the album isn’t some authority or expert on these matters, it does try to convey how a multitude of issues – climate change, apathy, technology – will aid in the downfall of humanity. So there’s a lot of variety to what Deadlights are talking about, and that variety even extends into the songwriting, which was refreshing. However, the record itself is definitely not truly uncanny and unique; it’s a very familiar, contemporary post-hardcore and metalcore experience that’s been influenced by everyone from Architects and Polaris, to Underoath and Alexisonfire.

Though let me get to what parts I think feel “off” about this record. For one, ‘Born Of A Lie‘ may have an awesome rhythmic synth-patch ostinato behind the verses, but the song’s instrumental is that of an extremely meh Polaris-esque metalcore arrangement that’s deftly uninteresting. If I didn’t already love the vocal chemistry of screamer Dylan Davidson and guitarist/singer Tyan Reibelt, I would’ve written this off as some utterly uninspired new metalcore band. (Birch-Stringer? Nah, DavidsonReibelt is the best dual-vocal pairing in Aussie heavy music.) I love a good pinch harmonic as much as the next guy, but the one that Deadlights recycle across this song, making itself known at the end of every few measures during the verses, is so fucking irritating. As far as the song’s concept of cataclysm by way of the digital void, it’s not the worst realization of that theme I’ve heard (hello new ERRA album) but it’s also not as compelling as say, Crystal Lake’sAeon.’

The King Of Nowhere‘ is the most boring Deadlights song to date. That same rock riff they bring back, the fickle choruses, the lyrics discussing hating oneself for making poor choices, the overall structure: I never enjoyed it or clicked with it. Not as a pre-release individual single, nor in full context as the album’s third track. What doesn’t help matters is there’s such a gripping forward momentum to ‘The Uncanny Valley‘ in the killer opening two songs that then just suddenly evaporates once ‘King Of Nowhere‘ arrives. It’s really jarring. Of course, Deadlights are one of the best-sounding live acts in the country, so maybe once I hear it in the flesh, I’ll come around to it? Perhaps. For now, this cops the skip button.

Then there’s the placement of ‘‘. This short interlude – comprised of text-to-speech voice (something Antagonist A.D also love to implement), reverberating percussion, rising guitars and synths – feels like it would’ve been better served as the album’s introductory piece. Or perhaps a penultimate bridge moment for the LP to then lead onto it’s finale. The song even fades out anyway, as ‘Echo Chamber‘ then fades back in, making the whole 90 seconds pointless; something more immediate transitioning the two tracks would’ve worked a lot better. Plus, nothing stated by those digital voices adds any new ideas to the record’s themes of apocalypses or humanity. Bluntly, it’s a meaningless song.

Thankfully, the songs that follow this mark some of the finest moments off of ‘The Uncanny Valley.’ So let’s get into those and what else this album gets so right.

You notice new confidence in Deadlights from the word go with the titular ‘The Uncanny Valley‘, being one of Deadlights‘ greatest tracks. A delicate and intimate introduction from Tynan sets the pace over synths, with later pissed-off solo vocals from Dylan as he screams next to a low distorted voice add a brutal effect, as lyrics encompass the record with macro and microcosmic universes beginning and ending. Complete with powerful earth-cracking breakdowns, and how it all smoothly transitions into the harmonic-laden snare roll intro of ‘Schedule: 1,’ it’s fantastic stuff. Speaking of, ‘Schedule: 1,’ a personal number detailing numbness, substance abuse and the death of ego, is another big standout. It all comes down to the skittish nature of the track, mixed in erratic guitars and synth lines, a crushing slower breakdown to end on, that wicked stop-start choked-cymbal part in the middle, and how Dylan’s intense screams cut to the core of not being comfortable when you’re alone with your own thoughts.

I think ‘Contact‘ can be read in two different ways. The first being a slightly more literal take; about humans constantly searching the stars to make “first contact” with extraterrestrial and higher beings, but ignoring more pressing issues right in front of us that plague our planet. Another reading is more metaphorical and spiritual; about the universe, reality-blurring and even astral projection and trying to slow down and keep oneself focused on the here and now. You do you, the choice is yours. Either way, ‘Contact‘ has some of the best Dylan-lead verses of the release; I dig how he holds the note of certain words for an extra length for added effect.

Echo Chamber‘ starts out with the bustling noise of a crowd, representing a loud echo chamber as the band try to cut through that chorus of voices to get back to something, or someone, real that helps level them amongst this cacophony. I love how the track builds in dynamic and pitch intensity from its opening movement, over into the screaming and ever-rising verses, and then into some rocketing refrains where Tynan flexes his lung capacity. In fact, the guy becomes the MVP of the whole record here, scooping his voice higher into a killer upper register for some sweet falsetto. And on those high-pitched vocals, beyond this particular eighth song, when he belts out “the new sensation” line during ‘Schedule: 1‘ or the serenading intro he offers on the title track, you cannot deny his ability.

My personal go-to of Deadlights‘ second LP is ‘Sudden Life / Sudden Death,’ which is just fucking vicious, reflecting awesome later-day Underoath shades. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s talking about the lack of meaning in our births until our inevitable deaths; that you cannot resist the cruel hands of time. The coiled and lurching ‘Pythia‘ – named after the Ancient Greek oracle – has drummer Josh O’Callaghan and bassist Sean Prior channel some tight nu-metal vibes together for the intro. These two make for one of the best rhythm sections in Australia, and the song becomes the grooviest and most rhythmically interesting tracks of the entire record. And the song’s curious examination of future timelines and what happens when we die, what we become and where we go once we shuffle off this mortal coil is thoughtful, full of questions, yet never half-arsed.

Frozen Over‘ is ice cold, both in its timbre, sparse guitars and the vocal melodies that Tynan delivers. You can practically feel the temperature of the album plummet when this closer hits, as if Hell itself is about to freeze over like the ultimate global cold snap. This is by design, as this dark and foreboding progressive musical piece is about current ecological collapses, an ever-approaching climate doom, and the political and lobbied lies that will bring it about sooner rather than later. As Deadlights are an Aussie group, it also seriously embodies the frustration felt by many of us citizens towards our government’s total inaction on climate change, forever towing the fossil-fuel industry’s bullshit, specifically when helmed by the grossly self-invested LNP.

Conclusion

‘The Uncanny Valley’ has some fucking great moments to its name, featuring some of the best Deadlights songs ever written, like ‘Schedule: 1’ or ‘Sudden Life / Sudden Death’. Yet like an almost human-robotic face trying to so desperately convince you that it’s a real person, there’s just something a little off about certain songs and choices made by the band on this second LP for my tastes. While Deadlights have never sounded as big or as polished, I prefer ‘Mesma’ overall. Yet the future direction they’re heading in shows so much promise. They’ve got the skill – their performative abilities and live playing is top-notch – and I believe next time around, with further fine-tuning and tweaking of their ever-growing songwriting characteristics, the next best iteration of Deadlights will come into full view.

Tracklisting

The Uncanny Valley

Schedule: 1

The King Of Nowhere

Born Of A Lie

Contact

Electrodomo

Echo Chamber

Pythia

Sudden Life / Sudden Death

Frozen Over

The Uncanny Valley’ is out now!

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