Pain makes you beautiful

 Dead Season find the middle ground between life and death
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 9, 2009

Dead Season's Life Death

With all the success Dead Season have had, perhaps their greatest talent lies in their unflappable honesty, their unwavering self-confidence. At times, their songs, full of introspection and naked emotion, are like being forced to stare at the sun. The instinct to blink is strong.

It can be difficult for those who deal in metaphor and cynicism to get with a band who deal in neither. Since I’ve got Beatles on the brain, I’ll note that the most famous band of all time got more critical acclaim as they got more opaque. When “Love Me Do” morphed into “Doctor Robert” the band transformed from earnest to philosophical, from genuine to slippery, and yet it became so much easier to laud their vision and hope it wasn’t simply the result of writing and recording under the influence. That says as much about the fans and critics as it does about the Beatles’ growth as a band.

Dead Season are “Love Me Do” personified, a band that feed off the positive energy of their fans and do their best to channel it right back at them. With their positivity, they’ve become a secular version of Zao or Underoath. There are some who find this too much to bear, maybe too good to be true, but I’m fairly certain Dead Season don’t spend a lot of time worrying about that.

In fact, on Life Death, the band’s third full-length album, which is out this week, they’re pretty clear about their taste for mainstream acceptance. “For the Radio” begins with two succinct words: “Fuck you.” Of course, it’s a delicate line to walk. When you sing that “the music of today makes me so damned pissed/Every song just sounds the same,” you better make sure you’re pretty dang original.

So: Are they? I think they operate well in a genre (and I’m not going to pretend my library of contemporary metal is enormous). They clearly have heard Metallica. They utilize those fairly common, spacey, downtuned guitar meanderings to open songs. There are times when they edge toward the sharp cadences of rap metal that were so popular about five years ago.
But, as a package, they’d be hard not to pick out of a crowd. They take emo themes and make them starker. They take ’80s melodies and make them darker. They sometimes sound like Lamb of God covering the Judybats. When “Sleep When I Die” posits that “my love is my caffeine,” it really hits home that these guys are big-hearted softies, who care about family and community and just happen to wear lots of black and spiked collars and whatnot. Why should that be strange? Whose expectations are they defying?

Most importantly, Dead Season have continued to grow as musicians. If you wash away the heart-rending lyrics about remembering a mother lost to cancer, what’s left is an evolving band. Frontman Ian Truman has added new delivery styles to his arsenal (even if I sometimes wish he’d pick just one or two). Guitarist Matt Truman has fine-tuned his leads and has a much larger vocabulary than he’s displayed on previous efforts. Drummer Andy Hackett hits a drum roll like a pianist dragging his hand along the keyboard. Bassist Steve Church is up to many melodic challenges.

The songs are more interesting, with bridges that cross genres and choruses that start songs instead of finish them. “This Depression” is like Kid Rock if he did death metal instead of beer rock (“suds rock?”). “It’s Over Now” is a ballad that’s more Simple Minds than Cherry Pie. “Say Goodbye” features muted guitar and backing vocals that belie a forced bravado: “Goodbye, to this town/Goodbye, to these clowns.”

Because, in the end, Dead Season wouldn’t mind some more radio play, or a big fat record deal that would solve their not-yet-arrived grandchildren’s financial problems, or even just a nice, normal, made-for-television-sitcom life where everyone’s got a nuclear family and our biggest headaches are what to do about Jimmy’s propensity for skipping homework and chasing skirts. Who wouldn’t want those things?

Dead Season are just particular about how they come by them and they keep their priorities in check: “Could someone please explain/Why you died/Why could you not survive/Why does good die/Why can’t you be alive?”

Life? Death? Generally, people focus their ponderings on more bite-sized subjects. Dead Season choose to take it all on at once. Big subjects for a big band.

Sam Pfeifle can be reached

LIFE DEATH | Released by Dead Season | at the Oxford Fair | Sept 13 | at the Asylum, in Portland | Sept 19 |

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