Sometimes too much time can go by, and you forget just how damn good something is until you finally get that taste again. Sometimes it’s just the freshness of something you haven’t consumed in forever, and maybe after a few indulgences the flavor begins to fade. Conversely, sometimes it’s Alive, the long awaited sophomore album from Atlanta’s Dead Register and I want to go back to their debut to see if it was as good as I remember but I can’t because that would mean I have to stop listening to this album, and that is not something I’m willing to commit to.
We’ve waxed poetic about the band before, most recently with their single a year ago. But for those not yet caught to the jive of the band, this is a sumptuously dark and atmospheric take on post-rock, post-punk, postalize if you will. Spun into being around the husband/wife duo of M. Chvasta on vocals and various-string basses and Avril Che on synths, keys, textures and vocals, their music touches heavily on those vibes that meet in the abandoned roads at midnight.
It’s probably cheap and easy to make comparisons to Joy Division, but I’m going to do it anyway for a few reasons. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the band’s live output, and how much it differs from the heavily produced studio recordings. When I listen to Dead Register, I don’t just hear the similarities between Chvasta’s deep soulful voice and the bass anguish of Ian Curtis, but I also hear something of the escaped intensity from Joy Division’s live recordings. In its most coiled moments – the intro to “Circle of Lives” or the way the drums and heavy delayed strings play against each other on the title track – I can sense the aggression and electricity that punctuated the best of the Manchester unit’s performances.
Alive leads off with its title track, and it’s a massive rocker, super heavy (the lack of true guitars means that every line has an added weight, even as it sounds like it’s reaching to the heavens) and just dynamic as hell. The drum attack from Randy Garcia is monstrous; as much as I can say about the layers of mood and melody Chvasta and Che lay down, Garcia feels like the glue holding it together on the tracks, his hands laying down some incredibly heavy hits – don’t go looking for too much deft or subtle touches here – every time that drumstick hits the skin it’s a call to arms. I love hearing Che’s vocals mix in with Chvasta, adding another light blanket over an otherwise dark and cold vocal delivery.
“Let Me In” has a more ethereal presence, but you can never escape that darkness, especially the heavy attack of the aforementioned “Circle of Lies.” “In Between” feels more like it could have been unearthed from Joy Division’s tapes in 1980 without actually sounding like Dead Register are mimicking them. Alive continues with this dynamic, sometimes recalling the more gothic rock of a band like The Cult, but never straying far from the brilliantly dark deathrock they do so well. As the album wraps up with the heavy Katatonia vibes of “Longest Day” and “Old Flame” you can really see how it’s never one thing that Dead Register is aiming for. They can take anything and as they twist it into form it becomes instantly identifiable as something only they could create, only they could execute.
And that more than anything else is the mark of a great band. Dead Register have come back and almost effortlessly released one of my favorite records this year. Alive may be enveloped in the darkness, but true to its title it’s one of the most vital, alive records I’ve heard in 2022.