Originally published in the Hindu Sunday Magazine on January 20th
Alexisonfire – Death Letter
Here’s a bit of depressing news to start of the new year – it marked the end of the line for Canadian band Alexisonfire, one of the forerunners of post-hardcore music for the past decade. Their last release is aptly titled Death Letter. The six-track EP is emotional for fans recent and past, since it sees guitarists Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil lead the way through six stripped down renditions of classic Alexisonfire songs from their discography spanning a decade.
But the hard part lies in overlooking every other song from their albums Alexisonfire, Watch Out!, Crisis, and Old Crows/Young Cardinals. The band has a history of staying consistently post-hardcore in a time when every other one of their contemporaries toned things down or turned the heavy quotient up. Green and MacNeil pick out six all-time favourites on Death Letter and create absolutely heart-wrenching versions of them, using nothing more than their voices, their acoustic guitars and some great production.
One reason why fans are not even listening to this album is the absence of vocalist George Pettit, bassist Chris Steele, and drummer Jordan Hastings. It’s a valid argument that it’s not an Alexisonfire record if everyone’s not involved, especially since the band did not exactly part ways amicably. Somehow, Green’s vocals convey exactly that kind of sorrow, with MacNeil’s harsher, raspier voice joining in the chorus on songs such as ‘Midnight Regulations’. Meanwhile, there’s something ethereal about ‘You Burn First’, which seems like a combination of blues and ambient.
It’s downright sombre towards the end, on ‘Burial’, when Green sings in a chilling tone: “When will this winter end?” If you hear the original versions of any of these six songs, and found out Alexisonfire is breaking up, you’d understand why these songs have been rendered the way have been. The EP closes with ‘Happiness By the Kilowatt’, a song the band has always saved for last when it comes to live performances. The symbolism is too evident to pass up on, when Green echoes towards the very end: “In a hail of sparks/And a tangle of wires/Everything went wrong/Was this what we hoped for?”
Words like those will only give you goose bumps, proving that Alexisonfire knew how to write songs that will stand the test of time for decades. Death Letter is the band signing off, leaving a trail of choked fans behind.