Although I go back to it once in awhile, I have to admit that my initial excitement with M83's second release Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts hasn't really held up that well over time and in listening to the album now, it leaves me at an arms distance, a little to cold to fully embrace, yet it has many moments that are still quite fascinating. The criticisms that were levvied at the album by some (that the songs don't vary enough, that they all have a similar structure) tend to mirror some of my thoughts about the album in retrospect, and I was hoping that with their new disc the group would remedy some of those things.
Remedy them they did, and in some cases the group seems delighted to push into extremes in terms of getting a more human point across. Although the group is mainly down to one person now, Before The Dawn Heals Us doesn't have quite the cold edge that their previous release did, although I'm sure that many of the same instruments and techniques were used. The album opener of "Moon Child" is a perfect example of things to come as warm guitars drenched in reverb mingle with the soft buzz of analogue synths while drums play out alongside a spoken-word sample. At once, the track explodes in sort of a proggy haze, and with a choir of vocals it works quite well.
"Don't Save Us From The Flames" is only one of several tracks where the group pushes forward into a territory that seems to delight in more of a throwback feel. As piles of buzzing synths squeal, a full-on drum attack rambles along as falsetto vocals recall 70s groups like Journey. The track is propulsive and has great dynamics, though, and almost does enough to keep some of the comparisons off your mind while tracks like "Can't Stop" seem to rub the cheese factor in your face with new-age synth washes and pitter-patter tom fills (along with pitch-bent vocals).
In other places, the group seems to really unleash their more rock side, and the blistering "*" is a wonderful example of what they can do with dense layers of squealing synths married to rock guitars and driving drums. "Car Chase Terror" uses a similar formula, only substiting some movie dialogue in place of the slower parts before ramping things up to a fever pitch. Considering the album uses several spoken-word passages, the track still sounds a bit out-of-place with its darker subject matter. Unfortunately, while Before The Dawn Heals Us makes the tradeoff of being much more varied in terms of overall sound, it also feels a smidge more inconsistent. There are several songs on the release that are easily among the best that the group has ever done, but by the time the 15 tracks and well over an hour run length are over, the release feels a bit on the long side and many of the shorter tracks simply feel like sketches that weren't fully fleshed-out. A good, if not great release from the group.