Dead Poet Society avoided the sophomore slump on their newest album FISSION – even if it feels wrong to say. The LA-based group met at Berklee and put out their first EP Weapons in 2013. Weapons was followed by a stream of EPs, singles, and tour dates before their long-awaited debut album –!– (The Exclamation Album) came out in 2021, so fans were understandably excited when they didn’t have to wait another eight years for the band’s next installment.
FISSION doesn’t stray too far from the lyrical themes or instrumentation of –!–, showcasing their incredible ability to make the most heavy, industrial-sounding songs hold an artful grasp of pop sensibility. You find yourself humming riffs from B-tuned guitars as if they were synth lines in a Dua Lipa song, and this album leans into that more than any of their previous work. While some fans might be disappointed by the more poppy songs on this record, such as “Tipping Point” and “My Condition,” songs like “81 Tonnes” and “KOET” remind listeners of the group’s sludgey roots.
Most importantly, the Berklee grads avoid falling victim to creating perfectly polished, predictable pop music, instead letting their deep understanding of theory inform exactly how they bend the rules to do something you don’t expect. Even on their more pop records, Dead Poet Society does things sonically, especially in their bridges, that are so unusual even fans of their heavier work can find something to appreciate.
Stand out tracks from the album include one-half of the lead double-single, “Running in Circles.” It is easily one of the catchiest songs on the record, and it confirmed to fans that FISSION wouldn’t be a strong departure form their older work. “How could I love you,” opens with such an aggressively down tuned acoustic guitar that you can hear the strings rattling against the body before launching into the riff on an electric guitar. It’s such a raw, unique sound – distinctly Dead Poet Society.
“Tipping Point,” has largely been referred to as the “emotional climax” of the album, mostly due to it being the closest Dead Poet Society gets to a ballad. Personally, it reminds me of, “Hesitate,” off Happiness Begins by the Jonas Brothers (which I also happen to love).
Initially, “Hard To Be God,” gave the vibe of a 15-year-old boy that just discovered he can say “shit” for the first time. However, after a few more listens, it’s grown on me. The song is a tongue-and-cheek attack on people that think way too highly of themselves, so the bombastic nature of the lyrics fits the vibe. Instrumentally, this is also a really interesting track. It opens with a pots-clanging-esq percussion and grows into this chugging pace that reminds me of the anti-pirating commercial from the 2000s that really made you want to pirate movies.
“81 Tonnes,” is one of the most unique songs on this record while still seamlessly blending in. There’s a fragility in Underkofler’s vocals that’s very uncommon for him, but grows in power as the song continues. In an interview with V13, Underkofler states, “This song is about a moment in a very low point in my life. I had just found out my mom had cancer, just gotten out of a bad relationship, and didn’t have anywhere to live.” For a songwriter that routinely focuses on the power of truth, “81 Tonnes,” is proof of how far it can go.
“KOET,” is another personal favorite. While I don’t know if it’s the first song I’d show someone from the group, it is what I would show someone if I wanted them to see Dead Poet Society at their best. The guitars are fuzzy and punchy while the percussion is metallic and hollow in the best way. There is just a feeling to the song that is the embodiment of Dead Poet Society.
Continuing their homage to their unique and consistent sound, “Black and Gold,” closes out the album with a bouncy feel remnant of “Animation” off of the Dempsey EP and the persistent, high-pitched, plucking of a guitar that calls back to their early single “Lo Air.” The track ends with a fade out, putting quite a pretty bow on a very gritty album – which somehow feels perfectly right.
Dead Poet Society might not be the biggest band in the scene right now, but they should be. They’ve opened up for the likes of Badflower, Highly Suspect, and Nothing More, and they’re likely your favorite alternative rock bands favorite alternative rock band right now. No one goes to a Dead Poet Society show without leaving a fan, so make sure and catch them May 15 at the Basement East and listen to FISSION here: