Album Reviews - Reviews

Defeater – Abandoned


There’s something so intrinsically lovely about really good album artwork. While you shouldn’t be able to judge a record by its cover, it should act as some kind of indication of what you can expect. Abandoned, the latest LP from hardcore punks Defeater, has one of those covers that sets the tone for the album in a rather sublime fashion. It’s this murky, shadowy image of a priest overshadowed by a stained glass representation of a mother and her children. Not only does it capture the record’s more atmospheric and moody elements, but it also provides a neat visual representation of the album’s central ideas: overwhelming guilt, the permanence of sins and the loss of a spiritual connection. While these are all very lofty ideas and the band take great efforts to try and achieve them, they’re unfortunately marred by a number of fundamental flaws that make the album something to be appreciated rather than outright enjoyed.

Musically, what is here is in essence relatively standard modern hardcore music. Bands like Touché Amoré, Title Fight and La Dispute come to mind, but Defeater have opted to inject the songs with a greater sense of mood and atmosphere driven over straightforward hardcore. Throughout the album, these little flickers of Mogwai-like post-rock are littered that, at their best, lend the songs this impeccably defined sense of atmosphere and dread. The songs take place in a world where spiritual guides have lost their own connection to God and the music reflects that hopelessness. Tracks like ‘Contrition’, ‘Vice and Regret’ and ‘Remorse’ all benefit massively from these components. Where the album falls down in this regard though is the absence of variety. There are moments throughout the album that are quite interesting, which the band can’t seem fuse into a collective whole.  Moreover, as the disc progresses, songs begin to fuse into one and all those attempts at ambiance and setting fall by the wayside for genericism. A major part of this, however, is the vocals. Lead vocalist Derek Archambault has this kind of throaty, bile-ridden delivery that can be a perfect distillation of a fury that has gone on for too long without reprieve, which is something central to the record. The problem is his voice is the same on every song, which means that these poignant moments of absolute anguish and existential dread are numbed by the fact he’s been using this style so frequently he could be singing about burning toast as much as unwavering regret and fear.

What makes this so unfortunate is that he is telling an interesting tale here, one that not only works as a self-contained piece but also fits neatly into narratives of several of the band’s other LPs. This is the same level of aspiration that a group like Fucked Up successfully reached with their second and third records and is a genuinely ambitious and adventurous idea, particularly in a genre as insular and strident as hardcore punk. But without the song-writing to back it up, Defeater have almost fallen back into the same prog-rock trappings that led to the creation of punk in the first place, albeit with much shorter songs. A good effort spoiled by absence of diversity, one that can still be acknowledged and studied but that never surpasses its own ambitions; Icarus with Catholic guilt and heavy distortion. Will Murphy