Review: Defeater – Abandoned

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Cinematic

A powerful reflection of human emotion, but the very thing that makes this album so great could prevent Abandoned from reaching out to all of Defeater's fans.

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Following a move from Bridge 9 to Epitaph earlier this year that sparked controversy amongst punk purists Massachusetts hardcore group Defeater have released their latest album Abandoned. All of their previous releases have followed the same storyline of a New Jersey family struggling to exist post-World War II. This, the band’s fourth studio album to date, steers focus away from the family and looks at the story from the perspective of a lapsing Catholic priest who lived through the conflict in Europe. In an interview with Upset Magazine two months ago vocalist Derek Archambault, whilst commenting on the limitations of such a device, had this to say: “In my head, these characters are living and breathing […] they’re meant to just be a vessel for the listener.”

The record opens with ‘Contrition’, setting the tone for the rest of the album in a psalmic fashion as a version of the Hail Mary prayer which slowly transitions into a repetition of the lyrics, “Forgive me, my father / For I am a sinner. / Unanswered, / Abandoned.” which eventually resurface in other tracks on the album (‘Remorse’, ‘Vice’ and ‘Regret’), as though they were themselves a desperate prayer as the priest struggles with his faith and with God.

At times the main character wrestles with his faith and himself in anger – the rapid and powerful percussion on ‘December 1943’ is relentless – and at others he is solemn and reflective as in ‘Borrowed and Blue’, an almost cinematic experience of soaring melodies and clean vocals (the only track where these are utilised) as the priest gives in to the pleasures of the flesh: “Our lips speak in secrets, / Our tongues lie in verse, / Our hearts slow with the guilt, / Our love, our only recourse.”

The earnest for the listener on this album is the lyrics, that is where the power lies. Archambault is a poet, relaying the torpor of the character’s mind directly through his vocals but also through his silence. The most compelling and poignant moments are when he takes a step back to let the musical content speak for itself.

As the record draws to a close the pace relaxes and the tone as a whole becomes less intense. The final few tracks feel tired and worn as a single guitar riff permeates ‘Atonement’ and takes centre stage from the lyrics.

Abandoned is Defeater’s most complex album to date, both musically and lyrically. Concept albums are, however, notoriously difficult to keep interesting, and at times the listener may find their attention drifting away at the expense of the record’s quality. But this really is a piece of music that requires full focus from the listener, and for that reason it may not appeal to the everyman.

Abandoned is out now via Epitaph.

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MA English student at the University of Southampton and alternative music correspondent for The Edge.

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