It’s bizarre to already find classes starting back up again and August drawing to a close. Even more so is an apparent void in my diminished hunger for hardcore punk and its various stylings. Despite that, I suppose it’s appropriate to find myself with a new Defeater record in my lap and two weeks with it to not only experience the music, but to reinvest myself in the genre. It was a journey that revisited every memory the band has offered throughout their story-driven history, reevaluating every thread before concluding with Abandoned, which slowly unravels its connections to the others with every listen. The result was explosive.
For those unfamiliar, Abandoned is the fourth full-length entry into the universe that Defeater has been gradually building with each studio release. It follows a priest during World War II, torn between bitter vices and his contorting views of God, and his eventual return home; which, in a way, seems to complement the hip surgery and recovery of singer Derek Archambault that took place much of last year. It’s truly an aggressive tale that’s also ripe with unique glimpses of the band’s earlier material, such as lyrical references to the ‘Son’ from Travels and ‘Father’ from Letters Home in “Atonement” and “Divination”, respectively. While I am already a fan of the band’s storytelling, the fact that there is a canon at this point is astounding and it makes their discography that much more worthwhile.
Sonically speaking, this is the tightest the group has ever been. Guitarist and long-time band producer Jay Maas manages to not only make sure that every member sounds the best they can, but he also maintains a cinematic atmosphere that earlier records lacked. Each track differentiates itself as a scene within the overall story, with recurring prayers from the priest ringing throughout. Lead single “Spared in Hell” is the epitome of what the record offers: Joe Longobardi’s drumming is spectacular, Archambault’s vocals have never sounded as crisply harsh, and the guitar work from Maas and Jake Woodruff add in a great middle layer in this fine-tuned hardcore blend. The band proves it can abruptly shift tempo on a dime in the abrasive “Penance”, slow things down completely in the aforementioned and beautiful “Atonement”, as well as bring in the help of friends when James Carroll of Make Do and Mend shows up for a guest vocal appearance on the more delicate “Bruised and Blue”.
On the flip-side, the general tone of the record does feel very similar to 2013’s Letters Home. Some tracks, such as “December 1943” and “Divination” feel as though they are either making musical nods to previous tracks or just sound similar, something I believe to be the former but many listeners may not. And while the band has become more cinematic this time around, that results in the loss of the rawness that was a staple of their sound throughout their first three releases. This record continues to progress the band into their own niche of refined hardcore, which certainly can rub some fans the wrong way.
Taking everything into consideration, I passionately believe Abandoned is not only incredible, but the best hardcore record I’ve heard all year. While I did enjoy a more raw Defeater, their continued focus on story and how it influences the atmosphere of this record is a lot more enjoyable. Their sonic growth is nothing short of exceptional as every element in their repertoire comes together into what feels like, and should be regarded as, their most cohesive and accessible release to date.