Defeater has crafted an album that should be a genre classic, but more than likely will be slapped with some other, silly label.
People are often mistaken about punk. Punk’s easy, they say. Hardcore’s just noise, they say. Anyone can play three chords and make noise, they say.
People are also often stupid. They criticize what they don’t understand. They scoff at what they don’t want to like. They write off punk as if it’s not creatively, emotionally or challenging. In a country as musically diverse and revolutionary as the United States, these truths are tragedies.
Defeater challenges everything from genre to song structure. They set out to write albums, not songs. Vocalist and lyricist Derek Archambault crafts narratives, not personal laments. With Abandoned they’ve once again returned to their brand of melodic hardcore, but have come with some new tricks up their sleeves and a new story to tell.
Abandoned tells the tale of a Catholic priest with a dubious past who spends a stint fighting in Europe during World War II. He struggles to rediscover his god and find redemption, but eventually finds nothing more than a profound lack of faith. Archambault embodies his character, yelling first person accounts of the priest’s journey from wanting to repent to feeling abandoned by everything he ever held dear. Much like Defeater’s previous material, however, the story manages not to alienate listeners because of the lyrics’ close, personal nature. They hold power without allowing the overarching narrative to choke the life from the content. That sort of lyrical depth and forethought is a tremendous way to allow anyone willing to listen to jump right in and feel the intended impact.
The lyrical narrative is as well paced as the album’s ebb and flow. Abandoned plays out similarly to Defeater’s 2013 album, Letters Home, but it has a stronger emphasis on the musical melodies woven into their hardcore roots. The guitar work stands out in such a way that it makes the intensity and aggression of the music have more of an emotional punch. The best songs on the record, however, are those that separate themselves from the hardcore paradigm. “Contrition,” “Borrowed & Blue,” “Remorse,” “Atonement” and “Vice & Regret” are based on a more ethereal aesthetic and feature clean guitars, natural harmonics and ragged shouted vocals with fits of beautiful violence. These are the gut-punchers, the tunes that make the lyrics hurt.
Abandoned is not particularly fast. It doesn’t rely on classic hardcore strategies. It’s not danceable. Its strengths lie in the things Defeater chose to omit more than in in styles they did incorporate. It’s a tightrope walk of restraint and aggression.
Defeater has crafted an album that should be a genre classic, but more than likely will be slapped with some other, silly label. Post-neo-classicore-emo-narrative rock, maybe. Whatever stupid, arbitrary genre Abandoned is stamped with, it’s the leap that music fans hope their favorite bands will take. Defeater’s natural progression has turned them into something more than just a great band, they’ve become an important contributor to the musical landscape. They’ve been inspired by music that’s labeled easy and dismissed as noise; inspired by music that’s been scoffed at, laughed off and dismissed. They’ve been inspired by music in which many see no value and have created something brilliant and powerful. Not everyone can do this, but Defeater can.