Music

Defeater: Abandoned

Continuing their narrative of a family caught in the throes of poverty and violence after World War II, Defeater scripts a plot twist with their most pummeling album to date.


Defeater

Abandoned

Label: Epitaph
Release Date: 2015-08-28
Amazon
iTunes

Although they are often placed in the same vein of melodic hardcore as bands like Terror and Touché Amoré, Defeater resists typical hardcore labeling. Rather than shouting anthemic chants over down-tuned two-steps, the Boston-based quintet brandishes unique literary merit alongside musicality that delivers both hardcore punches and post-rock glints. Bolstered by the lyrical prowess and the throat-threshing screams of Derek Archambault, Defeater has used their discography to dramatize the history of an unnamed family caught in the throes of poverty and violence after World War II. Sons kill fathers. Mothers become heroin addicts. And brothers engage in suicidal rivalries. In Defeater’s Cormac McCarthy-esque world, no one is safe from pain. But from Archambault’s compassionate perspective, no one is without sympathy.

Since Defeater’s first three full-lengths closely followed the torments of the father and two brothers, many of the band’s devotees presumed that Abandoned would focus on the family’s heroin-addled mother. However, Defeater scripts a plot twist with their most pummeling album to date. Suffused with noise walls, feedback screeches, gashing drums and rending screams, Abandoned pushes its listeners into a fight, providing a visceral environment for its unanticipated narrative animus -- a collapsed Catholic priest wrestling with his faith.

The choice of making a priest the protagonist is anything but arbitrary. Appearing first as a character in “Cowardice” from the band’s debut Travels -- a song in which the murderous younger brother seeks absolution before committing suicide -- the priest now takes on a more fully fleshed-out role in Defeater’s astringent epic of human depravity. On Abandoned, he functions not only as a character who affects the family’s paths, but also as a lens through which to reconsider them. While the conceit of the priest complicates the family’s storyline, it also provides the band space to chart out a larger map of human suffering.

While previous iterations of the family’s story detailed specific events, Abandoned is less event-focused, fixating instead on the pathos elicited from the priest’s spiritual conflict, while providing clues about the experiences that contributed to his deprivation. Functioning like an overture to the album, opener “Contrition” summons an incantatory rush with Jay Maas and Jake Woodruff’s intensifying arpeggios and Joe Longobardi’s upsurging drums. Despite Archambault-as-priest’s lyrical spareness, his repeated lines typify the album’s clashes with religious disaffection. He starts by uttering the concluding lines of the Hail Mary prayer. The reverb-laden vocal modulation mutates his recitation into something bleakly nonhuman, as if to suggest the vacuousness of his invocation. Only in the climactic crescendo of cymbal crashes and thunderous tom rolls does his voice achieve a human quality -- if only in the primal desperation of enunciating his abjection.

Occasionally deploying hackneyed lines of faith-versus-vice strife, the band risks veering too far into the general, relying on rhythmic and timbral rawness to put more weight into the words. But within the glimpses of experience, one finds embryonic narrative pulses colored by idiosyncratic torment. For example, amidst a cacophony of feedback and punk aggression in “December 1943”, the priest painfully remembers his wartime experience, as he is haunted by “The eyes and faces of my brothers / They never made it back home to their mothers.” And over the syncopated rhythms and churning swells of “Borrowed & Blue”, Archambault screams of sharing a post-coital cigarette with a lover, inhaling the poisoned ambivalence of sexual rapture and priestly guilt.

Archambault’s most poignant lyrics on the record meditate on how the priest’s spiritual constitution manifests itself corporeally. After the raucous thrum of guitars and drums yields to a sparer musical grace in “Unanswered”, Archambault maps the physical and spiritual pain coursing through his body: “I let the pain in my head to the veins in my arms to rush / I feel the burn in my blood in my lungs in my chest collapse.” While the band is able to tame their battering rhythms into incandescent harmony, the priest finds no such catharsis.

The final two songs, “Atonement” and “Vice & Regret”, sustain the intimate lyrical thrust of the album, while also reconnecting its narrative most explicitly with the overarching one of the family. In the soaring ambiance of “Atonement”, Archambault screams “What brings you here, my son”, evoking the scene from “Cowardice.” And in the brooding swells of “Vice & Regret”, Archambault interpolates many of the album’s lyrical refrains around a line that ventriloquizes both the brother in “Cowardice” and the father in “Bled Out” from Letters Home: “I am no one / I am nothing.” By situating the priest’s plight intertextually within the family’s tragedy, Archambault positions him in a network of inescapable human suffering. So whatever future chapters Defeater adds to their unparalleled oeuvre of literary hardcore, one thing is certain. They’re going to make you hurt.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.