Written By: Nameless_N00b_06
Where exactly is the retro/modern borderline? Is the term “retro thrash” a juxtaposition against “contemporary thrash,” or does it suggest that playing thrash nowadays is by definition retro? Art must evolve, but I think criticism of “retro” acts can veer into implying that every style has an exact lifespan after which it’s no longer artistically valid to make. That said, when Chilean thrashers Critical Defiance’s new album blurb includes the phrase “Critical Defiance bear all the markings of a band that came straight from the 80s Bay Area scene,” I don’t think they give themselves enough credit. Their debut Misconception strikes me as wandering the retro/modern DMZ, forging its own trail around the landmines.
I will make a comparison to one venerable thrash act. Critical Defiance don’t evoke in me Big Four Feelings™. Misconception ain’t another Bonded by Blood. What they do remind me of, and fondly, is Switzerland’s Coroner. The tempestuous riff in opener “Desert Ways,” the rapid tempo shifts in “Spiral of Hatred,” and the bass-heavy instrumental “507” all strike a similar spark as Punishment for Decadence. This aggressive progginess doesn’t let its calculating intellect suppress its feral need to bury its claws in your underbelly.
Critical Defiance write a lot of riffs. Simple riffs, complex riffs, bleeding-fast Gama Bomb riffs (“Punished Existence” middle) and groovy twangy riffs (“Onset” opening). Axemen Felipe Alvarado and Felipe Espinoza may have but one first name between them, but their riffs know no such limits. Every song has at least one notable tempo change, and many pull off true mood shifts. Solid production underlies these musical choices. The guitar texture is good n’ rough, and I prostrate myself before whoever pushed for the amazing bass sound. The huge, rolling clang of Ignacio Arévalo’s bass should be required listening for anyone producing metal.
Though Misconception’s riff cup runneth over, it’s somewhat lacking in proper songwriting. It plays a bit like a writer going, “Okay, what if there were time travelers, who had to stop an alien invasion, by finding Julius Caesar’s sword, which was swallowed by an ancient whale god, protected by a Sicilian crime family…” There are so many cool moments in these tracks, but a good song is more than a bunch of cool moments stuck together. The closing title track’s components link up into a stomping giant of a thrash song. “Desert Ways” and “Onset” are similarly cohesive musical narratives. Other tracks are more “Let me show you my prized riff collection.”
Misconception is a very promising debut. As editors and directors always say, it’s better to go too big and pull it back than too small and try to fill it out. This album is a huge cache of ideas. Those ideas only cohere into a handful of really good songs, but even the ‘filler’ is a rich nougat of sweet riffing and potential. If they exercise good discretion on their second release, it could be one of the better thrash albums in years. Critical Defiance have learned well from their predecessors, but they are a modern thrash band with a few new thoughts, two Felipes, and a zillion riffs.