Metal, particularly death metal, has generally had a particularly Western bent. Originating as it did from rock and heavy blues, this is to be expected. But music never exists in a vacuum, so when artists with a different cultural background bring their experience to traditionally western cannon, the results are often quirky and interesting. Japanese death metal veterans Defiled are a case in point: while the style exists in the unmistakable sandpit of death metal, there are enough different toys that the music feels fresh and unorthodox. Their three previous albums all exhibited promise, with short, punchy tracks and a technical, brutal delivery. But like any good children’s sandpit, to find the fun stuff, listeners had to wade through a lot of sand, and the occasional turd. Production woes and amateurish mixes also dulled the impact, as noted by Kronos in his review of the band’s last album, 2016’s Towards Inevitable Ruin. Defiled is now back with Infinite Regress. Is this the equivalent of a powerful sword to the gut, or a stinky sandpit?
Neither, as it turns out. While Infinite Regress is a clear improvement over its predecessor, it lacks the forceful impact of the elite death metal acts. Defiled play a brand of music that combines the dissonant antics of Ulcerate, including vocals that mimic Paul Kelland’s deep, guttural roars, with the brutality of acts like Dying Fetus. This is all blended together with the energy of a kid with ADHD on a wicked sugar high. The band adheres to a clear template: rather than playing long, epic odes to misery and despair, it focuses instead on short, sharp, sashimi-sized songs. The idea is to get in and out as quickly as possible, with no time wasted.
Previous Defiled albums were recorded with a clear lo-fi aesthetic. Rather than enhancing the sound, this choice had the effect of sounding like metal emanating from a duvet that had been thrown over an already-slightly-blown speaker. The production compounded issues by either smashing the drums into your ear canals or forgetting they existed entirely. Infinite Regress, by contrast, is far more cleanly produced, with a mix that at last resembles consistency. The improvement in sound is remarkable: the short, brutal tracks now land because the listener is not spending the song length adjusting the volume in a Sisyphean attempt to find the sweet spot. The new mix also highlights the stars of the show: Keisuke Hamada’s ferocious drumming, and Yusuke Sumita’s technical guitar work. On the downside, the technical bass is nowhere to be found, replaced with basic key changes and often relegated to obscurity. It is unclear whether this was a stylistic choice, or borne of necessity to accommodate Takachika Nakajima’s skills. Regardless, it’s disappointing, because funky bass work was a key reason the first two albums worked as well as they did.
While the sound has been updated, the songwriting has not. This is a blessing and curse. The smash-‘n’-grab style ensures that proceedings never become dull; if you’re not enjoying the current song, a new one will replace it shortly. This is important because some of the cuts (“Centuries”, “So Blind”) are overly simplistic and unimaginative. But when something notable comes along, you sometimes wish the band would just breathe and explore it. There are some superb ideas here – “Divide and Conquer”, “Masses in Chaos”, “Slaverobot” – but none run over 3 minutes. Given that the entire length of Infinite Regress is only a shade over 33 minutes, you feel there was some room for exploration. Or maybe not. Defiled doesn’t sound like a band that gives much of a fuck.
Defiled is an ungainly animal of a band, possessing all the balance and grace of a newborn foal. Subtlety and elegance are the very last things on their minds, however. Melting your face off and crushing your skull are the priority. To this end, Infinite Regress is their most successful effort yet. Featuring improved production and sustained brutality, Infinite Regress certainly has its moments. The impressive technical guitar and drum-work ensure that when the punches do land, there’s some serious force behind them. Unfortunately, too much filler and too many weak cuts prevent Infinite Regress from being the fearsome beast to which it aspires. The production has now finally matched the brutality. Let’s hope for the next LP, the songwriting does, too.