A bit more than three years ago the Chilean thrash band Critical Defiance released their debut album Misconception through Unspeakable Axe Records. It was reviewed here by TheMadIsraeli. You won’t find many people more devoted to thrash than him, or more knowledgeable about the genre, its history, and its evolution. And so his abundant enthusiasm for Misconception carried a lot of weight among those of us who knew him.
Among other things, he wrote: “These guys are very old-school-minded, but they aren’t trying to imitate the sound — they embody it, seeking to break their way into the public consciousness by approaching from a different front of channeling the heights of thrash based on technical endurance. I’m talking bands like Dark Angel, Coroner, Watchtower, old Kreator, Forbidden. Not many bands attempt this school of thrash metal if they’re into visiting old school sounds because I think it’s difficult to write thrash like this without sounding needlessly excessive. Thankfully, Critical Defiance never fall into this trap….”
Now these prodigiously talented Chileans are returning with a sophomore album named No Life Forms, set for release by the same Unspeakable Axe Records on July 18th. Did they fall into a sophomore funk, or did they hit the heights again, or maybe even soar higher? You can guess our answer, given that we’ve agreed to premiere the full album stream today.
When he reviewed the band’s debut full-length, TheMadIsraeli wrote that it was “full of cacophonous, agile, feral, flesh-ripping riffs with a passionate, powerful vocal delivery that channels the sincerity of an Apache warrior”, and he observed that while the album was usually a jet-propelled experience, the band used their “obscene riff-writing talent” to vary the pace and to introduce “exercises in technical progressivism that nevertheless carry every bit of high-impact force and feral yet instinctively hypnosis-inducing energy as the rest of the record”.
In these respects No Life Forms is true to form. The speed and explosive energy are unbridled, the vocals wild and raw. The technical skill is evident right from the start as the band race through the sub-two-minute opener of “A World Crumbling Apart”, a super-nova of flashing fretwork, blistering solos, and maniacal percussion. It’s a well-calculated move, a way to get hearts pumping fast from their first exposure to the record.
But just as quickly, the onset of “The Last Crusaders… Bringers of Death!” shows that the band still know how to dramatically switch things up, even if only briefly, before they bolt again into a riff-tastic blast-front of sound. Even when they surge into racing gear, that same song shows off the band’s dynamism, changing the riffs, accenting them with a jaw-dropping solo that swirls and screams with mad abandon, and then returning with another solo that gives the song a magnificent mood-changing melodic quotient.
To return to a word our previous reviewer used more than once, there’s a “feral” quality to the music, a feeling of untamed and ecstatic ferocity, but as the album proceeds the clarity and evenness of the production reveals a band that’s tight as a vacuum seal, all the many moving parts interacting like well-oiled gears.
Those parts are in constant flux, the changes in tempo and patterns coming super-fast, and with a rich scattering of instrumental and melodic accents that come and go in a great rush, but the changes are immaculately executed. Listening may make you feel drunk, but there’s no drunkenness in the performance.
As on the first album, but even more so here, the guitarists also engage in a multitude of adventurous excursions in the midst of these hell-for-leather races, creating brilliantly filigreed tapestries even as they set them on fire and revel as they burn. In addition to the gob-smacking technical execution, it’s that songwriting adventurousness that keeps these songs from lapsing into “sameness” and instead will keep you on the edge of your seats rather than falling into an exhausted stupor.
That adventurousness reveals itself in many ways, some of them quirky and (yes) progressive, some of them designed to create moods of menace and black sorcery, of frenzy and frightening majesty. The songs are capable of reaching anthemic heights, and of spinning your head like a centrifuge, without ever abandoning the pulverizing grooves that propel them.
And here and there, the song intros even become soft and seductive. Along those lines, the biggest surprises of all come in the last two tracks, the first of them a brief instrumental and the last of them the only place on the album where the band stretch their wings well past the 3 1/2 minute mark, and man do they make good use of that extra time.
Well, that’s probably more than enough words, but this is the kind of album that makes a wordy writer want to go on and on… and on. And it’s definitely the kind of album that we bring you with a heart-felt recommendation. Even for those out there (and I’m one) who may have become jaded and disinterested in thinking about thrash after the genre has lived and been re-treaded for so many decades, this one should stand out — and blaze again at year-end-list time.
Unspeakable Axe will release No Life Forms in CD and digital formats, and you can pre-order them now.