The most extremophilic, alien lifeforms bold enough to specialize their entire being most often ensure their own survival when and where nothing else can. Proteobacterium pitted in and spuming chlorophyll from the fractal pores of desert rocks, glommed within barely habitable yet ingeniously sourced architecture and thriving in impossibly devastating conditions should be an inspiration to anyone concerned with the ephemeral nature of their existence, especially musicians pissing niche craft into the wind for the sake of passion and nothing else. Sourced within the impossibly devastating heat and unending drought of the Atacama desert these endoliths may never spread beyond the known realm of possibilities yet their extreme traditions will unquestionably outlive us all. Far south in Villa Alemana, Chile thrash metal quintet Critical Defiance have employed similar stratagem in terms of sticking to the exacting standards of their extremophile ways but persisting within an adapt-or-die scenario which seems to refresh within each next step of their thus far brilliant discography. Their second full-length album ‘No Life Forms‘ uses extreme pressure of nowadays reality to eject a compressed and impressive bout of classics-minded thrash metal aggression, the sort of record only the real ones will remember as a profound act of violence sustained by an enduring mindset.
Critical Defiance formed in 2013 as lead guitarist/vocalist Felipe Alvarado surrounded himself with like-minded folks, those who’d carry serious passion for raw classic thrash metal music at is peak world-breaking expression in the mid-to-late 80’s. Though they’d cranked out their first half-hour demo ‘Chambers of Pain‘ (2014) in a number of months it, along with most of their work ’til 2018, had surely been formative work as the band struggled to find the right line-up amongst folks who’d had their own bands to keep up with otherwise. A strong enough split with Parkcrest in 2015 via Street Metal Blasphemy would turn heads towards each band, a bit of crucial momentum that’d found ’em taking a small step up with their ‘Promo 2016‘. Because the major actors would change between each release and the quality of musicianship would greatly vary these early recordings are almost unrelated to what the band would accomplish as they struggled and scraped together their finest hour and debut full-length. You could rightfully skip out on the journey back to their demo days, yielding few memorable pieces overall, but it is still a thrill to consider the leap made between 2016 and 2018 a real breakthrough for the folks involved.
‘Misconception‘ was -the- big deal thrash metal record for 2019 on my end, #6 on my Top 50 Albums of the Year and likewise up there with the very best of post-classic thrash metal (1983-1993) releases to date. A lot to follow? Yeah, probably too much to follow-up with and especially considering ‘No Life Forms‘ features crucial change with the line-up now including two new guitarists, no small bout of stirring-up for a band whom play one of the more intensively scrutinized forms of rhythm guitar worship in terms of heavy metal compositional form. One of the new faces is very recognizable as guitarist Javier Salgado whom also features in Parkcrest, Mayhemic, Hemisferio et al. and second guitarist Mauricio Toledo whom can be found in Unholyness alongside former Demoniac drummer Rodrigo Poblete. Even if you don’t know any of those bands too well the name drops here should suggest that some of the best thrash-obsessed musicians in this particular sphere of Chile. But hey, what does a pile of resumes matter when it comes time to thrash? Hype and nothing else eh, but the point should be well made that a lot should be rightfully expected of this second record even if their 2019 ‘No Life Forms‘ demo had already pretty clearly signaled a change in their future directive.
‘No Life Forms‘ is a bit all over the place, scrambling through its half-hour tunnel of terror kicking and screaming through fits of late 80’s thrash metal bemusement wherein remnants of their Kreator-esque harder edged previous album (“A World Crumbling Apart”) butt up against throttled punkish crossover-thrashing headspace (“Kill Them With Kindness”) while they likewise stretch halfway into a number of semi-technical thrash metal notions. This creates a sort of dichotomy of forms where one moment they’ve got a bit of a Soothsayer (alternately, Nuclear Assault) vibe, might kick into a ‘Raging Steel‘-era Deathrow speed metal push before barking up an almost death-thrashing violence. “Warhead (Emotional Fallout)” and “Dying Breath” are decent enough example of this all working together, landing sort of like Infernäl Mäjesty if they’d been a bit more stoked on Coroner‘s shredding attack but still wanting to chug a bit harder at the riff in a run-on, physical sort of way. Emphasis on the ‘Punishment For Decadence‘ vibes overall, anyhow. The uneven spread of, and less finessed gluing of, ideas makes for an experience dense with rhythmic variety and texture, though the caveat is that the band appear somewhat less concerned with the arc and profundity of their presentation.
The short of it is that this ain’t exactly the Bay Area circa ’89 (by way of the Essen underground) type of record that you might’ve been expecting in response to, or, elaboration of ‘Misconception‘ but we’re still the same category and Critical Defiance still sits up there with the most compelling and authentic groups kicking it ‘old school’ thrash metal these days. Can’t shake the difference? Some of the folks who played on that last record have explored some of those traits in Mental Devastation, if you’re looking for more of an early Forbidden-esque energy and guitar arrangements in a prog-death/thrash context that’d be the place to ride otherwise. Although I’d suggest “The Last Crusaders… Bringers of Death!” and album closer “No Life Forms” have similarly larger than life, memorable affect to some degree but they’re taking this sort of thrash metal theatric and slapping it down to street level aggression, a feat I admire greatly in terms of rooting their work in an imaginative yet working class heavy metal level of artistry which was more common and, well, easier read as earnest contribution to the form back in the day.
Though I did feel like the absolute best had been pulled from Critical Defiance‘s riff-bank on those longer more riff-intensive songs, especially in terms of evocative melodicism, the intended statement of ‘No Life Forms‘ is all the more frustrated and teeming with cataclysmic obsession for the sake of the hills and valleys, the dynamism of the full listen in its celebration of much more than the traits shared between an ancient scene or two. Getting electrocuted by the whirring hardcore/crossover angled on “Altering the Senses” and cleaved between the occasional ‘Killing Technology‘-esque runs on standout “Elephant” makes good sense within the greater experience of the full listen yet the sort of NWOTHM intro to “Edge of Consciousness” and its scribbly dual leads had me scratching my head at the sort of ‘filler’ or underdeveloped state of a few songs where some of the leads appear tacked-on or unfitting in the moment. We don’t reach a point of inconsistency in the midst of these events but surely a bit more of a spit-polished event overall, admittedly something few will find distinctly different this time around unless intensely familiar with the history and minutiae of the lesser known tiers of classic thrash/speed metal, only then will “street thrash” make sense in a practical, precedented notion.
The second half of the album builds some incredible momentum from that point between single “Kill Them With Kindness” and the Motörthrashin’ riffs on “Warhead (Emotional Fallout)”, the latter of which’d gotten a rise out of me by way of the tempo ramping up just as the riffs are digging in beyond those initial shapes and… then the song slow-faded out. Fading into a quick kinda rehearsal jammed interlude unto the closer isn’t a bad move but it lands as an unfinished thought, a missed opportunity to punctuate the peak of the record at a point where it’d needed that one killer app in its second half. To be fair this’d all blurred past me on initial listens but it became more of an annoyance as I wheeled back through the record and started taking stock of the songcraft beyond the well-woven aggression of the rhythm guitar work. At that point it’d become unfair to directly compare my love affair with ‘Misconception‘ to this album, it being in the same spirit but different in terms of taking a more raw, free-wheeling approach to songwriting.
Taking ‘No Life Forms‘ as it is, a sort of playfully aggressive classic thrash metal record which reaches for a broad spectrum of metalpunk, speed metal, tech-thrash and heavy metal modes without making a too-ambitious fuss over the details, ensures the full listen doesn’t feel revisionist of the sub-genre and likewise doesn’t fall prey to the expectations of others. Based Critical Defiance is best, I’d say, and even if I do still prefer ‘Misconception‘ at the moment I’d ultimately appreciated that this album didn’t try to be a direct successor to that modus so much as the next record from this throttled configuration of the band. As suggested earlier folks who know the right stink a proper classic thrash metal record gives off will immediately appreciate what these folks are doing and more-or-less doing best these days. A very high recommendation.
|TITLE:||No Life Forms|
|LABEL(S):||Unspeakable Axe Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||July 18th, 2022|
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