Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Defeater - Lost Ground EP

Christ, any hardcore reviews I post on here are going to be fucking predictable. Last December I posted how Dead Swans' last release is the best UK hardcore album ever, as well as how that's not much of a statement. You see, I can count the notable UK hardcore bands on fingers alone, and I'd be hard pushed to use more than one hand. Fuck, the only reason Public Disturbance are notable is because two of their members would go on to be in Lostprophets. The UK has practically no hardcore punk lineage - sure, bands like The Ruts provided inspiration to the liked of Black Flag and Minor Threat, but there's no real trace of the sound that would go on to define American punk for years. So let's make a bigger statement: the best US hardcore band of the last ten years is Defeater.

Now, given my long-standing love-in with This Is Hell, those words seem weird to me, but I've given it a lot of thought, and honestly, fuck This Is Hell. Fuck The Hope Conspiracy. Again, fucking blasphemy. It feels good. Let's do this again. Fuck Comeback Kid.

Wait. Stop.

No. Fuck Comeback Kid. Comeback Kid are great, but Defeater? Defeater are never going to be remembered as one of the great alternative bands ever, but they will be better than nine out of ten of them. Defeater don't have promise, because having promise implies that Defeater are not quite there yet. Well I fucking well hope they are, because the other bands in the USHC scene deserve at least a little bit of a chance to catch up.

The thing which sets Defeater apart are - and once again, I feel bad for bringing something as um-music-related up - the lyrics. You see, Defeater are storytellers. Their albums are concept albums, but not in the traditional '70s arena rock sense. Hardcore lyrics have always told stories - and make no mistake, the tales in Defeater's work may not be their stories, but they are someone's. Lost Ground tells of an African American man who, in memory of a mother who died at 42 and a father who was a soldier, joins up to the army to fight in World War II. He is wounded, and his friends all killed. Wracked with survivor's guilt, he returns hope to a world with no place for him. He becomes destitute and alcoholic, and dies alone. Every lyric is heartbreaking, every line is a tragedy in and of itself - the tale will stay with you. If any vocal mode was created to get across the anger, dejection, sorrow and injustice of such a tragic story, it's the roar of a hardcore vocalist.

And the emotion that this story lends the band shows. The real skill of the lyrics is in the details; the parallel drawn between the patriarchal machismo of traditional Americana and patriotism with the harsh reality of war that American culture tries so hard to hide is the order of the day for the first few songs, with the rest linking the contrast between the American military ideal - the soldier fighting heroically for his country - with the American military reality - lower-class young men wounded and traumatised or worse, crippled physically and emotionally for life, their lives ending destitute. Defeater's unique efforts in their lyric writing give their songs meaning beyond being mosh fodder, but make them the ones who tell the tales that need to be told, even if people don't want to hear them.

But beyond the vocals, Defeater excel equally. There are about four different drumbeats in hardcore which everyone uses, so listening to them can become wearing, but holy shit Defeater's drummer actually does new things with hardcore drums. The guitars, likewise, display musical range and dynamicism which far outstrips every one of Defeater's contemporaries. There is light and shade in their music, there are harsh, brutal pummelings that segue out of tense, muted and stunningly musically dynamic rest sections and back in again. The riffs constantly have a rough, vicious beauty to them, where the heartbreaking melodies of the guitars are born from violent, distorted riffing and the thunderous crashing drums. The bass is superlative, providing a grounded, central groove over which every other element of the music is overlaid. And what's more, the music tells the story too. The first track "The Red, White and Blues matches the protagonist's fear and inner tension with hyperactive hardcore at its best, and contrasts it with the simpler, more emotive sections which revolve around his memories of his mother and his idolisation of the father he has to hear about from his mom. on the final track, the story of the protagonist's last days of life spent busking on the streets, blues solos embelish the tale, evoking the frustration and sorrow of the African American community which drove them to create the genre, and a painful image of an old black beggar playing these solos on an ancient acoustic guitar on the streets of New York City. This is how you write music - and Defeater are operating on an entirely different intellectual level to their contemporaries.

Honestly, I don't think it's too late to call it. This is better than Anaal Nathrakh's In the Constellation of the Black Widow. This poky little EP from a band no-one's really heard of was and is the best record of 2009. This was and is the best hardcore record of the last ten years. Defeater are never going to get the praise they deserve, so they're going to have to settle for this; their Lost Ground EP is my favourite hardcore release ever.

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