At what point is a musician allowed to decide what their own legacy will be for themselves? It’s probably better to start early, as ACT OF DEFIANCE has done. I was initially wary of their first album, assuming it would amount to little more than snippets of unused riffs and song ideas strung loosely together, given how recently the band had formed. I was very pleasantly surprised with how thoroughly I was proven wrong on that front, and it proved that ACT OF DEFIANCE has the songwriting chops to stand on their own without “ex-“ this and “formerly of” that making up half the review’s word count.
With that being said, I had noted a few progressive flourishes on Birth and the Burial, and I wondered if the band would expand on them for the new release, Old Scars, New Wounds, out September 29 on Metal Blade Records. I was disappointed at first to find that this was not the case. However, after reading a few interviews with drummer Shawn Drover, I got a better idea of what they were aiming for. Old Scars, New Wounds represents ACT OF DEFIANCE’S commitment to making viscerally satisfying modern metal without feeling beholden to or even really acknowledging genres at all.
This poses a unique challenge to me as a reviewer; should I dock the album for not having a sense of progression from the past one? One could levy the same complaint against any number of classic bands who simply knew what they liked to do, and did it well – and ACT OF DEFIANCE is shaping up to certainly be one of those bands. No phony ballads or ill-advised forays into alternative genres here, just fifty minutes of ball-slamming, chin-dislodging metal. A good example would be to compare the single “Throwback” from Birth to the new single “Overexposure”. Where the latter had a far more overt hook in the chorus, “Overexposure” is the work of a far more confident band, flowing from riff to riff in a much more natural-sounding way and making for a song that worms its way slowly into your ear before taking up permanent residence there.
Vocalist Henry Derek doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves; he seems to dip into almost every metal subgenre here with ease, delivering harsh vocals and croons without sounding like a dilettante in either; this goes a long way towards giving Old Scars a lot of variety not only in riffs but in vocal approach. “Molten Core” is a personal favorite here; screaming out the gate like one of the Swedish melodeath greats, with the vocals to match! ACT OF DEFIANCE keep their signature stamp on it all, never sounding like any other band but themselves.
Praise must also be given to Shawn Drover for bringing a variety of ear-catching cymbal work and fills to the fore without overplaying or relying excessively on gallops, d-beats, double-bass, or general overplaying as has unfortunately become a trend of sorts. He brings a lot of cool kick-and-tom grooves to bear as well, complimenting Matt Bachand’s masterful bass riffing, always keeping a tight, ominous groove locked in at the perfect sweet spot in the mix.
Anyone who, like me, has a special soft spot for Chris Broderick’s unique spin on neoclassical shredding will find no shortage of great solos to complement the tasty riff salad on this album, including an ALLEGAEON-esque acoustic intro to “The Talisman” that lulls you with its beauty before commencing the assault anew with some frenetic riffs that would probably give anyone else severe carpal tunnel. At the end of the day, ACT OF DEFIANCE is all about delivering straight up heavy, thrashy songs. There’s nothing here to dislike, and if you do, they clearly couldn’t give a damn – and what’s more metal than that?
STANDOUT TRACKS: “M.I.A.”, “Molten Core”, “The Talisman”, “Conspiracy of the Gods”, “Rise of Rebellion”