25 September 2017

Review: Act of Defiance – Old Scars, New Wounds

Extreme metal four piece Act of Defiance was born out of the ashes of the departure of Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover from Megadeth following the critical and commercial disappointment of 2013’s Super Collider (a record I feel is quite underrated, in all honesty). Bassist Matthew Bachand (Shadows Fall) and vocalist Henry Derek Bonner (Scar the Martyr) rounded out the line up that recorded debut Birth and the Burial, and all four members return for sophomore effort Old Scars, New Wounds.

Whilst the debut didn’t exactly set the world alight, it showed enough to suggest there could be a future for the group. This year’s follow up continues to see the band blend an assortment of styles into a tumultuous metal maelstrom, although this time there’s an increased sense of assurance and, consequently, an increase in quality. Although there are still a few wobbles to be found, there’s no doubt that this is a more solid offering than Birth and the Burial. It’s quite difficult to pin a genre on Act of Defiance, as they flit through a range of sounds with regularity, but thrash, death and metalcore are the prominent components of their concoction. Broderick’s riffs and Bonner’s vocals steer the stylistic ship, with the rhythmic section simply serving as the platform from which the songs are launched. I’ve seen Drover criticised for sounding too robotic in his time in Megadeth, and whilst he’s never been the loosest drummer in the world, I’ve never felt he was overly clinical and soulless. There is a metronomic quality to his drumming, sure, but he’s tight, on point and shows tasteful glimpses of flair when the opportunity presents itself. More importantly, he doesn’t steal focus from the guitars or vocals, which is where much of the action is.


“M.I.A.” is quite a suitable title for the first track, as it is, for all intents and purposes, missing in action. It’s quite a lethargic song, and whilst you will hear far worse, it doesn’t grab you like an opener should. It’s thankfully followed up by another appropriately titled track in “Molten Core”, a smouldering mix of thrash and death metal that makes up for its lack of originality with its undeniable quality. “Overexposure” is hot on its heels and plays out like mid era Soilwork meets Killswitch Engage; again, nothing too original but incredibly well executed. “The Talisman” then slows things down, but, chorus hook aside, has little going for it.

Four tracks in and it’s a mixed bag, but it’s not for a lack of trying. At this point it’s apparent that Broderick has a tendency to put a complex sheen on the most basic of riffs, rendering them a bit more engaging. It may not always work, but it’s an admirable trait that does benefit more often than not. The same cannot be said of his lead work sadly, as whilst his playing is impeccable, it’s mostly forgettable sequences of notes that come off as an exhibition of his technique. I’m sure that’s not his intention, but a few songs aside (“Rise of Rebellion”, “Overexposure”, “Conspiracy of the Gods”), the solos won’t leave a lasting impression. It’s a similar story with Bonner’s delivery; a muddled mish mash of styles that is diverse but tepid. He belts out throaty rasps, decipherable roars, serviceable cleans and all found in between; a performance that averts staleness but has a veritable identity crisis.


Elsewhere on the song front, the thrashing charge of “Reborn” gives way to a grooving death refrain and melodeath inspired interlude; a good representation of the band’s overall sound and one of the strongest numbers on the record. “Conspiracy of the Gods” has a bouncy thrash quality with a wonderful, death metal styled tail to the main riff. It’s as straightforward a song as you’ll hear from Act of Defiance, but it serves its purpose with its potent, energetic blast. “Another Killing Spree”‘s channels Morbid Angel early on, but fails to produce their consistency or quality as it descends into a bland, mid paced trudge. “Broken Dialect” is a similar tale of frustration, as a searing lead dances over a lurching riff before a generic, stuttering chug breaks out the mediocrity once again. There’s glimpses of quality littered throughout the remainder of the album’s tracks too, but overall, they fail to reach the level that the brightest moments here attain.


Old Scars, New Wounds is a step up from Birth and the Burial, but Act of Defiance still have some way to go before they become a notable name in the metal domain. If they honed their sound to focus more on one particular genre, I feel they’d produce stronger material. As is, things are a bit too scattershot and, as a result, there’s limited lasting appeal to their music.


Rating: 3/5
Highlights: “Molten Core”, “Overexposure”, “Reborn”


Act of Defiance can be found online here:


Old Scars, New Wounds is available worldwide on September 29th via Metal Blade Records, and can be purchased here.