After two demos (2014, 2016), Critical Defiance return with their dominating version of Chilean thrash, CD flex with superb song writing and rapid fire execution. Misconception, released by Unspeakable Axe, is eight tracks in just about 40 minutes consistently captivating the listener without one iota of filler.
Misconception’s first two minutes erupt with bombastic rhythms—dare I say groove? The intro definitely harnesses a bounce, conjuring the NYHC crossover feel. But if you’re a purist for thrash, worry not. After two minutes, “Desert Ways” divebombs into straight thrash. Fierce riffs explode, and the music reveals a punishing sound. It’s a full sound. The production is perfectly done; extracting the correct tone while maintaining chunky heft to the instruments, none of which outweigh the other.
The production is not the sparse, super-clean production which thrash bands often utilize, and it feels as if you’re listening to four separate instruments who happened to be next to each other. This is mixed sonically balanced, no piercing vocals, and gruff with a solid bass drum kicking and kicking, plus intricate solos—but again, mixed with all Espinoza’s distortion-soaked riffs and the bass guitar pushing his partners faster and faster.
My favorite aspect of thrash—well, actually, in death and hardcore as well— is time changes. The ADHD needs to stay interested, and Critical Defiance do mix it up. Nothing erratic, but a dynamic which flows and lets the audience enjoy the bends in the road.
The first track is hammering away at double-time but at five minutes pulls back into a mid-tempo stomp. The intro to track two is a chop and stop until one minute in, when the track unleashes speed-driven melee. Arevalo’s basswork in “Spiral of Hatred” is fantastic, meandering—allowed to peek outside the measure—while the Alvarado rips a quick solo. But each track truly shows the sympatico of rhythm, Pastene’s drums and Arevalo’s bass. They master time changes and blistering speed repeatedly.
I love Alvarado’s vocals, especially because he never wanders into high octaves. Dirty, angry vocals are the weapon of choice. Slayer keeps coming to mind, but Slayer as an influence, rather than Critical Defiance being a clone. The vocals are an Araya/Chuck Billy approach as opposed to Billy Blitz or Joey Belladona. I also can’t help but assume CD are huge Carnivore fans, as a Pete Steele snarl flashes occasionally.
“Spiral of Hatred” is a flawless song, especially the end playing with tempo and mood, only to concede the spotlight to a brutal, captivating slaughter with shredding leads and a drum arsenal. None of Misconception adheres to the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/lead break/verse chorus structure. Melodic leads on the last half will let all the bangers rejoice in Alvarado’s mind-blowing skill, which he will showcase again on “Pursuit of Chaos” and the title track.
“Punished Existence” echoes the same elements but reconfigured. Critical Defiance do not simply have a good song formula on repeat eight times. The mix, the permission of Arevalo’s bass (the pith of any great thrash record) to pound away audibly with a great tone (but no jazzy or funky romps—just quarter and eighth notes jackhammering) is essential. Add Espinoza’s guitarwork to crisp breaks and solos mean all the pistons are firing to engage a brutal onslaught going exceedingly fast.
“507” is a cool track, a good mid album instrumental, although at mid-tempo, I’m not sure it’s totally needed. Misconception’s eight tracks give a good, elastic experience for the listener with a few songs at three-and-a-half minutes, one at seven minutes, one six-minute track (which technically is four minutes minus the two minute intro), and two tracks in the upper five-minute range.
I hate when bands overindulge with four or five seven-minute tracks. This is quick music. As it should be. Get to the point. But here, the seven-minute track holds one’s attention through its riffs—which are charging more than galloping. (You can tell it’s their ‘big’ song at seven minutes due to the grand ending of crashes and winding down). But the reprieve comes and loosens the collar slightly with Alvarado’s aggressive mid-but-up-tempo riding of the frets.
Alvarado paints Misconception as a dark album with his ferocious and enraged, vocals, and the tones writhe in opaque pessimism. “What About You” again is played at relentless speed. Coming from the hardcore punk scene but still loving thrash since my single digits in the mid 80s, this is one of the highest-quality, best-performed, and most passionate records I have heard in recent (well, decade-plus) thrash resurgence.
Misconception is perfectly balanced with a polished thrash production value while still remaining raw and brash. It is never once remiss with a sigh of, “Oh, I wish this was different”; be it something in the mix or vocals or the snare sound.
Misconception is not Slayer covering Minor Threat, but the punk and crossover feel comes into play strongly. The recent Dust Bolt showed a modern, German band strictly doing Bay Area Thrash. This is not easily labeled. The DRI on steroids (speed and tempo but thicker production) with Araya vocals makes sense. The Sodom/Destruction feel of full sound, not too polished mixed with Testament (especially the 2000s) with Dark Angel and Death Angel and splashes of Exhorder and Nuclear Assault works well.
And when you delve into Misconception and have to be so nuanced as to dissect all these legendary bands; why bother? Usually it is to sell a new audience or old, die-hard traditionalist whose collection does not breach 1990. They can be useful tools. But basically, when distilled, this deconstruction exercise equals that Critical Defiance are playing their own brand and have created something unique. Not earth shattering, not mold breaking because it is 2019. But different enough to stand above many peers rehashing the formula today.
I do like contemporary peers such as Dust bolt, Havok, Ultra-Violence, Hatchet, Bonded By Blood, Insanity Alert, Septik Onslaught, and so many more. Hopefully, these comparisons at least proliferate crate-digging by a reader, like the old ‘thank you’ lists used to do to voracious young fiends in pre-internet days. Now, unfettered on the information super highway, you can discover the bevy of thrash bands inundating Bandcamps and blogs.
But, the web also can lead to myopic discovery. If a listener wants to hear Municipal Waste, they can. And exclusively that, if restricted by a dull palate. Hopefully that is not you. Get this bold, ambitious album.
RIYL: Slayer, Carnivore, Testament, Dark Angel, DRI, Nuclear Assault, Sodom, Venom, Bathory