AlbumsMay 7, 20232,379 views

Defiled The Highest Level

The Highest Level
1. Off-Limits 2. Stealth 3. The Highest Level 4. Entrapped 5. The Status Quo 6. Warmonger 7. Demonization 8. Inquisition 9. Madness Accelerated 10. Only the Strongest Survive 11. Delusion 12. The Last Straw 13. Red World 14. The Requiem 15. The Speech
2023 Season Of Mist
Our score 9

by Kyle

While there is currently no shortage of younger upstarts vying for caveman cred by way of rehashed Bolt Thrower and Incantation riffs, many fail to capture the magic of the classic albums they so clearly worship. Unfortunately, it seems these students of the death metal arts often have trouble focusing on their songwriting homework, opting instead to draw cool band logos in the margins. Defiled—the wise instructors in this hypothetical—must have determined that their teachings were simply not getting through to the youths and decided to roll out another year's worth of instructional material for us to digest, titled The Highest Level.

Class begins with "Off-Limits", which introduces many of the key elements that will be featured across this tracklist to a greater or lesser extent depending on the song: strange intro, meat-and-potatoes sliding power chords with a slight crossover thrash feel, esoteric lead guitar, and total blasting mayhem to top it all off. Leading with this track was a smart move; it makes it immediately apparent that what sets Defiled's old-school approach apart from the plethora of modern imitators is a refined sense of songcraft, and it does so without revealing every trick the band has in their back pocket. The overall straightforwardness coupled with timely twists and efficient transitions is reminiscent of Vader (not to mention the vocal approach is similar in tone and style) and like their Polish peers, Defiled knows how to make a rather stock sense of riffage come to life.

Now there are a handful of obvious chugs or open strums in a few of these cuts which might seem ho-hum at first (specifically "The Highest Level" itself), but their simplicity belies their effectiveness in the structure of the piece. Guitarists Shinichiro Hamada and Yusuke Sumita keep things exciting during these more pedestrian parts with added layers of brain-melting high string abuse. Or drummer Keisuke Hamada might spice things up with added accent notes and blasts. When the base rhythms do take a detour into left-field territory, there are some pretty surprising results. One particular skronk section in "Entrapped" could rival the big 3 metalcore bands whose names begin with C in terms of sheer skronkiness! "Inquisition" is just plain brilliant from start to finish, featuring the same push and pull of fast freakouts vs midpaced head-nodding that drives the rest of The Highest Level, but with a greater focus on huge payoff and a palpably evil vibe.

The rhythm guitar tone is admittedly somewhat trashy, though this only accentuates the quirky string work. Drum-wise, the mix is perhaps a hair too loud, but the kit sounds full and bright. Hamada's main vocals could also use a minimal reduction in volume or perhaps a pinch of reverb, but when doubled with a backing rasp during moments of peak intensity, they sound just right. Overall, the master feels quite natural and generally highlights each instrument well aside from the bass, but that has clearly never been a deal-breaker in this genre. At times, the dryness of both the rhythm guitars and vocals can be fatiguing over the course of these 14 tunes ("The Speech" is a, well, spoken outro), but changes in dynamic and effects-driven solos are almost guaranteed to perk up one's ears before any sense of boredom sets in.

Bottomline: If one so desires to hit the books and study up on what makes the classic crop of death metal giants so special and their appeal so enduring as to inspire seemingly endless copycats who have the sound and look but lack the substance, The Highest Level is a great starting point. This record may not be perfect, but Defiled has been around for 30 years at this point and it shows. Their passion is expertly displayed with memorable motifs and a well-defined balance between expected techniques and wild outbursts. The vocals and production may not be "brutal" enough for the average modern DM enthusiast, but those who prefer the schools of olde should be right at home here.


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anonymous 5/9/2023 3:12:09 AM

9? This was recorded on a walkman

anonymous 5/9/2023 9:30:01 AM

Imagine if they had done a collaboration with Zulu. Instant 10.