Concept albums are always a tricky one to pull off; you’ve first got to make sure that the concept itself is worth taking an interest in, and then you’ve got to ensure that you execute it in a way that the idea and existence of the concept lands and is clear, but also that there are enough ideas for each song to have its own identity. Doing one-off concept record is a brave move in itself, but making a career out of an ongoing one is something else entirely. Thankfully, Defeater‘s story surrounding a post-World War II family still has plenty of substance, even after reaching album number four, ‘Abandoned’.
Now, though still set in the same era and holding links to the family and their accompanying storyline that we’ve come to know throughout all of their past releases, ‘Abandoned’ acts as somewhat of a side story. This time around we follow a Catholic priest who we first meet in ‘Cowardice’ (from the band’s debut LP, ‘Travels’), who is generally struggling with his life and the choices that he’s made in his past, including his religious beliefs and the woman he loves, and deals with some of this by constant self-deprecation and undertaking drug abuse.
The storyline lands hard, coming across as one of their strongest records to date in regards to concept; frontman and lyricist Derek Archambault really shines as a wordsmith, screaming from the top of his lungs lines like “I was a good man once / But years of unanswered prayers have left me faithless”, highlighting the priest’s feeling of abandonment in his faith, further highlighted in later tracks with statements like “I’ve never heard the voice of God / I’ve found no trace of Heaven either” and “I spend my nights with my vices / Just to find some proof in the words.”
A lot of this sense of abandonment, leading to the record’s title being incredibly apt in both lyrically and its musical delivery, is likely hugely attributed to Archambault‘s personal tribulation and hardships with his hip surgery prior to the album’s recording. In a genre and with a band who have always been so much about the passion in their delivery, an experience like this can truly highlight the rainbow often hidden in the rain.
Indeed, the passion is felt throughout ‘Abandoned’ is unquestionable, and is what helps push Defeater to the forefront of their peers. ‘Atonement’ is a resonating burst of regret and remorse, and ‘Borrowed & Blue’ keeps things as subtle as the band get without pulling out the acoustic guitar, and stands as a record highlight, despite a weak guest performance from James Carroll of Make Do And Mend. ‘December 1943’ and ‘Penance’ both offer a pummelling exchange of guitar and drums that beg for repeated plays, and the latter brings a mid-section that we truly hear Archambault bearing his all through the character that he’s portraying through the words that he has penned.
Those who felt doubts on what would happen with Defeater upon leaving Bridge 9 and signing a deal with Epitaph can rest easy, as can those with concerns over the continuation of their concept trajectory. The Massachusetts troupe have proven time and time again that they’re one of the best in the game when it comes to delivering a story that hits hard track after track, and ‘Abandoned’ is no exception to this rule.
Written by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)