Defeater’s hardcore fuses the aggressive with the narrative
The music is the story; the story is the music
Published: December 4, 2013
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Derek Archambault has known – and been smitten with — punk rock and hardcore for nearly two decades. By age 5, Archambault’s father had showed him the Clash and Elvis Costello; thanks to a friend’s older sister, he was exposed to Civ and Gorilla Biscuits in his early teens.
But sometime in the 2000s, Archambault lost interest in hardcore because there wasn’t much that impressed him, with This Is Hell and Modern Life Is War as the genre’s only contemporary outfits he was into. Then, in 2007, Jay Maas pitched Archambault the idea of starting a hardcore band that would create a concept record, and Archambault’s enthusiasm was renewed.
“It just lit a new fire under my ass — specifically, writing the narrative,” the 32-year-old says. Part of the agreed-upon arrangement with this new band was that if Maas, Archambault and company launched the project with one concept record, they were going to continue with this angle until the group disbanded. “The story is the band; the band is the story,” Archambault emphasizes.
The result of those conversations between guitarist-vocalist Maas and lead vocalist Archambault was Defeater, a Boston five-piece that debuted in 2008 with Travels. That record launched an ongoing, Rashomon-esque storyline that Archambault has called “just one big puzzle.” Using William Faulkner, J.D. Salinger and Cormac McCarthy as influences, Archambault has constructed each Defeater record as one chapter in a saga about a dysfunctional family self-destructing in post-World War II New Jersey.
Travels centered on a lone wolf of a son/brother who murders his abusive father in a fight and runs away from home, becoming a drifter. Their 2009 EP Lost Ground told the story of a homeless street performer in New York City whose work inspired Travels’ main character to stop running from his past and face his problems. On 2011 album Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, which marked a sonic departure from Defeater’’s blistering take-no-prisoners hardcore by easing off the gas a tad and adding some acoustic tunes, fixated on the older brother of the Travels’ protagonist and his life caring for their drug-addicted mother as he waits to confront his younger sibling.
Last July’s Letters Home now gives the father the spotlight. The music is heavy on intense, disorienting attacks of guitars that almost burn out Archambault’s vocal cords as he strains to keep up; the lyrics focus on suicide, alcoholism, self-loathing, resentment, losing a brother to the war and other grim subjects that fit the tone of the Defeater story. The record closes with Archambault, as the father, reciting, “And all I see is that bastard in me” a crushing 16 times.
This narrative fell into hardcore, of all styles, because of timing and opportunity, but it’s not as if Archambault hasn’t contemplated breathing life into this adventure in other mediums. Right now, music is the only outlet available for the Defeater storyline, which at the very least affirms Archambault’s continued commitment to hardcore.
“[Music is] all I know how to do. Those other ventures cost money, and I don’t think that anybody is going to be willingly giving me hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a Defeater movie or let me take five years off my life to write a book,” he says. “I would love to have that opportunity, but I don’t think anybody is going to willingly give me a living salary to do that.”
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