Defiled – The Highest Level

Defiled released their first album for Season of Mist as far back as 2003. The Tokyo death metal destroyers are now on their seventh full-length effort, yet it seems the underground decided that 2023 is the year they will no longer take them for granted. People can’t get enough now they realise that that the band’s raw extreme metal approach and hardcore spirit are their strongest features. Indeed, The Highest Level stands out among this year’s death metal releases because of its willingness to draw from mathcore for rhythmic inspiration.

The man who makes everything possible is drummer, Keisuke Hamada. The staccato violence of his playing will leave you with the feeling of lockjaw. Listen how opener, ‘Off-Limits’, fuses the malevolence of death metal with the muscle of hardcore. Shinichiro Hamada’s catarrh-throated growls throb like the spasmodic hiss of a burning cauldron. There’s nothing overproduced here, nor do the band have any time for the strange extreme metal flavouring of their nation’s alternative pop scene, where the likes of Maximum the Hormone and Hanabie attract attention outside of their homeland from obsessive weeaboos. Defiled are grown men. They wear their hair long and dress like roadies. The guitarists fret the type of descending chromatic riffs that John Zorn’s Naked City liked to unleash on their audience in the early 90s.

Technical death metal is the nemesis of Defiled’s ugly concoction. The title track dares to include a flash of melody in the opening interplay between rhythm and lead guitar before they embrace the Exhumed/Mortician filth. Down picking riffs collide with up tempo drums. Blast beats batter your senses like a disorientating earth tremor. Hamada sounds like he played Dillinger Escape Plan’s Ire Works album on repeat in preparation for ‘Entrapped’ and ‘Warmonger’. Drum fills crowd every space as if intent on intercepting moments of potential calm. The latter belches forth like a punk-rock mess, yet the guitar rhythms betray a high level of complexity on repeat listens.

The rhythmic brilliance of this record does not reveal itself at first. That’s because the thud of the drum snare is deliberate in its low reverb impact. Guitars bleed in between the syncopated shapes and staccato moments. Most bands would edit these out using ProTools. Not Defiled. They want you to hear the violence of the rehearsal room on ‘Demonization’ and the Obituary-meets-Converge assault of ‘The Last Straw’. ‘Red World’ comes close to Voivod in its discordant gallop of strange chord formations and manic drum fills.

Whether Defiled need to extend their sonic battery over forty-one minutes and fourteen tracks (ignore the interlude at track fifteen), is a question that will make you consider the merits of hitting the play button so soon after it finishes. Maybe thirty-three minutes of relentless pounding would have served them better as it did with the recent Enforced LP. There’s no doubt The Highest Level has value as a record you can go to when you want something to bludgeon your senses. The cameo of crossover thrash in ‘Inquisition’ will keep you engaged at the half-way point. Randy Blythe would not hesitate to buy a Defiled t-shirt if somebody showed him ‘Only the Strongest Survive’ on the Lamb of God tour bus.

Death metal is at its strongest these days when its creators fuse it with the raw aggression of hardcore. You can expect to hear more of this concoction over the next few years. You won’t forget the name of Defiled in this evolution of sound.



Release Date: 28/04/2023

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: Stealth, Entrapped, The Last Straw

Suggested Further Listening: Exhumed/Gruesome – Twisted Horror (2020), Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works (2007), Wormrot – Hiss (2022)