The Highest Level

Season Of Mist
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Off-limits
02. Stealth
03. The Highest Level
04. Entrapped
05. The Status Quo
06. Warmonger
07. Demonization
08. Inquisition
09. Madness Accelerated
10. Delusion
11. Only the Strongest Survive
12. Red World
13. The Last Straw
14. Requiem
15. The Speech

The early days of death metal, we are talking about the mid to late eighties through the early nineties, were predominantly based in the West, obvious suspects like AUTOPSY, DEATH and OBITUARY in the US, and the likes of ENTOMBED, CARCASS and CADAVER in Europe. This isn't to say that there weren't impressive heavy hitters elsewhere. Look no further than SADISTIK EXEKUTION in Australia, MORTEM in Peru, or SARCOFAGO and SEPULTURA in Brazil. Looking further East, Japan's DEFILED was spouting its hateful hymns as far back as 1992. The Tokyo-based quartet has been relentlessly hacking at the corpse ever since. And now there's good news for fans of tried-and-true death metal, as DEFILED is poised to unleash "The Highest Level", a fantastic album that's as catchy as it is pummeling.

As with many long-running acts, DEFILED's face has changed over time. Guitarist Yusuke Sumita is the only original member left, and the veteran has been helming the bulk of his newest lineup for a decade. Every one of Sumita's cohorts — vocalist/guitarist Shinichiro Hamada, bassist Takachika Nakajima and drummer Keisuke Hamada — are integral, and the act's seventh album is succinct and direct throughout. It's also impressively nuanced and jam-packed with death metal intricacies without sounding unnecessarily busy.

The 15-track release, concluding with an unremarkable, ominous, spoken word outro, clocks in at about 43 minutes, with only one song exceeding the four-minute mark. There are sharp changes across the entire album and pseudo-jazz sensibilities at points that paradoxically move smoothly and directly in a way that's somehow simple and straightforward. This is brilliant, and given these raw facts, it may seem as though this is "tech death metal." But it's anything but that. The music is complex and serpentine yet delivered in a concise way that the unindoctrinated will be able to understand.

"Off-Limits" kickstarts the album in a manner that reflects all that DEFILED can be. There are soulful, melodic guitar licks that are sparsely employed within a song that's primarily driven by a mid-tempo crunch that occasionally boils up to a manic chest-crushing blast assault. You really feel the unforgiving intensity. Yes, the band can dole out full-frontal death metal, but they do so when it makes sense. This augments the blasting impact. Drummer Keisuke Hamada is mind-blowing, and he pumps charging numbers like the title track and "Entrapped" with jet fuel-driven intensity. Aiding and abetting the sonic violence are Shinichiro Hamada's incredible aggressive and well-enunciated death grunts that reflect an old-school hardcore quality. His performance on "Warmonger" is absolutely scathing, reaching through the speakers and grabbing you by the collar as he yells "War is a business!"

Simply put, DEFILED is a savage beast. With "The Highest Level", the Japanese band pulls no punches with its unmistakably authentic, timeless death metal. It isn't necessarily bad that waves of metalcore and hardcore kids have taken a liking to death metal and formed "OSDM" (Old-School Death Metal) bands, but most of them sound contrived, generic and soulless. DEFILED is the real deal, and for fans of the classic era of death metal "The Highest Level" is mandatory listening.

Author: Jay H. Gorania
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