Defiance was a band from Oakland, CA that came up in the Bay Area thrash heyday. The band put out three albums on Roadrunner subsidiary Roadracer, then morphed into groups called Inner Threshold and Under before disbanding in 1999. Interviews with the band (available at its well-kept website) offer a great inside look at the late-’80s Bay Area thrash scene.

Evidently, the band name comes from the fact that founding member Brad Bowers and his girlfriend were kicked out of school for “defiance.” I had no idea you could get expelled for that. Bowers wasn’t in the group for long, and the more I read the interviews, the more confused I get by all the lineup changes. But one thing that sticks out is how Defiance got signed. A demo tape found its way to Roadrunner, who wanted to sign the band. But the demo had no contact info! In an era of MySpace, this seems inconceivable. But after Roadrunner contacted a number of other bands called Defiance (how ridiculous must that have been), a mutual acquaintance finally hooked the parties up.

Jeff Waters of Annihilator produced the band’s debut, Product of Society. The album has decent material, plus it has an Ed Repka cover. However, the sound is thin due to Waters making the guitarists turn the volume on their guitars down to 7 for cleaner tones. Any electric guitarist knows this is asinine, as it takes the balls out of your tone. Apparently Waters said he would fix this in the mix. However, anyone who mixes music knows this is asinine, as it’s much easier to subtract tone than add it. What was he thinking???

Defiance’s second album, Void Terra Firma, also suffered problems. Again, the songs were solid, but the band didn’t have much time to record. They had to cut rhythm tracks live, which is almost unheard of for material of this sort. Not only that, the guitarists had to track while the drummer played in a different building (in a nearby converted barn). If you track live, the least you can do is be in the same room so you can vibe off each other. So circumstances must have been dire indeed. The result was some of the most unpleasantly gritty guitar tones ever recorded, with shitty artwork to boot.

Void Terra Firma detail
Who let this dog out?

The band’s third album, Beyond Recognition, is their best, with good, if sterile, production and more advanced songwriting. The riffs are OK, but what make Defiance stand out are what I call “wheedly bits,” fast quasi-solos with some cool harmonies. The intro of “The Killing Floor” has these wheedly bits, and “Step Back” has them in its middle. The latter also has some very Chuck Billy-esque vocals from Steev Esquivel (of later Skinlab and Exodus fame). Evidently (and understandably) the band never liked the Testament comparisons, but any metalhead who doesn’t hear Chuck Billy in “Step Back” is deaf. I also hear “Domination” in the vocal patterns, but that would be unintentional, as Pantera was actually probably the nail in the band’s coffin. Releasing a 2nd-tier thrash album in the same year as Vulgar Display of Power won’t exactly get you far.

The Killing Floor
Step Back

Despite the album’s faults, I dig it, especially the guitar playing. So I was excited to find out that not only has the band reformed, it’s recording a new album and putting together a career retrospective DVD. How cool is that? Defiance with modern recording techniques might for once bring out the band’s full capabilities. And while they’re at it, how about re-recording tracks from the first two albums? Or remixing and reissuing Void Terra Firma with new artwork? I can always dream. You can find Beyond Recognition

@ Amazon