Megadeth alumni Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover return for the sophomore album of their life after ‘deth, Act of Defiance. Like their debut Birth and the Burial, the new Old Scars, New Wounds is a self-consciously darker effort than might have been possible in the recent days of Megadeth. Where Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine has shied away from occult material – to the point of refusing to tour with Greek Black Metal outfit Rotting Christ – Act of Defiance embraces its name by directly addressing darker matters, for example in ‘The Talisman’ or the previous album’s ‘Thy Lord Belial.’
Old Scars, New Wounds branches out of Thrash Metal territory to work with elements of Death Metal, while at other times maintaining some more mainstream Metal sounds. Where there are moments of genius in this blending, other tracks come off as generic and uninspiring.
The album kicks off with ‘M.I.A.’ immediately introducing Broderick’s heavy riffs and Drover’s pounding drums, reminding us exactly who we’re dealing with here and leading into a fast-paced and hard-edged track. Ex-Scar the Martyr frontman Henry Derek’s vocals sit somewhere between Megadeth and Avenged Sevenfold, with growls brought in at strategic moments to add a bit of an Arch Enemy vibe. Meanwhile, ex-Shadows Fall guitarist Matt Bachand brings a bassline reminiscent of Lamb of God. Broderick’s first solos on the album are very individual, recognisably his style but maintaining separation from his Megadeth identity. ‘M.I.A.’ leads into what is unfortunately one of the weaker tracks on the album, ‘Molten Core.’ White it is faster and heavier, and leads with a deep growl and relentless drums and riffing, it’s a pretty generic track overall until Broderick’s reverb-laden solos come in to save it.
‘Overexposure’ is more melodic than ‘Molten Core,’ and has a bit of an Arch Enemy vibe to the riff. Derek’s clean vocals are nicely re-introduced for a diverse track that really shows off what the band can do. After ‘Molten Core,’ it becomes clear the strength of Act of Defiance is in melodeath-infused Thrash rather than straight up Death. Broderick’s solos are more hauntingly beautiful than on previous tracks, and the overall feeling is lighter and more energetic.
‘The Talisman’ is perhaps the strongest track on the album, bringing the sound down with acoustic guitars and a major change of pace. This intro has real space to breathe, a contemplative and almost meditative piece. It’s a full minute before the heavy guitars are introduced, still to a relatively slow pace that maintains the discipline of the track. The song flirts with a Megadeth sound, but goes off in its own direction embracing the Act of Defiance content, hauntingly reminding the listener, “The darkness always knows.” Although the track is less solo-focused, the strong riffs avoid becoming boring. The Death Metal elements work well here, and the track ends surprisingly beautifully with the acoustic return.
‘Lullaby of Vengeance’ has a nice groove, but again the solos reinvigorate an otherwise mediocre track, somewhat reminiscent of DevilDriver in its grooves and vocal cadence. Likewise, ‘Circle of Ashes’ uses a fairly standard Metal song structure, but it does work well with its rousing drum intro leading into crushing riffs.
‘Reborn’ is an energetic track that brings back the Avenged Sevenfold / Megadeth blend, and would no doubt get a crowd moving and headbanging. This track is fast, powerful and enjoyable, with a strong solo that integrates particularly well with the broader song. As well as the influences previously mentioned, there’s almost a sense of Sentenced about the vocals.
The fast-paced and unrelenting ‘Conspiracy of the Gods’ brings back the Arch Enemy influence, while ‘Another Killing Spree’ is dramatic and riffy. These tracks are followed by the more interesting ‘Broken Dialect’ with its ominous, threatening intro that incorporates some oddly Malmsteen-esque guitar work, leading into very intense riffing and drums. ‘Broken Dialect’ is stirring and energetic, and probably the most Megadeth-reminiscent in terms of its more political lyrics.
The album closes with ‘Rise of Rebellion,’ another track with a slower build that ultimately becomes a lumbering juggernaut. The track is downbeat, and manages to become a little unsettling. The very focused solos embrace the final chance to showcase Broderick’s talent, and the track maintains its energy right into the last seconds of the album.
Overall, Act of Defiance bring some killer tracks on Old Scars, New Wounds, though the album suffers with some tracks lacking originality. There is a sound to be found here, and one can hope that Act of Defiance will continue to refine their work and embrace the elements that have worked best. With that promise, we may see a third album that really causes a stir.