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The dreaded sophomore slump is something that became a bit more prevalent in the latter days of thrash metal, and was often accompanied by a sudden and drastic shift in style that corresponded with the trends of the day. There is naturally a handful of exceptions to the latter part of this phenomenon where a band will either experience a lineup shift of some significance or modify their execution so that what results is stylistically consistent yet lacking in quality. The stipulated "Johnny come lately" of the Bay Area scene Defiance experienced both of these issues when 1990 rolled in and it was time to put together a follow up to the respectable yet derivative Product Of Society, hence the birth of Void Terra Firma. To be fair, the introduction of a new lineup does not necessitate a loss of a band's edge, so it wouldn't be a stretch to simply state that Defiance came to the place that they ended up on here entirely on their own initiative, or lack thereof.
In a sense, this is actually an extremely well put together album that exemplifies a lot of the technical intricacies that were on full display in the early 90s as Heathen, Vio-Lence and Forbidden were beginning to tinker with some highly progressive ideas. There is a richness of fancy riff work, much of it going outside of simple off-beat chugging patterns into quirky melodic territory that was a bit more of a staple of Death's stylistic direction after Leprosy, not to mention a healthy amount of acoustic input, such as the gloomy intros to "Questions" and "Checkmate", which are a tad bit of a gimmick given their briefness, but feed in to the rapidly changing character of each song on here in an appropriate fashion. Though it comes with the usual mixture of anger and protest that is typical of a politically tinged thrash album, it also has this fatalistic and haunting character to it that reflects the wasteland visual on the album cover, which is again something that was a bit closer to the direction of early 90s death metal and a number of transitional death/thrash acts of the same time.
Despite all of the truly solid ideas at play here, there is a nagging set of flaws in the delivery that drags thing down pretty significantly. Chief among these is the vocal performance of Steev Esquivel, which amounts to a sloppy mixture of Hetfield gruff and a pretty bad rendition of what are either Chuck Billy or Tom Araya shrieks. This could be chalked up to him not fully gelling with the rest of the band yet as he did a better job on the album following this one, and it may also be partially due to his voice being somewhat over-exposed, which gets into the other flaw this album suffers under, namely a disunity in the final mixing job. This is a little bit less apparent on the 2008 remaster, but it's still a nagging problem and one that is not shared by the demo versions of these songs included on said version. The whole album lacks the necessary crunch and heaviness to fully unlock the potential of these songs, and makes the whole thing sound like it was recorded back in 1984, despite being stylistically appropriate for its time.
This album doesn't deserve to be totally panned as there are a lot of really good songs to be heard, but it could have been so much better had it received the type of production job that Twisted Into Form had, which was clearly the direction in which Defiance was attempting to go. Between the intricate lead guitar work, the various sectional twists and turns of each song, and the overall aura of hopelessness and bleakness that this thing puts off, it could have been this band's crowning achievement. This is worth a listen or two, but it is likely that just about anyone with even a mild familiarity with the latter days of Bay Area thrash will come away with an impression that this album's post-production and vocal takes were rushed, resulting in a type of chaos that detracts from its overall effectiveness. As a whole, a missed opportunity by a band that was struggling to break out of the shadow of 2nd tier status.
Back in 1989 Defiance released : "Product of society", that album had enough character to be better than anything Atrophy released, however nowhere near good enough to be spoken among the likes of Testament or Heathen. They were verging on being very generic, and I honestly thought they would probably release one more demo and fade away...WRONG! They hit back with "Void terra firma" a year later and there is a reason it is overlooked. Because nothing new is going on, sure it offers churning thrash tunes good enough to bang your head to, but all the aspects that made the last album lack have been amplified here. However they have sorted out that guitar sound, which everybody picked up on, and the production is so much better here. Ken Elkinton has left the building by this point, seeing as he was middle of the road as a thrash vocalist with little charisma, he probably quite smartly realized guys like him go to college rather than explore a musical career. Steev Esquivel delivers vox instead, but improvements are slight if none at all. He has a quasi death shout, and I hope you read that right, because I would not like you to listen to this record expecting proto-death vocals or something. His vocals remind me slightly of Chuck Billy at times, which does not surprise me as Testament has always surely been the biggest influence of this band.
The opening track "Void terra firma" kicks off with your average run of the mill thrash drumming, then chugging riffs which churn under their own simple execution take us to a speedier riff. This track is listenable you wont find yourself itching for something else to listen to, but it sounds like a Testament song that was more of a brief idea than material worthy of making it to the album. I'm tempted to moan about the vocals, but as many vocalists seem to have carried on in this vein even today, I guess I'm the odd one out who doesn't quite get the appeal. "Questions" starts out with a quirky acoustic passage, before exploding into a dramatic composite of riffs and surprisingly aggressive vocals. Then the whole chugging speedy riff thing repeats itself, whilst Esquivel just barks over the beat, and we've taken a u-turn back into the mediocre...quite an infectious solo brings this track up to par briefly mind. "Skitz-illusions" starts off all speedy and aggressive, obviously Slayer might spring to mind. "Slayground" starts out heavy with some comical opening vocals, followed by a riff which does not quite know where it is going, before eventually we somehow manage to get to some solid riffs in order for there to be a chorus. This track does create quite a tense climax, which makes up for any of it's shortfalls.
I wont hesitate in the slightest when I say this album had little impact on me. Sometimes I might listen to it in the background, when I'm cleaning or listen to it on my i-pod when I'm on my break at work, because sometimes thrash is thrash and you're not too bothered by what it is, just as long as it kills away those boring mindless hours. But if I look at it from a historical view point, it is inferior to releases of the early 90's of the likes of Demolition Hammer and Solstice or compare it to the more exposed bands who had albums of the same year, such as Megadeth or Slayer and it still pales in comparison, even if it is an unfair comparison. It seemed Defiance tried getting a little heavier and rolling with the changes...instead of being the changes, which is why you don't hear much of this band whether you really like them or not. They had potential in musicianship, but had little vision of what new things they could bring to the genre. Thrash was far from dead yet, but it seemed the Bay Area hadn't had a classic from an up and coming band since 1988, and two years is a long time in a fast moving genre like thrash. But at least Defiance waved the flag for Bay Area thrash up until '92, instead of going genre hopping with the likes of Robb Flynn and ensuring the 90's would be America's most average time in metal. Oh the things we learnt...
In a time when I bought about every thrash album I could get my hands on (yes, the days of tape trading and visiting the local store 5 times a week) I also got to know Defiance through their Product of Society debut. Their second album ’ Void Terra Firma’ is one of those Bay Area releases I often forget ever existed. I had that one only on tape, listened to it a couple of times, thought it was nothing more than nice and soon realised there were just too many better thrash metal albums around. Now that I have the ‘Insomnia’ box I finally have an original copy and played it more regularly the last few years. I can’t say it grew on me.
Biggest problem on ‘Void Terra Firma’ are the vocals. I don’t know what Steev Esquivel, who had replaced Ken Elkinton, tries to do, but he sounds like a talentless nephew of Chuck Billy.
Defiance have always been about obviously cloning the bigger Bay Area bands plus Metallica and when listening ‘Deception Of Faith’ the desire to have ‘And Justice for All’ rhythms really shines through. Because of the flat guitar sound and dull vocals however the song pretty much fails. Which is a pity really since the riffs and composition deserved more.
The album has mid paced section, thrash breaks, fast parts, gang shouts, you name it. On paper everything you could ask for, but the songs are just not that memorable. I have always had the feeling much more could’ve been happening for Defiance if they’d had a better songwriter and vocalist in their midst. You know, Defiance had a better drummer than Testament but Testament wrote better songs etcetera.
What do you recall after the album is finished? The funny screams on ‘Slayground’ for instance. But such cute little details aren’t enough to consider ‘Void Terra Firma’ an important Bay Area release. Oh, and I’m not going to elaborate on the Iron Maiden cover. Yes I am! It sucks. It’s tame, it’s flat, it’s badly sung. Brrr, the horror.
I’ll stick to ‘Product of Society’ and if you want to hear an album with the same kind of riffing and attitude from 1990 but better vocals and songs, I strongly advice you get your hands on Xentrix’ ‘For Whose Advantage’. British, I know, but a better album nonetheless!
By 1990...Thrash Metal was out. Plain and simple. Anybody playing Thrash Metal was either too late to the scene or looked at with no enthusiasm what-so-ever. It was a pretty grim place to be because there was not only the complete decline of the genre, but Seattle was already starting to hit the mainstream and pave way for grunge, or again the second wave thrash gems were few and far between as opposed to where you could just point a finger and strike gold. Prime examples of second wave thrash were bands like Exhorder, Demolition Hammer, and Morbid Saint who were making it more violent and extreme which is what was needed at the time to keep up with the demand for metalheads to keep them interested and not think they weren't just another Metallica or Slayer clone. Defiance were one of those bands that struggled between trying to make it and not sound generic.
"Void Terra Firma" is a major step-up from their first album "Product of Society." For one the sound production is way better. The instruments sound more full. Secondly Defiance has upped the aggressive riffs a slight notch, which is always good. Third is a new vocalist and whaddya know? It's Steeve Esquivel that would become well-known with Skinlab. Here he doesn't sound like a douchebag. I'll be damned. He's sound like a third rate Chuck Billy, but at least he's not sounding like a third rate Robb Flynn/Phil Anselmo. Last but not least there are not as many snoozers.
"Void Terra Firma" starts off with the title track and get things started on the rgith foot. Already there is an improvement on everything, even down to where you can actually hear the bass. "Deception On Faith" begins sounding like a slightly more faster version of Testament in certain parts. Not my cup of tea, but still worth listening to. "Questions" is slower than the previous two. I'm not sure what a "Skitz Illusions" is, but it's a damn good song. "Slayground" is funny with it's opening of lead singer Steeve Esquivel doing his best high-pitched Thrash vocal impression but falls so flat. This sounds like a Megadeth without the balls-to-the-wall punch. "Killers" is like "Deception On Faith" in being generic. The last half of the album; "Steam Roller," "Checkmate," "Buried or Burned," and "Last Resort(Welcome To Poverty" are all just good enough to keep your attention and keep you from being bored.
For a second album from a time when things weren't as promising and getting harder to produce amazing result, Defiance did a way better job with their second album. I wouldn't go anywhere to call this a classic, but still worth picking up.
Undoubtedly, Defiance suffered from being part of the second wave of the thrash metal movement in the USA. Their style was not revolutionary and the debut was a good one, but nothing more than simple thrash. This can be good for lots of old school fans but bad for those who were searching for innovations. However, I can consider myself a pure thrash metal fan so, I couldn’t be happier for their style. Void Terra Firma marked the second output by this band, exactly in a period in which the decline of the thrash was quite evident, even if few bands shot the last bullets.
We begin the album with the first notes of the title track and we can already notice something: the production is far sharper than the one of the previous album but the main point is focused on the technique level. The band has now reached a more than remarkable songwriting with catchy but heavy riffs. The structures are dynamic and the tempo changes are flowing, making the structures sound far more mature. The galloping riffs often fit perfectly also on mid-paced moments and this is not a too common thing. Obviously there are lots of fast restarts with vicious bass drums parts and up tempo. “Deception of Faith” displays a bit more progressive lead lines to create the gloom touch on which they can start to put up a good series of up tempo, followed by grooving mid-tempo moments.
The vocals already showed few sign of the groove metal, because few times they are not exactly thrash metal style. They sound a bit like Chuck Billy when he was pissed of shouting after The Legacy album and set on long, cleaner parts. “Questions” follows weird patterns at the beginning in order to create a strange aura with progressive touches and syncopations. The drums and the guitars are in constant balance between the old school influences and the new ones. Surely that massive riff at the beginning of “Skitz-Illusions” sounds definitely purer even if the track often falls into the groove style with that main riff utilized for the fast restarts. We go on with “Killers” and its weird beginning with frantic instruments and vocals as we remain always on high levels of riffage.
The beginning to “Steamroller” privileges the dark atmosphere even if when we go on we can notice few hard rock style parts with a catchy refrain and quite distinguishable more melodic riffs. The tempo is faster and this adds dynamism while “Checkmate” adjoins more of it. The thrash metal is again back on a clearer form even if the more mid-paced moments are inevitable. However, the bass drums sections are very good and the quantity of the tempo changes is quite high, supporting the solo duets in the middle. “Buried Or Burned” is incredibly similar to “Raining Blood” song by Slayer for the notes on the arpeggios but the ones on the galloping riffs are less evident. This song is always quite high in levels of speed and dynamism.
“Last Resort (Welcome To Poverty)” follows the old theory: “last song = massacre” because it’s full of nasty, galloping riffs and up tempo sections. The vocals are far angrier on those sections and this is good to end this work. Well, this album won’t be classified as a milestone of the genre but it’s always good for those who urgently need to headbang.
On a musical level, these guys were awesome. The guitar riffs are plentiful and are as thrashy as thrashy riffs come. The drumming, which is the highlight of this band, thanks to the ultra talented Matt Vander Ende is incredible. Unfortunately however, this album suffers greatly in two main areas.
1. The vocals; Steev Esquivel sucks on this album, and even though he's better than the previous singer...he simply does not do the album justice. Someone hit the nail on the head in a previous review of this album, stating how he sounds like a drunken imitaion of Chuck Billy. Thats just about a perfect description. Its obvious though that Esquivel was not a singer, not only does he have trouble finding a key, his voice is somewhat different in every song, that being said, one can only assume that he was trying to find a comfortable voice to sing in. Its almost as if he was experimenting with his voice. Lesson to be learned...first learn how to sing before you assume vocal duties for a band.
2. The production; Or lack there of for better terms, is awful, the guitars suffer greatly, which is rather disapointing since as previously mentioned, there are some fantastic riffs going on here and the solos are technical and interesting...but unless you yourself are a guitar player, you'll probably be quickly turned off by the thin and hollow sound of the guitars.
The fact that the guitars sound like shit comes as somewhat of a surprise. Reason being that producer John Cuniberti has produced some great sounding guitar orientated albums such as Xentrix's Shattered Existence, Satriani's Surfing With the Alien and Vio-lence's Eternal Nightmare. So, we do know that the guy is a competent producer...I guess everyone fucks up...unfortunately its the band that suffers the most.
If anything this album can be greatly appreciated for the excellent drumming and the thrash metal attitude that is prevlant in each and every song...also their is a pretty decent cover version of Iron Maiden's Killers.
Other than that, this album is average at best.
If you aren't a fan of the Bay Area thrash scene, stop reading at once. For someone who's into the music, like me, this release may be on the top of the list, but for the unexplored it's nothing special. Maybe it's a good introduction to Defiance, but not to thrash metal. In that case, you should get "Forbidden Evil" or "Bonded by Blood" instead.
My opinion: The songs are really good (especially "Void Terra Firma", "Deception of Faith", "Skitz-Illusions" and "Slayground") but they can barely survive in a poor production like this. The drums sound great, but the guitars drown in each other (way to much Middle, and way to little Treble), and the vocals sound like a drunk Chuck Billy recording demo tapes. The solos are phenomenal, but only if you are a guitar player yourself or smart enough to understand what the hell's going on.
Even if there are many things that could have been made better, this is as I said earlier a good complement to your thrash collection. Not only because this band is considered one of the better from its era, but because the entirety always turns out great when it comes to Defiance. That is also the simple reason why I gave the high rating. The sound may be poor, but it's metal thrashing mad anyway!
Defiance were a second tier bay area thrash band.... technical riffs, rapid fire picking, and the occasional monster chorus. In other words, nothing to write home about. If you own Victims of Deception, No Place for Disgrace, and ltra Violence, an album like Void Terra Firma will strike you as subpar.
That said, these guys had their instruments down pat, and songs like Checkmate and the title track are sprinkled with heavy as fuck riffage. The guitar production is a bit flat... they just dont' crunch like thrash guitars should. Testament seems to be a primary influence, although Defiance is on the whole more technical.. A bit of melody rears its head on (personal favorite) Skitz Illusion (as well as the comical solo in Buried or Burned).
Singer Steve Esquievel (now in skinlab.. hahahhaha) has a very irritating voice, something that a shitty mic job and average songwriting does little to improve upon. He sounds like Chuck Billy after a 3 day whiskey binge. Final verdict: decent, but not outstanding. If you are the kind of thrash geek that can't do without that rare Sacrilege B.C. EP you might wanna get on this.