Defender – They Came Over the High Pass (1999)

As the successive death- and black metal craze of the 1990s lost its grip over Scandinavia, many musicians started a journey back towards their earliest of musical infatuations. Often this meant a return to classic 1980s heavy metal, although filtered through contemporary developments in the metal craft and coupled, at least in the more auspicious of cases, with a melodic flair distinctive of the region. One of few interesting products of this slightly schizoid period is the one-man and seemingly one-off project Defender, brain-child of a certain Phillip von Segebaden. Previously known primarily as bass player in Stockholm progressive death metal act Afflicted and later in the more black metal-oriented Dawn, Philip gathered a small cadre of friends/session-musicians in the late-1990s to put together They Came over the High Pass before once again lapsing into relative obscurity.

With Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Manowar as main sources of reference, Defender arrives at an elegant yet sturdy admixture of NWOBHM/true metal that, while obviously a homage to the past, steers away from the blatantly retrogressive tendencies of many a contemporary retro-band; arriving at a resolutely personal interpretation of 1980s heavy metal. The latter is further augmented by subtle incorporations of death/black metal techniques that, rather than obfuscating traditional elements, lends the music a more pronounced sense of fluidity and paced intensity.

As would be expected, guitars and vocals take center stage, accompanied by galloping bass-lines and solid if somewhat sterile percussion. The guitar work is versatile and meticulously recorded, primarily focused on straightforward NWOBHM/power metal-styled riffs, which give way to elongated stretches of emotion-drenched pentatonic soloing or delicate tremolo-picked melodies. A stern backing of palm-muted rhythm guitar maintains structure and brings necessary saturation. Melodic lines are relatively unambiguous and consonant, which allows for multiple voices simultaneously without losing focus or force. A pleasants surprise comes with the vocalist, who with a gruff and presumably untrained voice summons strength from his heart rather than vocal register – a nice change of scenery in a subgenre where the opposite is all too often the case.

Most of the songs follow in the epic metal tradition with grandly gestured and expansive verse/chorus constructions. Each composition, barring perhaps the uninspired closing track, is highly memorable without becoming predictable, although some of the band’s finest work is rather to be found in-between main sections; one example being the bridge in the album’s center piece “Dragon”, where intensity is generated and finally unleashed in the awaiting chorus. This is where the legacy of the 1990s is most prevalent, and gives a clue to what sets the band apart from lesser acts.

While not a conceptual affair per se, themes of ascension by proxy of courageous struggle runs like a red thread through the album, all draped in a metallic meta-language of fantasy and warfare. Inherent cheesiness aside, this is a radiant and truly uplifting work that stands head-tall above the majority of modern heavy metal.

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6 thoughts on “Defender – They Came Over the High Pass (1999)”

  1. wow incredible find I am absolutely loving this

  2. Frozenlake says:

    All was great until the vocals kicked in, unable to sustain the magic, and when that happens: hello cheese!

  3. Robert says:

    I hate power metal. No thanks, bro.

  4. ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ says:

    Although I can’t find the full album apart from some youtube songs, compositions are dense yet simple and the vocals are raw, uneducated and to the point, a nice change compared to DnD oriented fairytales and soprano estrogen injections that the genre usually entails. Reminds me of Manilla Road in attitude. Can’t find the last song but the lyrics remind me of Death – Vacant Planets, both having similar thematology:

    We sail this vacuum limbo
    Left behind, our dying sun
    Suspended cryogenically
    Dreaming of the promised land
    Destination star ahead
    Familiar home star left behind
    Temporarily dreaming dead
    We cross this waste in soundless flight

    Frozen souls in cosmic flight
    The brave in heart who dared to go
    To pave the way, to be the guides
    And light the road to our new home

    Communication breakdown
    The ship is out of sight

    System breakdown, thrown off course
    Engulfed by endless night
    Wake-up time, pre-programmed
    But where is Cygni 61?
    SOS, no reply
    Buried alive, cosmic coffin ride

    There’s no reply!
    So we now die
    And there’s no reply!
    So now we die…

    Bearing in mind the fact that these could be death metal lyrics, perhaps such music highlights a convergence between genres. A further study of those could lead to a clearer evaluation between the differences of black, death, power etc. and reveal what is the nature of the spirit of metal.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      en[dot]metal[dash]tracker
      t o r r e n t

      1. ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ says:

        Wow thanks! This looks cool.

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