Whilst scanning the vastness of the AMG promo dumpster for something intriguing, I came across an unknown English act named Absolva who appeared to be set to release a double album of classic 80s metal with hard rock influences. Being Steel, I had to investigate further and in the process I discovered several things. First off, Defiance is not a double album, just a regular one with a second CD of live cuts and other bonus fare. Secondly, Absolva is essentially the entire touring band for Blaze Bayley and also features current Iced Earth bassist, Luke Appleton. With so much talent, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of Absolva sooner, especially as this is their fourth album. Mysteries aside, Defiance is no-nonsense, straight-up 80s style heavy metal designed to be catchy and entertaining. There’s a healthy Iron Maiden influence, but of the more bar rock-friendly Fear of the Dark variety, eschewing anything approaching serious topics or historical themes. Mixed in with the NWoBHM is a generous dose of hair metal, most specifically, early Dokken. The band knows their stuff and how to deliver this kind of material quite well, keeping it heavy enough but letting the rock influences bleed through for maximum ear candy.
Things open very well with the rocking title track which immediately grabs your attention with a tasty riff and a knack for snappy vocal hooks. When the singer pronounces “defiance” as De-Fi-YONCE! in the chorus, you’ll be sold, crack a cold one and settle in for the ride to Rock City. The hits keep right on coming too. “Rise Again” and “Fistful of Hate” are pure 80s metal glory with choruses you’ll want to sing loudly as you point at random things and strike dramatical rock poses.
“Never Be the Same” is anthemic good fun with some ripping solo-work and “Connections” is a power-ballad you could imagine Iced Earth doing circa The Dark Saga. Album closer “Reflection” delivers the album’s best riff which could have come from pretty much any recent Maiden album. It’s solid enough to drive a simplistic song all the way home and I find myself coming back to hear it often.
There isn’t an off note present except for mid-album cut “Alarms,” and even that’s not a bad song. It just lacks the charm and accessibility of the surrounding material, which makes it feel a bit like filler on what is a very direct, accessible and enjoyable metal/rock album.
As with any 80s metal album, you need both compelling vocals and wicked guitar-work to get the ball rolling and Absolva has both. Chris Appleton uses a classic NWoBHM style of singing, clean but with enough grit and rasp to sound serious. At times he sounds like a young Bon Jovi (think “Runaway”) but more often he approximates a meaner Don Dokken (Big Ron Dokken, Don’s wayward sibling). He’s well suited to the rocking style of metal the band plays and shows some real emotion on “Connections.” Chris’ brother Luke handles the guitar and impresses from the start with his rich command of vintage heavy metal tricks, tropes and tunes. He borrows from Maiden, yes, but also from Saxon and many, many others to arrive at a satisfying, entertaining style. He really tears it up on “Connections” and his solo-work is always a blast. This is a talented bunch and they seem to have their songcraft in a good place.
Having never heard of Absolva prior to this month, I’ve been spinning Defiance an awful lot while also going back to research their prior albums. This kind of catchy, high-octane metal isn’t brain teasing and you’ve heard it all before, and it won’t end up on many year end lists. But for what it is, it’s very well done, near-perfect for the summer and an exceptionally easy listen. Check it out, then rock out.