Absolva – Fire in the Sky Review

Meat n’ taters. It doesn’t get more basic, humble, and satisfying than that. The Manchester-based Brits in Absolva are the musical equivalent of that essential cuisine staple. Having the distinction of being the backing band for Blaze Bayley, the material they create on their own is very much in the Blaze school of classic British heavy metal – familiar, comforting, and satisfying. Fire in the Sky is their sixth album and finds Absolva playing to their strengths while sitting dead center in their comfort zone. You get ten new metal anthems reminiscent of Blaze Bayley, Iron Maiden, and Saxon, with plenty of hooks and slick, smooth musicianship. Nothing here will blow the doors off your vintage 70s wizard van, but every song is good enough to get the head-nodding and the fist-pumping. That’s meat n’ taters-core, folks, and Absolva have the style down to a weird science.

As with the last few albums, Fire in the Sky is the kind of album you can appreciate right out of the box without reading the instructions. Every song is simple in design and structure, festooned with hooks, a good to very good chorus, and some tasty guitar-work to push it across the finish line. Opener “Demon Tormentor” is an instant hit, sounding like Blaze Bayley covering Better Than Raw era Helloween material, and the chorus is sneaky addictive. Brothers Chris and Luke Appleton bring the meaty riffs and Chris hits a home run with his vocal hooks. This is one of my favorite Absolva songs yet and it will see a lot of airplay in the future days of Steel. “Burn Inside” is another instant crowd-pleaser with an irresistible chorus that sticks on first contact and warms the cockles of your cold, dead soul the way good metal is supposed to. Some of the Appleton boys’ guitar choices are so damn Iron Maiden that those elder statesmen may want to give these young bucks a piece of their mind, but it certainly adds to the album’s comfort factor.

Moody cut “What Does God Know” is entertaining because of how much Chris Appleton sounds like a young Don Dokken being extra serious, and the title track is appropriately fiery and upbeat, channeling classic NWoBHM energy while making things feel just modern enough to avoid definitive carbon dating. Closer “Refuse to Die” is a barn-burner with enough anthemic energy to power a small CrossFit commune for a long, sweaty weekend of exercise and talking about CrossFit. No song feels undercooked, and every cut has a good to very good chorus to keep you rockin’ (with Dokken). An added entertainment quotient comes from the fact that your brain can easily imagine Blaze singing almost every song they write, making it fairly obvious who pens the bulk of his material.1 At a tight 42 minutes, Fire in the Sky flies by and leaves you in a good place. A metal place.

Guitars lead the way for Absolva, with Chris and Luke Appleton slinging the six-string, NWoBHM thunder. Luke spent time bass-slinging for Iced Earth and now steps into a guitar tandem with his brother and the duo can dazzle with pyrotechnic leads. Riffs are kept simple and driving, and guitar harmonies are harmonious and often quite NWoBHM-inclined. While solos are flashy and show what the Appletons can do, they never devolve into Yngwie-level showboatery, and never derail the purpose-driven songs. Chris Appleton is a capable frontman with a pleasing if limited vocal range, and I rarely take issue with what he does. My only complaint is that sometimes his delivery sounds less urgent than the music surrounding him (“Galloglaigh” for example). The band is seasoned, tight, and talented, and they have an ear for simple hooks that linger longer than you initially expect.

Absolva are blue-collar heroes who have mastered the art of delivering workmanlike, consistently enjoyable metal. Their stuff is always good, sometimes very good, but rarely great, and that’s okay. They may be terminal underdogs but I always end up rooting for them and enjoying their albums is as simple as breathing. There’s a lot to be said for the simple pleasures in life when the world is as crazy as it is these days. Don’t let that eye-scorching cover art put you off, and don’t come expecting world-beating, brain challenging music, and you too will be satisfied with the simple comforts of Absolva’s meat n’ tater-core. Take all you want, but eat all you take.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rocksector Records
Websites: absolva.com | facebook.com/absolva
Releases Worldwide: February 18th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. I defy you to play the embedded track and not hear Blaze singing it.
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