Absolva – Side by Side Review

Absolva, the act entirely composed of the touring band for Blaze Bayley, have returned with their fifth album of slightly modernized NWoBHM. I first stumbled on these gents back in 2017 when their Defiance platter wound up on my desk, and found their style easy to like and as familiar as a favorite pair of socks. This is a crew of seasoned veterans from the U.K. traditional metal scene, and guitarist Luke Appleton even finds time to play bass for Iced Earth when not touring with Blaze. Absolva’s style is entirely based around the sounds of classic British steel, with many nods to Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest. On Side by Side nothing has changed except there’s a stronger sense that the material was or could easily have been written for Blaze Himself, which is entirely possible and certainly not a handicap in the least.

There are no surprises, bells or whistles available on Side by Side. This is 100% pure, unadulterated NWoBHM with an ear for catchy hooks and classic anthems. Opener “Advocate Your Fate” demonstrates their approach in a nutshell. You get Maiden-friendly twin guitar harmonies, beefy riffing, clean vocals with a bit of grit, and a snappy, catchy chorus. You’ve heard the style a million times since 1980, it’s super easy to digest and won’t challenge your brain, though mine involuntarily swaps out Chris Appleton’s vocals for those of Blaze as this is exactly his type of jam. Cuts like “Burning Star” and “Eternal Soul” get the fist pumping and head nodding and winning choruses are happily in abundance1. The band once again shows they can craft songs that get in, kick a little ass and get out before they grow tedious, and with such a well-worn style of metal, that’s half the battle.

There are no songs that feel like filler and the writing is consistently solid throughout, though only a few songs rise above the level of good, competent metal. The longest track “End of Days” has a little extra padding with some stretched out segments of Maiden-esque introspective noodling that could be tightened, but it’s still a good tune with a nostalgia factor working in its favor. The album contains workmanlike and unremarkable bonus covers of Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight” and Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell,” putting the length at an hour, which is a bit too long. Minus the bonuses, the album is an easy spin well suited for beer drinking and bourbon sampling with rowdy, metal-friendly chums.

Since this is a NWoBHM-style platter, the guitar-work of Chris and Luke Appleton is crucial to the material’s success. They do their job well with a succession of 80s style hard rock riffs impressed into service on metal compositions, and utilize the classic Murray-Smith harmonizing often and well. When they really cut loose like on “Eternal Soul” and “End of Days,” the solos are impressive and pure metal excess. Chris Appleton is a solid frontman with a classic delivery. His mid-range sounds like a less burly Blaze and he sometimes adds a Dave Mustaine sneer to his phrasing. On closer “From This World” he unearths a whole new layer of grit in his voice that really elevates the song, and I wish he’d explore that part of his voice more often. He’s never going to blow anyone away with his vocal power or range, but he suits the material and gets the job done, which is the mission statement for these blue collar, work-a-day blokes.

Side By Side is another enjoyable outing by Absolva. They aren’t the kind of band you list among your favorites, but they’re very reliable writers and performers of 80s metal and always deliver a few highly catchy cuts per album. If you’re a die hard Maiden/NWoBHM fan or wish Blaze Bayley had something new out, this will go down as smooth as cold beer on a hot summer day. Sometimes simple is all you need.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rocksector Records
Websites: absolva.com | facebook.com/absolva
Releases Worldwide: April 17th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Unlike toilet paper here in the states.
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