Four-piece bare knuckle melodic metal merchants Absolva have built up quite a reputation for themselves and ‘Side by Side’ will only cement that growing profile more. The ten original tracks and two covers on display here show both their range and ambition, precision tooled to do the job.
From the clean, bright riff of ‘Advocate Your Fate’ this is an album chock full of instant hard rock that has your head nodding as the choruses slowly worm their way into your subconsciousness.
There a touches of both Maiden and Dio in the opener and this both reflects the fact that three of the band provide the musical backing for Blaze Bayley and their choice of covers at the end of the album. The band most certainly have their own identity though and this isn’t just a case of either aping either act or stealing from them, it’s more like some nice little moments of tribute.
Elsewhere, ‘Burning Star’ is a full–blooded charger, ‘The Sky’s Your Limit’ touches on the heavier side of AOR and title track, ‘Side by Side’, mixes both gigantic shredding and heroic vocals in widescreen glory.
Photo by Emma Holden Wise
At times the scope of the album is incredibly ambitious but you get the sense that Absolva are determined to stamp their mark on a scene that is (thankfully) growing and healthy. Never letting the grass grow under their feet, the band give Midlands Legends Judas Priest a nod in ‘Living a Lie’ and make their pitch for Superhero movie soundtrack with the big, bold and brave ‘Legion’.
The lyrics running through the album seemingly focus on the spiritual battle for souls but, as with all great art, this is very much open to interpretation, the Celtic guitarwork on ‘End of Days’ adding to the mysticism. Closer ‘From this World’ starts with acoustic picking and then lets fly with a soaring bit of fretwork that lifts everything to a different plain, leaving the listener dizzy with delight.
Whilst the two bonus tracks (Maiden’s ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ and Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell’) are fun they really add nothing to the release, the latter particularly tricky in that virtually no-one on the planet can touch R J D’s original vocal. Despite the arguable misstep of the covers, this is certainly a British hard rock album to cherish and makes Absolva ones to watch this year.
Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM