Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
This has been a personal journey of reconnecting; of rebuilding broken links that have remained that way for best part of three decades.
It all started a few months ago when an album entitled ‘War Within Me’ dropped into my in box for review. I listened and then after picking my jaw up realised that my youthful disconnecting choices of the early 90s were seriously way off the mark.
Little did anyone know as we filed out of Leicester’s De Montfort that October night back in 1990 that the singer of the support band would be fronting the ranks of the headline act. The bands in question? Wolfsbane and Iron Maiden respectively; the vocalist? That was the indomitable rock n’ roll warrior that is Blaze Bayley.
A storming set from the Midlander at the recent Stonedead festival was sufficient to investigate further being ensured; a full show being the final piece of the jigsaw.
Under the enthusiastic ownership of landlord Graham Hodgson Bridgwater venue The Cobblestones is making strides as a leading light in the flourishing South West grassroots music scene. Alongside the burgeoning ranks of local talent there’s no shortage of touring acts wanting to head West of Bristol; for too long a region seemingly considered off limits to most this trend is being bucked nowadays. A win, win situation with the roots already pushing up green shoots of resurgence.
To kick off matters this evening we have fine Mancunian metallers Absolva who, as late replacements for Covid-struck The Treatment, caught the eye and ear in equal measures with a scintillating set at Stonedead a couple of weeks ago.
Supporting Blaze is an arrangement that makes complete sense as all four members return to stage later on as part of Blaze’s band; matters of logistics and precautionary covid strategies are much more straightforward.
To their credit Absolva don’t rest upon their metaphorical laurels, and they bring forward just three tracks from their Stonedead set whilst adding in four tunes from last year’s long-player ‘Side By Side’.
In fact, it’s a brace from this album that they launch into; expressive lead guitarist / vocalist Chris Appleton chisels out a rip-roaring intro from the fret of his deliciously dark blue Gibson SG as he introduces ‘Advocate Your Fate’.
To Chris’ right his brother Luke takes aim in time-honoured fashion with his stunning new Chapman Ghost six-string. There’s a definite tilt towards Iron Maiden and Helloween here with note precise solos, delicious six-string harmonies and a thundering rhythm.
No time to draw breath as the quartet stampede into ‘Burning Star’ with drummer Martin ‘The Machine’ McNee laying down a skullcrushing double-bassed beat as out front the rock n roll turbulence threatens the neighbourhood in a menacing manner.
Clenched fists hammer skywards as Chris implores “Scream for me Bridgwater!”. This is a raptor soaring high upon the rising currents above the mountainous plateau seeking its prey; herein Metallica courses through the very lifeblood of Maiden.
Taking a quick breather Chris chats amiably declaring it’s been a while since they’ve played this neck of the woods; in fact the first time in Bridgwater as Absolva. This is a well oiled machine; a dragster that will burn rubber on the meanest of highways. Smoke pours from the wheels as they drive into ‘Legion’ as the sumptious twin six-string intro phases into bassist Karl ‘The Shark’ Schramm submitting a heavy pounding beat prior to the main body of the song rocks the living daylights out of Bridgwater.
‘Rise Again’ lifted from 2017s ‘Defiance’. with delectable Maiden-esque intro, tracks the power with consummate ease. Sadly Luke is beset with gremlins as he breaks a string not long into the track but the remaining trio hold the fort admirably with Chris’ fretwork shining brightly as Karl, alongside, ‘throws’ a passable Steve Harris ‘shape’ whilst giving his bass an aggressive workout.
Following a short delay to proceedings, in which Chris observes “I’m the worst person to tell jokes” (which ironically gets a passable laugh), Luke returns with a full complement of strings for an energetic outing of ‘The Sky’s The Limit’. After a gentle percussive beginning the track soon powers along with a juggernaut-like momentum featuring wondrous twin guitars laid down by the Appleton brothers. There’s a telepathic, unwritten understanding between these two as fret-born sparks fly.
Rolling right into the set-closing ‘Code Red’ as the powering quartet lead the horde in the darkened shades of metallic worship; the pagan gods of metal seek their sacrifice. This is a triumphant ending to a cracking set, gremlins aside, which has set the scene well for Blaze to follow.
There is no doubt in my mind and probably most of the crowd gathered here this evening that Blaze Bayley has lived the rock n’ roll dream. A metallurgical businessman whose career is into its fourth decade and shows no slgns of relenting. A true metal troubadour for certain.
Bursting on to the Cobblestones’ stage Blaze is quickly into the thick of it opening up with a couple of tracks from the chapter entitled Blaze. This is the group that he formed upon his parting of ways with Iron Maiden in 1999. Prior to breaking into the opening track Blaze smiles and notes “It’s good to be back.
Thank you so much for your support”. Lifted from the debut Blaze album of the same title ‘Silicon Messiah’, features a slick-as-you-like solo from Chris Appleton whilst Blaze looks on in appreciation with a wide smile. Cutting an oft-theatrical presence out front, with enigmatic gestures of hand, Blaze is clearly delighted to be back on stage.
Rolling right into a second Blaze number – ‘Kill And Destroy’ – the packed Alleyway savours a soaring performance akin to a melding of UFO and Helloween. The stampeding metal-beast that is ‘Watching The Night Sky’ follows before the ever-affable Blaze introduces the title track of his latest solo magnus-opus.
This is where my personal reconnecting began and has brought me, happily, to having my hearing melted in a magnificent manner. ‘War Within Me’ is a pounding creature in which Blaze, through emotive lyrics, bares his soul and inner demons in an honest appreciation. Emotions continue to audibly crackle as ‘Pull Yourself Up’ is sensitively aired. The examination of this excellent current release continues apace with ‘Warrior’. Resonant lyrics, once penned, are sung with powerful emotion by Blaze; the mellow vibes of the intro fading into further metallic introspection.
Blaze reflects upon the ills of the world as he intro’s ‘Virus’ with a ‘speech’ with Churchill-esque undercurrents before he and his metal cohorts gather together. This Maiden single is given a good outing and it’s clearly evident of the high esteem that Blaze’s loyal support holds him in.
Blaze loves to wrap historical subjects within his material and the next track ‘The Power Of Nikola Tesla’ is dedicated to the genius of the man who dreamt of harnessing the power of Niagra Falls to generate electricity. There’s blistering fretwork from Chris and some fantastic rhythm from his colleagues alongside him; when not singing Blaze stands in complete admiration.
Blaze’s ‘Tenth Dimension’ is visited once again for a trip at the ‘Speed Of Light’ and the inherent dark, potent riffs that dwell within its gritty metal realms. Blaze careers into Sabaton territory with the racing bullet that is ‘303’. A befitting tribute to the heroic undertakings of the undeniably brave Polish pilots of the Dywizjon 303 squadron. With it’s high soaring chorus, rabble-rousing riffs and exquisite solo this epic is well-received.
The true story of having to pull a gig five songs in is related by Blaze as he introduces the infectious ’18 Flights’. Playing metres from the sea as the subsequent tsunami warning was broadcast must have got the ol’ whiskers twitching! “18 flights and 15 shows, 6 countries away we go!” is primetime Saxon and a fantastic ear-worm. Strangely there’s more than a hint of the hook from Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ therein; curious but it works well nonetheless. Blaze slows things down to give the stage to his fellow renegades so they can individually showcase their given talents.
With an intro that follows in the footsteps of Gary Moore’s legacy ‘Life Goes On’ soul-searching leads to Blaze reflecting upon “Precious moments that I let pass me by” prior to journeying into ‘Eating Lies’ via a gentle percussive passage. Thundering hooves spark wildly as the thrashing ‘Infinite Entanglement’ announces its arrival. Blaze barks out the vocals as Chris furiously scales his fret.
The closing chapter of the set begins apace with the roaring monster ‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Die’ with Blaze venomously ‘dedicating’ this speed demon to the likes of SPV and their contracts. Clearly Blaze feels betrayed.
Befitting to the theatrical nature of Blaze his set is rounded off with the big finale – a pairing of Maiden’s rollickingly rumbustious ‘Man On The Edge’ leading into ‘Futurereal’ with Blaze imploring the gathered ranks to “Take your future in your hand and make it Futurereal”.
No better way to round off a compelling set that clocks in at a shade over an hour and three quarters. Blaze is a gent who loves to weave a story or two and clearly loves performing live. There’s a passion running throughout; there’s plenty in the tank for sure.”
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM