Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Oh. My. God! 2023’s Melodic Rock scene just exploded and it’s a blast of planet-killing proportions! Ex-Danger Danger bassist and chief songwriter Bruno Ravel and his 2000s D2 buddies Paul Laine (vocals) and Rob Marcello (guitar) have just released their third album under the moniker of The Defiants and it is an absolute solid gold screamer of an album!
If you thought that the 2016 debut The Defiants or 2019’s Zokusho were excellent you’d be correct, but it appears that despite their superb track record, the guys have been hiding their light under a bushel somewhat because, somewhat unbelievably, this new album, Drive, just kicks in at yet another level!
When Paul Laine joined Danger Danger back in the mid 1990s re-recording lead vocals on the band’s third album Cockroach, he brought a different feel to the band, and the following five albums they recorded together took on a thunderous modern and hard-rocking approach to the band’s trademark Melodic Hard Rock and AOR sound.
With The Defiants, this vibe has continued but with a few more touches of what made Danger Danger’s early albums so appealing in the AOR stakes. In short, The Defiants have taken everything that made Danger Danger so good and made it entirely their own and this is a VERY good thing!
Drive kicks in with the thundering Hard Rock riffery and guitarist Rob Marcello’s trademark hyper-shredding lead guitar on the track ‘Hey Life’. It’s immediately apparent that The Defiants mean business on this ball-busting slice of crunching Melodic Hard Rock. Paul Laine has always been a fabulous singer and his voice is on top form on this and all the tracks on the album: powerful, melodic and possessed of a hugely wide range, he takes instant control of proceedings here and stamps his authority over everything from the get-go and the energy is stunningly infectious.
‘Go Big or Go Home’ continues the theme with another immense slice of Hard Rocking riffs and the obligatory ‘Woah, woah’ melodic hookline before a chorus of utterly staggering magnitude hammers you to the wall with massed layers of vocals and huge guitars. Guitarist Rob Marcello is all over this one with scything power chords, chunky riffs and quite insane lead guitar fills and the inevitable solo is full of his usual combination of tapping, sweep-picked arpeggios and insane melody. Awesome stuff!
Well, if you thought that one was an infectious hook-laden monster, I’d urge you to select a stronger pair of trousers and to strap yourself to something solid, because ’19 Summertime’ will literally blow you away if you don’t! This is just classic Bruno Ravel songwriting, evoking memories of being a young adult in the AOR glory-days of the late 1980s. The melodies on this one are up there at level 8 on the Richter scale, such is their magnitude. This is proper summertime, feel-good AOR of the very highest order: pink and fluffy as you like, but with real balls. Honestly, it’s so good it can almost reduce you to tears of pure joy! Absolutely immense stuff and my favourite track of 2023 so far!
This classic AOR theme continues on ‘What Are We Waiting For’ which has a ton of retro keyboards in amongst the guitars and more ridiculously infectious melodies. I listen to a lot of AOR and there’s a lot out there to listen to at the moment, but this really is at a different level. Laine’s vocal is just so believable and the saccharine-sweet melodies just take you away to a better place. Escapism of the highest order for sure!
‘Miracle’ is an absolutely gorgeous slice of mid-paced AOR balladry. Gentle, delicate keyboards drive the verses, with Laine’s voice taking on a wonderfully soft croon as he gently breathes the gossamer thread melodies of the verses before another of those colossally melodic choruses. The layers of chiming guitars are absolutely wonderful here, as Rob Marcello goes for the subtle approach for once – even his solo is beautifully restrained, full of aching melody and emotion.
After all that pink and fluffy gentle AOR tomfoolery we clearly need some more kick-ass rocking and The Defiants deliver that on ‘Against The Grain’, a delightful guitar-led Melodic Hard Rock anthem driven by Paul Laine’s helium-induced vocals and Bruno Ravel’s wonderfully driving bass. Ravel is so much more than just the bass player with The Defiants: he plays guitar, keys and does backing vocals as well as co-producing and co-writing everything with Laine. The production on this one is awesome with a really cool mid-song breakdown that is rather unexpected, but once you’ve heard it you know it’d never work without it.
‘So Good’ is next and is rather aptly named, as it’s another absolute belter full of driving guitars, ‘Woah woah’ vocals and the requisite highly infectious melodies and other vocal hooks. It’s really quite incredible how any band can fit quite so many hooks into an album, but it’s always been a feature of Ravel’s songwriting and he and Laine are on sparkling form here. The guitar solo on this one has to be heard to be believed too! It’s shred of the very highest quality – musical rather than simply self-indulgent – and it suits the song completely.
‘Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ returns us to a slightly more AOR vibe once again with more of those delightful chiming clean guitars and a chorus so good that it could level mountains, with another 80s shred-inspired solo full of speedy twin-guitar licks, whammy swoops and utter brilliance.
‘Another Time, Another Place’ keeps us firmly in AOR territory and keeps the quality ridiculously high. Nobody quite does AOR like Bruno Ravel and Paul Laine and this is another bloody fabulous song, full of aching melodies and those beautiful chiming guitars, supported by quite wonderful keyboard pads and layers, the track ebbing and flowing as the melodies build through a bitter-sweet tale of a love that never quite happened. This song is begging to be played in an open-topped Chevy speeding down the desert highway into a glorious sunset – proper AOR and no mistake!
‘The Night To Remember’ brings a real sense of the vibe from Danger Danger’s classic 1989 debut album on a superb uptempo AOR rocker with an absolutely stonking chorus. This is another of those beautiful summery AOR anthems that you just have to sing along to, fist in the air, head thrown back like you have no cares in the world. Absolutely magic stuff and a standout track on a standout album.
This monumental opus concludes with ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now’ which closes the album on a kick-ass Melodic Hard Rocking high – none of that ‘end the album with a ballad’ nonsense here, no siree! This is a massive uptempo and hook-laden anthem of utter magnificence and is a worthy album closer without a doubt.
Phew!! I was beginning to struggle there for a minute as I was running out of superlatives – which for an ex-English teacher is both surprising and slightly worrying! It is eleven songs of sheer brilliance and utter perfection – all killer and no filler whatsoever, just like all the truly classic albums back in the day. The quality of the songwriting is beyond brilliant and the production is just stunning: layered up in the best traditions of the genre but with space in all the right places and an absolute metric tonne of energy in the performances of everyone involved, which is, in part, why it stands out. You can almost taste the energy in the delivery it’s that palpable.
This is quite honestly the best Melodic Rock/AOR album I’ve heard since the last Defiants album in 2019. To be fair, there have been some properly stunning releases in the genre since then and this year in particular (Creye and Mecca being two that stand out very strongly in my mind in recent months, for example) but Drive is the top of the Melodic Rock/AOR tree in 2023 by quite some considerable margin. I literally cannot imagine any other album in the genre bettering this during the remainder of the year because it’s truly that good. I have played it several times now and I literally have not stopped smiling. It just has that astonishingly feel-good summertime party vibe that all the very best of this kind of music really should have, and then some!
Utterly and completely essential listening for fans of The Defiants’ previous work, all eras of Danger Danger and anybody who just loves feel-good, summery Melodic Hard Rock and AOR of any description. Buy or stream it right now!!
1. Hey Life
2. Go Big Or Go Home
3. 19 Summertime
4. What Are We Waiting For
6. Against The Grain
7. So Good
8. Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
9. Another Time, Another Place
10. The Night To Remember
11. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now
Paul Laine: Vocals
Rob Marcello: Guitar
Bruno Ravel: Bass
Van Romaine: Drums