Quick question for people reading this: is it just me or is it weird just how many hard rock/glam metal bands from the 80s seem to have a fascination with cowboys nowadays? Seriously, it seems like just about every really successful 80s rock band who still has any real degree of success now has a member who looks like they could have just walked in from being an extra on a country music video. I know, 80s fashion nowadays is an easy target for mockery, but why cowboys as an alternative? I might be missing the obvious on this one, but I just don’t see the link between “singing songs about sex, drugs and rock n roll” (in more than a few cases, indulging in as much of all of them as possible off the stage as well) and “cowboys”.
Anyway, to talk about this band, I really need to spend some time talking about another band, and not one that most people will be familiar with. See, The Defiants can be argued as being a reunion of Paul Laine-era Danger Danger on some levels: bassist, guitarist and one of the band’s main songwriters Bruno Ravel is present, current Danger Danger lead guitarist Rob Marcello is present and ex-Danger Danger vocalist, keyboardist and guitarist (although he only provides vocals here) Paul Laine is present. The only person really missing for this to be a full reunion is drummer Steve West, although it’s hard to argue that the band found a less-than-suitable alternative to him in the form of Van Romaine, who may be familiar to some people for working with Kansas and Steve Morse.
So yeah, long story short, this is basically Dawn-era Danger Danger with a new drummer, a new lead guitarist and with an extra 20 or so years of experience on top of what they had previously. Now, I’ve not actually listened to Danger Danger (they’ve been on my radar for a while, but I’ve never really got around to them), so I can’t say whether this actually sounds like Dawn with modern production or not, but, from what I’ve read, Dawn was a departure in terms of sound from the band’s usual material, so I think it’s a safe assumption to make that this is actually closer in sound to a typical Danger Danger album.
If it is…then I really need to prioritise listening to Danger Danger when I can, because The Defiants is right up my alley! It’s nothing that I haven’t heard before, I’ll admit, but it’s a lot of fun with some great songwriting behind it and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I know I usually like to start by discussing the band’s sound, but I want to start by discussing Paul Laine’s vocals. I’m going to cut out the boring stuff and just come right out with it for once: for a guy who has been singing professionally for over 25 years (which means that you can expect his voice to have received some wear and tear over the years and for his range to have decreased since he first started singing), his voice sounds absolutely brilliant! Seriously, he sounds better than some vocalists in their twenties do, demonstrating a fairly wide vocal range (even pulling off some pretty good falsetto screams: my favourite is probably the one in ‘Love And Bullets’, as he produces a scream that Rob Halford would approve of, although the one in ‘When The Lights Go Down’ is pretty impressive as well!), a great vocal tone and doing it all with a voice that isn’t strained in the slightest. His voice simply doesn’t sound like it should be coming from a guy who, at the earliest, is in his early 40s. Huge props to the guy for keeping his voice in excellent shape!
The band’s sound…honestly, this is where the band has to lose a few points from me, because it’s very much your typical 80s hard rock, just with modern production. Now, to be fair, that’s exactly the style of music that Danger Danger are known for playing and people approaching the album would be expecting to hear that, so you could argue that this is a case of giving the audience what it wants to hear. Which is fair enough: I was under no illusions approaching this record of hearing something that wasn’t 80s melodic rock myself. However, as a critic, I do feel that I need to reward attempts to be innovative (or, at the very least, attempting something that isn’t being done by a lot of other bands) and The Defiants simply aren’t doing that. It’s nothing against the band, but, as a critic, the lack of anything new to what the band are doing in the grand scheme of things is a disappointment.
Still, the lack of innovation is made up for by some excellent songwriting. Now, melodic rock in general isn’t known for breaking songwriting conventions too much, but the point of it isn’t to do that: it is very much a case of being catchy with good performances on all fronts. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to be able to tell how the band does on the catchiness front: every single song is pretty memorable, with an excellent chorus, strong verses and some great guitar soloing that is fast and complex without coming across as ill fitting for the song. Even the power ballads on the record, ‘Save Me Tonight’ and ‘That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You, are pretty pleasant to listen to, although they won’t be held up as shining examples of what the genre can do. I do think some of the record does suffer from leaning uncomfortably close to what you might expect from Steel Panther (without the blatant lyrics, obviously!), but, considering Steel Panther are parodying the genre as a whole, this is arguably more how accurate at parodying the genre Steel Panther are than a problem with The Defiants’ songwriting.
The instrumental performances on the record are honestly fairly good on all fronts, although they won’t impress progressive music fans at all. Ravel plays bass, rhythm guitar and keyboards on this record and he does a decent job on all of them. Nothing you haven’t heard before, but he does them well enough to show that the guy is a talented multi instrumentalist. Marcello’s lead guitar skills are actually pretty solid, as his guitar solos always were a highlight whenever they appeared. Seriously, the guy knows how to structure his guitar solos in a way where they utilise a lot of fast playing, but without it coming across as him just doing that because he can, as the solos feel like they build as they go along. Considering how easy it is to resort to playing scales at rapid speed, that’s a lot more impressive than it might sound on paper! Romaine, unfortunately, doesn’t get to show his chops off like Marcello does (which feels like a bit of a waste of his talent, considering he was able to play in Kansas and work with Steve Morse), but he does a solid job at providing the drumming on the record overall. I think he deserved more of a chance to shine on the record, but, considering he was likely a session musician due to him being noted as “with Van Romaine” on the promo sheet, I can’t complain too much about this.
The production is handled by Ravel as well and he definitely knows how to produce a record well, as the album sounds pretty good! I do think the mastering is a bit louder than it needs to be and some of the vocal effects that get put on Laine’s voice at points do feel a bit unnecessary to me (although none of them are clearly there to make his voice sound better, so props there!), but honestly, that’s the worst I can say about the record: the instruments sound great, the mixing is pretty solid (even the bass is more audible than usual!) and the record doesn’t feel like it suffers from the curse of sounding like it’s been overproduced. I don’t know whether Ravel also mixed and mastered the record, but, overall, the production on this record is great! Everyone involved in the production of this record really deserves a lot of praise, because they did a great job!
So, overall, the worst I can say about The Defiants is that it isn’t really offering anything new in the grand scheme of things, but the strong songwriting and the excellent performances by all of the musicians on the record more than make up for this. You might want to be an already established fan of melodic rock before you pick this up, as I don’t see it changing anyone’s mind if they weren’t already sold on the genre, but, if you do like melodic rock, then this should be a great addition to your record collection, as it hits all of the right points and does them very well.
The Defiants will be released on the 15th of April by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.