When The Defiants – Paul Laine (vocals), Rob Marcello (guitars), Bruno Ravel (bass) – released their self-titled debut back in 2016, I really had no expectations at all. Since The Defiants are more or less a Danger Danger spin-off – Ravel’s a founding D2 member, Marcello is their current guitarist and Laine replaced Ted Poley in D2 back in 1993 but when D2 reunited in 2004, they went with Poley again – and I was never a fan of the band, I thought I’d might find a couple of good songs on it but not more. Much to my surprise, that album grew to be one of the best AOR/Melodic Rock releases of 2016. Not that the band did something revolutionary – I never cared much about those things – but what they did provided us with was, for the most, brilliant poppy rockers with catchier than catchy melodies and spot-on choruses from start to finish and a clean and slick production that still rocked. That’s how you make my clock tick!
Of course, when you have a successful debut album that most certainly was meant as a one-off, a label like Frontiers would never let a opportunity like this slip through their hands so at the suggestion from that label, The Defiants were convinced to take one more shot with this project, a project that more and more looks like a real band. Now when Danger Danger aren’t a recording unit anymore, their last album Revolve came out ten years ago, and only plays gigs sporadically, sometimes with Trixter guitarist Steve Brown as their guitarist as Marcello now lives in Sweden, it looks like The Defiants has taken over as Ravel’s main project – something I have zero issues with. As the three guys’ D2 connection aren’t enough, on this, their new album Zokusho (Japanese for sequel or next chapter), D2 drummer Steve West has taken over the drum stool from Van Romaine who provided drums for the debut. With a second album out for digesting, I now have some major expectations when I push play.
Opener “Love Is The Killer” tells me that no worries are needed. The tune starts with a quick soft-ish guitar-intro before the tune continues on a Hard Rock grooves and some classic “whoa whoa whoa” chantings. Not a far cry from the debut’s opener “Love And Bullets”, this one comes off a bit more Hard Rock driven but with as many hooks and a chorus that’s immediately catchy. Very good indeed. “Standing On The Edge” is an upbeat, pop-laden AOR-rocker on a bouncy groove that comes across like a mix of D2 and Trixter with a slight twist of TNT, slick but not sugary and a refrain that’s brings my mind to the debut album. Very good. “Hollywood In Headlights” starts out with a crispy guitar riff and a laid-back vocal before the tune gets more upbeat. It’s an AOR tune with a summer-vibe, very smooth with a feel-good atmopshere and an amazing refrain that deserves to be a hit, catchy as can be. Awesome!
Leading single “Fallin’ For You” is uptempo, straight-forward and guitar-driven but also with a caseload of pop-hooks and a smooth and easy-on-the-ear outlook. The somewhat gritty guitar-sound gives this bonafide AOR tune a rockier ground and the big chorus is so spot-on it’s almost ridiculous. Back in the late 80’s, this song alone could have shipped this album platinum. “Hold On Tonite” is laid-back on the ballad side yet upbeat and holds a Def Leppard like guitar line. It’s quite smooth and slick with a polished arrangement and some nice backing vocals and a splendid chorus that will stick in your brain no matter if you like it or not. I love it! “Allnighter” is heavier and grittier with a punchy rhythm and a cocky attitude. It’s stompy and bouncy with guitars at front and only a solemn keyboard to fatten things up some, more Hard Rock driven but still with a very melodic main-melody, a fist-in-the-air “hey” chanting and a contagious refrain on top. A brilliant song made for the stage!
Latest single “U X’d My Heart” continues the fatter and beefier sound with a heavy beat, straight-forward and upbeat. It’s tough yet slick, rocky but with a big AOR sound and another of those mighty refrains that grabs a hold and refuses to let go. It’s hard not to get seduced by this. “It Goes Fast” a stellar pop tune with more AOR-laden melodies and hooks everywhere. It’s an uptempo number but also a bit silky and fluffy and a refrain that screams “next single, please!”. Good one. We get more uptempo Pop with “Stay”, a tune that holds a ballad-ish vocal-arrangement with a big back-up vocal-choir and a refrain astonishingly catchy dressed up for success. Another single! “Alive” comes with a groovy rhythm but is really a Pop song with an AOR arrangement in the refrain. The verses actually holds a slight U2 influenced melody. By the second verse the tune heavies up some and gets a bit more raunchy. Good one. The guys says goodbye with a party – the title “Drink Up” gave that away even before listening. It’s bigger on the guitars and holds a heavier beat with a good-time groove and a careless party attitude – perfect for the pre-party before hitting the town. I really can’t think of a better way to end a record like this.
This is pretty much a sister-album to the debut albeit somewhat heavier and with a crispier and raunchier guitar sound. The guitars are more prominent here all over but style-wise, this album holds the same polished AOR meets Melodic Rock that the debut did and since the tunes here are – just like on the debut – very, very strong and completely clean from fillers it would surprise me a lot if fans of the debut had anything bad to say about this one. As The Defiants aren’t a far a cry from the sound of D2, I find it somewhat strange that the song-quality is so much higher within this lot than the D2 records but it sure is. If you’re looking for hooks everywhere, pop-vibes, upbeat and uplifting songs – I need to point out that there are no power ballads on this record – from great musicians and a killer vocalist then this is for you. With two killer records under their belt, it would only be fair if The Defiants turned into a band instead of a project – and the main priority for Ravel, Marcello, Laine and West.
More The Defiants reviews:
2. Standing On The Edge
3. Hollywood In Headlights
4. Fallin’ For You
5. Hold On Tonight
7. U X’d My Heart
8. It Goes Fast
11. Drink Up!