Absolva has been flying the flag of British heavy metal for the better part of two decades now. First under the Fury UK moniker, put on hold after Luke Appleton’s joining Iced Earth. Formed as Absolva in 2012 it took a few years before Appleton joined back up - splitting is time between the two bands - and they’ve been going as Absolva since, as well as backing up Blaze Bayley in a live and studio setting since around 2015. So there’s still a lot going on, even though they keep cranking out studio albums under the Absolva name on a regular basis. Side By Side is the fifth, and with it they aim to keep the soul of the old school heroes alive through fist pumping rhythms, melodic riffing and breakneck soloing in the old NWOBHM vein, typified by obvious heroes Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
Side By Side opens, much like its predecessor Defiance (2017) with its strongest few tracks, kicking things off with Advocate Your Fate and some sweet riffing to set things off. Continuing through various shades of grit and melodic soloing intertwining, Chris Appleton’s lead guitars being the star of the show, the album gradually become more and more stale and turning to shrug worthy riffs here and there (Living a Lie) and filler material (Heart Lets Go). Then there are a couple of ‘holy fuck!’ moments, like that massive ass solo crowning Eternal Soul that show just high these guys can reach. Thing is however, Absolva never fully quite reach the heights they seek, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the closing two tracks on the album; covers of 2 Minutes to Midnight and Heaven and Hell, two of the absolute greatest heavy metal songs ever recorded. In their own right, Absolva struggle to get near this but it just becomes so apparent in these covers that you’d rather be listening to either of the original cuts and the respective albums they came from.
Going through the motions with a few spots of brilliance and a few of dullness, Side By Side is an average to good heavy metal record. Inoffensive themes like the sky being the limit and championing oneself with an air of defiance set to the sometimes gritty vocals of Chris Appleton and the dual guitar approach (one of the band’s strongest sides) of the aforementioned Appleton and brother Luke, the bass lines from Karl Schramm content to follow along but never take charge. Never about to reinvent the wheel, Absolva might just be a good example of paying homage to the greats while delivering listenable heavy metal with a few great moments, like that aforementioned solo in Eternal Soul and the obvious Maiden homage that is End of Days. All in all, Side By Side is just pretty average; not astounding, not terrible, but with some forays into the great and some into the less than such. The absolute worst thing about the album is that the goddamn guitars on the album cover don’t line up and someone needs to pay for this.
Standout tracks: Advocate Your Fate, Eternal Soul, End of Days