THE DEFIANTS – Zokusho (2019 Frontiers)
The Defiants: Paul Laine, Bruno Ravel and Rob Marcello. Call ’em what you like. A side project of Danger Danger, a power-pop trio, whatever you want. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Just be sure to listen, because in 2019’s Zokusho, the Defiants created one of the best albums of the year. It is an intensely catchy, varied, well-executed album that sticks to the brain like peanut butter. The production is slick and pounding.
“Love is the Killer” opens the album in grand fashion. It’s a big dramatic pop rock song with modern production, but hooks rooted in 80s classic rock. Huge chorus, which Paul Laine gets to wrap his able pipes around with ease. A ripping solo takes a little extra time, proving this isn’t simply a pop band, but one of talented players doing what they want. And even though “Love is the Killer” is a fine opener, it’s not even close to best track on the album.
Heavy mid-tempo “Standing on the Edge” cranks up the tension. The chorus absolutely kills — unforgettable. Until this point though, the album’s edges were dark-tinged. “Hollywood in Headlights” is the first celebratory rock song, perfect for the summer cruising season. There’s a nice crunchy guitar riff that goes with it. A catchy, perfectly written rock classic. But like a sequel, “Fallin’ For You” continues the good time vibes where they left off. Unlike a sequel, it’s just as good if not better. It’s faster and even more upbeat, with irresistible singalong vocals, and a stunning solo.
A Def Leppard vibe inhabits “Hold On Tonight”, with that kind of picked Phil Collen guitar hook. A power ballad with plenty of power indeed. Leppard’s “Stand Up” but cranked up? Something like that at least. But that’s it for sentimentality for the moment. “Allnighter” is a party rock pounder. Definitely something of a rallying cry for those about to hit the town. Still with the hooks though. I don’t think Paul Laine knows how to write a song without hooks.
“U X’d My Heart” is not the finest song title ever composed (it means “You Crossed My Heart”), but the classy ballad defies its title. Delicate picking followed by crunching guitars create a vital sounding rock ballad. It’s quickly followed by “It Goes Fast”, with progressive vibes & keys guiding the way to outer space. Another killer song.
Track nine, “Stay”, goes upbeat again, fast and overflowing with catchy components. There’s a sudden key change towards the end that’s a little jarring but that’s the worst thing I can say about it. Following that is a spacey, Journey-like tune intro to a tune called “Alive”. Once more the hooks are front and center, as the guitar goes Holidays in Eden-era Marillion. That’s before it explodes in a massive chorus.
The final track is “Drink Up!” and it’s obviously the party rock closer, with just a hint of country twang via Laine. Pure fun and nothing more. Nothing wrong with that.
If you like melodic hard rock with punch and plenty of production, the Defiants deliver. Get some Sokusho.