It is, Absolva’s Chris Appleton notes, their 11-year anniversary. Time flies, and all that.
That means it’s a lot longer, though, since MV first saw him, his brother Luke and Drummer Martin McNee, opening for Blaze Bayley in a different band. Two things haven’t changed: they were excellent then, just as now, and they still play Heavy Metal.
“Flames Of Justice”, “Anthems To The Dead” – with its Maiden-esque solo – and the others are supreme examples of just that.
Over the years Absolva have built up a formidable back catalogue of their own (as well as playing on all of Blaze Bayley’s recent solo material) and songs like “Never A Good Day To Die” underline that.
Bassist Karl Schramm is in the spotlight for “Fistful Of Hate” – a real fists in the air moment – and “Fire In The Sky” underlines that this is a real British sound.
Luke Appleton takes centre stage for “Side By Side” while the band’s first single “Code Red” is as good now as it ever was.
But the best thing about Absolva is as true now as it ever was. They look like they love being here. On this stage, on any stage. Watching the brothers do their choreographed solo in “Far Beyond The Light” is to watch a band who loves what they do. They’d be watching a band like Absolva if they weren’t on stage. Whether they’d be as good as open to debate.
Chris Appleton leaves the stage promising a “real big push on Absolva next year”. Hopefully, after 11 years, it could be their time.
“You,” says Blaze Bayley “are all warriors” when he plays the song of the same name about halfway through the set. The chorus for the song rings around The Queens Hall a minute or so later. “With the courage to rise up again”.
Bayley is amongst friends here. The people who have followed his music for years, decades even. He’s always been open about his struggles with mental health, songs like “Soundtrack Of My Life” are dedicated to that, but earlier this year he had his biggest struggle of all. He had a heart attack and was ten minutes from death, eventually getting a quadruple bypass.
This is his second show back, and it’s like he’s never been away.
Starring aptly, with “Alive” the gig is everything that ever made Blaze Bayley special.
Simply put: he is a brilliant heavy metal singer (and as he notes here, he’s even more metal now with all the wire inside him).
When he plays- and as ever Absolva are his band – “Pull Yourself Up’ he says something interesting. The songs, he reckons, “feel different” and I guess it is given him a different perspective.
“The Power Of Nikola Tesla” is superb and he follows that with “Virus” one of three Iron Maiden songs he plays – and oddly “War Within Me” sounds more like Maiden than all of them.
He’s right to say “Stare At The Sun” is one of his best tunes, and he prefaces it with a discussion on men’s mental health. After this, he runs through two almost lost classic, if you will, Maiden songs. “Man On The Edge” and “Futurereal” would both still grace Maiden sets if they ever played them.
That would usually be where the encore was, but there is none, preferring instead to stay onstage to play “The Man Who Would Not Die” – never more important- and a mighty sounding “Voices From The Past”.
This wasn’t a great show because Blaze Bayley nearly died this year, and I wouldn’t patronise him by saying it was. Instead, this was a great show because it’s great to see Blaze on stage anywhere, anytime. This time though, if you’ll permit the sentimentality from a fan of over 30 years, felt a little more special.