SOLDIER – Defiant (Starhaven Records)SOLDIER – Defiant (Starhaven Records)

Knowing that following ‘The Number Of The Beast’ would be an almost unmanageable task, Iron Maiden distilled that album’s best qualities, consolidated what had made its songs so popular – and so good – and came out with ‘Piece Of Mind’, an album which to many fans is actually better than its predecessor. Some thirty years later Soldier found themselves in much the same situation when it came to topping the mighty ‘Dogs Of War’. Released in 2013, ‘Dogs…’ is an album of such depth and such treasures that it would be impossible to beat in fair fight, and for a band of constant evolution like Soldier releasing ‘Dogs…’ Part II was never an option. So in ‘Defiant’ Soldier have regrouped, re-evaluated and re-defined their approach, and in doing so have come up with an album that, while sharing its predecessor’s DNA, is very much a different kind of animal altogether.

Kicking things off with the imaginatively-structured seven-minute history lesson that is ‘Conquistador’ is both a brave step and a marker that this is an album which might defy expectations. A roller-coaster with some interesting and unexpected twists and turns, ‘Conquistador’ is a mighty composition, featuring a vibrant guitar run, a singalong chorus to die for and lyrics which brave the bluster of imperialism for the reality of “a lust for gold”. Given that this album opener accounts for almost one-sixth of the album’s running time, the rest of the songs that follow are generally shorter and sharper, but pack no less of a punch for being so. The high-octane ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ is as fast as the thrill-seeker of the lyrics and is done and dusted in less than three minutes; following cut ‘Bullet Belt Blues’ – an early contender for the album’s title track – is a jaunty little song with some insightful lyrics which also says it all before there’s three minutes on the clock. Elsewhere, ‘Concrete Wilderness’ brings down the pace with a Maiden-esque tale of social isolation countered with some impressive and innovative guitar work (check out the second verse and ensuing solo), and ‘Leaving’ is a fast but accessible pulse-racer which is impossible to listen to without tapping along to. If there is a criticism it’s that the album closer and de facto title track ‘Don’t Come Crying To Me (Defiant)’ is just too damn short: its captivating opening riff gives way to an aggressive, no-nonsense call to arms with an anthemic refrain which runs its course far too early. But that’s just a minor quibble, given the rest of what the band serve up on this offering.

‘Defiant’ sees the return of bassist Steve Barlow after a stint MIA alongside the ranks of founder member and guitarist Ian Alan Dick, hyperactive guitarist Miles Goodman, lock-tight drummer Tim Churchman and vocalist Richard Frost whose engaging lyrics and vocal style, and easy on-stage demeanour, mark him out as a frontman of no mean talent. Money spent on having the album mastered at Abbey Road and on eye-catching artwork was money well spent, and make for the icing on a truly appetising cake. Album of the year? Could be…

© John Tucker June 2015