Before the symphonic power metal band Millennial Reign came into being, frontman Dave Harvey played in a band named 3:16 that played an 80s-era style of melodic metal. Through the early 2000s, they recorded an album that never was released. After 3:16 broke up, Dave would re-record these songs and eventually release the album as the self-titled debut release for Millennial Reign in 2012. As the fledgling MR developed away from the 80s style to symphonic power metal, Dave noticed that the debut was not truly MR material and took it off the market. Fast forward several years, Dave teamed up with Roxx Records to release the original recordings under the project moniker Defector.
I have listened to this album quite a few times now and there is some inexplicable infectiousness that I can’t explain. Defector plays a minimalistic metal/hard rock that radiates with an 80s feel. The sound can be summarized by guitar riffs, melodic vocals, and tasty solos all within modern production. The bass work and synthesizers help add color to the songs, but play more support to songs. The lyrical content is uplifting, often written in Vox Dei to reach out to the listener, assuring them of God’s love and mercy.
The songs are typically built around a single musical idea or riff where the various instruments or vocal lines play off of it. This helps the songs have a tight cohesion but at the cost of potentially interesting musical adventures. A great example of this song-writing in action is in the last track “Lost in Vegas.” The opening riff is used as the basis for the vocal melodies and rhythm guitar fills. The drawback is that we don’t get a lot of changing of directions, so the songs stay put. The exception would be “Broken” which has a brief musical tangent before the guitar solo. All the songs are mid-tempo, but thankfully have enough varied musical ideas to not be boring.
Dave’s guitar work is one of the defining characteristics of this album. First off are the riffs that he produces are all high quality licks that hook the listener. Tracks with the greatest riffs are “Left Alone,” “Live Forever” and “Lost in Vegas.” There is one riff used in “Fire by Night” that is a doppelganger of the outro riff from “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. Dave’s lead and solo work is also strong. He takes a good balance of technical and melodic approach to solos which make for a tasty add to the song. Solos of note show up on “We Are the Ones” and “Broken.” There is also some nice twin guitar work on “Everyday” in the stead of the usual solo.
Trae’s voice is the other defining characteristic of Defector. He has a clean tenor voice that fits perfectly with the 80s style woven by the guitar-centric texture. He can sing well and carry a catchy melody. To accent the clean solo voice, there is often harmonized backing vocals which are a blend of Trae and Dave, which gives a taste of the epic to the choruses. Because he doesn’t really get into harsh delivery, it retains more of hard rock over classic metal feel.
But another element adding to the hard rock sound is the dominant bass sound in the mix. The thumping bass is quite prominent and can be a little annoying as it rarely does more than keep the beat and secure the chords. Synthesizer is the quintessential support instrument on this album setting the atmosphere for the songs rather than carrying the melody. Exception would be “Always,” but even on this track, the melody is rather simple that it could have just been the backing track played as a solo.
There are quite a few uplifting lyrics that really elevate the value of these songs beyond their musical elements. Many of the lyrics are written in Vox Dei (“God’s voice”) which helps really speak to the listener as if from God Himself. I know that this could be dicey theologically speaking, but the material is not controversial and aimed at uplifting the listener. One of my favorite lines that I could catch was on the verse for “Broken” (from the believer’s point of view): “I am not running anymore. If you open the door, I promise to come running with arms wide open.”
Even with its lack of musical sophistication, I can’t help but like the album. The lyrics are the element that has the real staying power for this album, as I could imagine that the music would get worn out pretty quickly. Considering that this is a part of MR history, I would imagine that MR fans would love this given that the original debut is no longer on the market. Those that like melodic hard rock and love a lyrical focus on lifting your soul up should consider this release as well.
Written by Sean Bailey
1 – The Ascension
2 – Always
3 – We Are the Ones
4 – Run For Your Life
5 – Left Alone
6 – Broken
7 – Fire By Night
8 – Live Forever
9 – Everyday
10 – Lost In Vegas
Dave Harvey – guitars, bass, keyboards and backing vocals
Bryan Diffee – drums
Trae Doss – lead vocals
Release Date: February 10, 2023
Record Label: Roxx Records
Video (audio) for ‘Fire By Night’