It was eight years ago since Iron Maiden bass player and main song-writer Steve Harris released the debut album by his side project British Lion. Released as a Harris solo-album with British Lion as the album’s title – for sales purposes, of course as both record company and bassist knew that Maiden’s fan-base is extremely loyal and would swallow the album whole – British Lion were and are still very much a band. When Harris couldn’t tour with them, they simply went out and played gigs without him, knowing that his commitments to Maiden would at some time take a pause and Harris would rejoin them. The debut album was of course of interest for more or less all rockers out there, I mean, who wasn’t at least a little bit intrigued by how the side-project by one of Heavy Metal’s giants would sound? I certainly was.
However, it turned out that British Lion’s debut album was a major disappointment. Since Harris is responsible for endless of Metal classics, expectations were big on the album, even though no one knew exactly how it would sound. That it would be an outlet for Harris’ love of 70’s Classic Rock and Hard Rock wasn’t a secret but that was it. The record sounded like a rush-job. Bland songs, a flat, dry and budget-sounding production and on top that, a singer with a limited – to say they least – voice that sounded like he had been brought in right out of the nearest pub somewhere. I might sound harsh, but that’s the way I – and many more with me – felt about the record. When British Lion now releases the follow-up, I still have hopes that after some touring and bonding, it will have rubbed off them and that they are gonna sound like a tighter unit with more experience from the rest of the guys in the song-writing and production department.
The album kicks off with the crunchy “City Of Fallen Angels”, a tune that’s more in the vein of 80’s Hard Rock but the 70’s Classic Rock is waved in naturally. It’s a distinct rocker, highly energetic with a crispy sound and big on melodic melodies all over. The song doesn’t floor me by any means, but it’s better and feels more solid than I had expected, so the record starts off in a pretty good way. Next up is the album’s leading single and title-track. Where the debut album didn’t show any signs of Harris’ day-job at all, Iron Maiden vibes comes in already by the second track. On a galloping rhythm and melody arrangements that we’re used to hear from Harris, this uptempo rocker feels only natural as the first single, much because of the Maiden references. That said, style-wise, the song is more regular Hard Rock than Metal and the chorus breaks new ground with a Celtic influenced chorus that is, just like the guitar solo parts, clearly influenced by Thin Lizzy. I really like this track and it’s best song I have ever heard from this lot – so far.
“Father Lucifer” is a straight-forward, full-on Classic rock stomper that holds a darker twist and lands somewhere between 70’s and mid 80’s Hard Rock. It’s a raw and groovy rocker where the dynamics rises with a raunchy Organ that hits the jaw with a good punch. This is very good indeed. Steve and his cohorts takes on a prog-rock oriented vibe with “Elysium” that mixes some Maiden-like melodies with organic and rootsy Classic Rock with a big 70’s feel, something that works really well. Some striking melodies and a chorus that’s hook-laden enough brings the song home. Good one.
The opening riff to “Lightning” is total Maiden but the song slows down to a quick passage that has Richard Taylor singing over a bass-riff but when the band comes back in, the Maiden styled arranged melodies comes back albeit with a darker ambience. When the chorus comes along, the song takes another turn into 70’s Classic Rock again. It’s quite a raw rocker but also with a hook-laden and clean-cut refrain. Good. “Last Chance” starts out stripped and laid-back with a dark and somewhat sullen outlook, slow in pace with some Iron Maiden goes Melodic Rock like melodies on top. The verse takes it into a crunchier and edgier territory while the refrain tries its best to bring out the hooks and sure, while listening you might just get into those melodies but it’s a forgettable song that’s only decent at best.
On a more straight-ahead note, “Legend” is a fuel-injected, upbeat rocker that aims for the throat. The style here is more metal-flavored Hard Rock from the 80’s even though some mid 70’s Classic rock touches has sneaked in, mostly when it comes to vocal-arrangements and even though Iron Maiden doesn’t shine through, there are traces of them here and there. With a chorus that’s full of hooks and some major catchiness included, something that makes this a winner in my book. “Spit Fire” opens up slow and stripped with a bass-line and guitar melodies so Maiden-like, I can’t help wondering if they were written for them but never got off the ground. More Maiden references comes along in the song’s rhythm when the song speeds up and when the striking guitar riffs appears it stands clear that this could very well be something Steve pulled out the vaults even though the tune is arranged more in a classic Rock way than Heavy Metal. It’s not entirely bad, this one, but I only get the vibe of a second rate Iron Maiden clone.
“Land Of The Perfect People” sends a more pop-ish vein our way but still with some crunch and edge, like a 70’s laden Classic Rock track with a chunk of 80’s Melodic Rock, mostly in the melody department. It’s a groovy track on a steady, rhythm. To bring on an atmospheric effect, there’s a laid-back passage before the chunky groove comes back. The chorus is striking while listening but fades a bit too quick for comfort. It’s ok but doesn’t really linger. “Bible Black” treats us with some gritty riffing, Classic Rock from the 70′ style but again, both guitars and rhythm section are so much Maiden it sounds like it’s some left-over ideas from a Maiden song-writing session – a mix that do work. A catchy, yet not radio-friendly refrain makes the song stick. Good.
But best of all is the album’s closing track “Native Son”. What we’re given here is an acoustic guitar based rock-ballad with a good, chunky groove – very organic, earthy and naked. To hold up the rhythm, Harris’ personal bass-lines lies underneath and considering the structure and style of the song, those shouldn’t fit here – but they do. They actually make for a dynamic contrast to the song’s Classic Rock style. As if that isn’t enough we also get a smooth yet not cheesy main-melody and a gorgeous vocal arrangement. This downbeat ballad also contains some progressive twists which furthermore strengthen its dynamics and at the same time it gushes us with emotion and a calming touch. Awesome!
Compared to the debut, this one’s stronger, no doubt about that. The band do feel more like a unit and the record comes across as way more focused – both performance wise and when it comes to song writing skills. But the record do have its flaws and there is a bit too many of them. First of all, the record is forgettable – even the songs that I thought were good while listening fades from my memory pretty fast. Fact is, the only track that lingers on is the brilliant closer. Secondly, the production still leaves quite a lot to be desired. It’s better than the budget sounds of the debut but it still sounds daft, dry and rushed. Thirdly, singer Taylor is still weak – he simply don’t have the vocal resources to front a professional Rock band. I’m positive that both this album and the debut would have come across stronger with a singer with a stronger voice and a broader range. For now, the album is ok, but the five is weak, just like the debut’s four was weak.
More British Lion reviews:
1. City Of Fallen Angels
2. The Burning
3. Father Lucifer
6. Last Chance
8. Spit Fire
9. Land Of The Perfect People
10. Bible Black
11. Native Son