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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Steve Harris

British Lion

Review by Scott Prinzing

First, by way of full disclosure, I should mention that Steve Harris was my personal hero and main musical inspiration, when as an 18-year old bass player I got to meet him backstage.  His band, Iron Maiden, were on the verge of becoming major players.  They had recently released their third album, Number of the Beast, with singer Bruce Dickinson, newly recruited from NWOBHM band, Samson.  Maiden were performing between opening act Girlschool, and Scorpions on their Blackout tour; it was an extremely exciting time for heavy metal.  As luck would have it, my band at the time, Glacier, which held Maiden in the highest of esteem, ended up hanging out with Harris for much of the three-day stint the tour logged in Portland, Oregon.  All four of us all connected with him through different common interests and a few of us have continued to stay in touch – albeit to varying degrees – ever since.  The two points I want to make are: one, I am a huge fan of Iron Maiden and have been since their 1980 debut; and two, this should have been my band that Harris took under his wing and joined! 

With that out of the way, I should also reveal that I have read several reviews of British Lion – both pro and con – and I had only heard one song, “This is My God,” before writing this review.  The album is, by Harris’ own description, more of a side project than a solo album.  “British Lion” was the name of a band that he decided to manage and produce in the early ’90s.  He continued to work with them in between Maiden albums and tours, eventually taking a more active role in writing and playing bass.  The result is this album, released under his name, titled after the original band’s name.  It is said to be more influenced by British hard rock and with more of a ’70s feel, but it’s definitely not a retro album; there are plenty of ’90s and ’00s sounds and production values.  Harris has Kevin Shirley on-board as co-producer, so there’s no question that it will sound brilliant.  And it does.  It will unlikely give Maiden a run for the money, but any true Maiden fan should include the album in their library.  After listening to it once, I can say that while I might not listen to it as much as Bruce Dickinson’s solo albums, it will probably spend more time in my various music delivery systems than Adrian Smith’s A.S.a.P.  

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
This Is My God

The wah-wah heavy riff reminds me of Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, but the vocals are like neither.  Richard Taylor is a fine vocalist whose singing fits the music and lyrics, but there are none of the vocal gymnastics that so many metal singers utilize.  There is a spoken section that adds to the distinction of the song as well.  And where would a Steve Harris solo project be without prominent bass?  After seeing the video, I was expecting the lyrics to refer more to nature as god, so perhaps that was either an afterthought, or the director’s interpretation.  I dig it.

Lost Worlds
I heard that this album drew more from English hard rock of the ’70s, but this song has a very fresh sound, affected by the hard rock and metal of the past decade or two.  Perhaps it is the natural, honest-sounding vocals.  The riff sounds very modern, but it ends with an acoustic guitar based section.  I’m finding that I like this a lot more than I expected to.
Karma Killer
This one features another wah-wah heavy opening riff before leading into a more open verse.  The second verse is mostly a bass/drum endeavor; Harris’ playing is in the forefront, but more subdued than the almost lead bass he plays in Maiden. It almost reminds me a bit of Muse in the chorus.
Us Against the World
After starting with organ chords, we get treated to some harmony guitars that are probably the closest this band sounds to Maiden yet.  It’s hard not to imagine Bruce Dickinson taking this song on, but I think that Taylor’s reserved vocal approach is refreshing.  This is my favorite song so far.  Is it my imagination, or does each song get a little better than the previous one?
The Chosen Ones
I guess I was getting carried away.  This is the first song from the album that doesn’t really grab me.  It strikes a bit more of a commercial vibe, reminiscent of Paul Chapman-era UFO, so it’s interesting that it wasn’t the lead-off single.  It’s not a bad song by any means, though; it may just as easily be someone else’s favorite track from the album.
A World Without Heaven
Now we’re talking!  Tracking in at just over seven minutes, this is the most epic song of the set so far, with the most obvious prog influences.  While 'Arry is a big fan of hard rock bands like Thin Lizzy and UFO, he also is a major fan of prog bands – especially Genesis and Jethro Tull.  Here’s where some of those influences rear their lovely heads.
Judas
I haven’t touched on the lyrics much yet, but this song deals with religious themes.  It is a solid number as well, but not one of the strongest of the set. 
Eyes of the Young
Next is another song with a commercial bent that I did take to right away.  The feel is somewhat more atmospheric, almost like a Bon Jovi song. 
These Are the Hands
The pulsating beat of this track would almost lend itself to a remix.  Yes, I think it could be a dance track in the hands of the right remix engineer.  But feel free to just mildly bang your head until that happens.
The Lesson
Do I hear strings?  They are there just to set the scene.  Atmospheric and ominous, it’s a compelling ending to a strong album.  I will definitely be adding this to my MP3 player for a while - along with the rest of the album – and a few of these songs will probably stay in rotation for the long haul.
 
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