Review Summary: Perhaps too clever for most people?
Even though it's been 5 months since the release of British Lion
, I still worry for it. The idea of Steve Harris, the backbone of Iron Maiden, seems a bit bizarre, and really, why would the primary force of Iron Maiden need to go solo? Well, even the leader of the band has some ideas that might be best if he did them on his own. After all, Iron Maiden is known for dual guitar melodies and soaring vocals over metal tuneage. Now I mean not to scare you away with the idea of Steve Harris doing dubstep or perhaps nu-metal (let's hope that never happens), but guaranteed most of what's featured on here isn't something you'd hear come from Maiden. Perhaps the best way to describe British Lion
is like a mix of 70s hard rock with bits of prog here and here and some grunge in there for good measure.
And so naturally, because Steve's name is attached, people expect it to sound like Iron Maiden. To borrow a lyric from Linkin Park: "Once you've got the theory of how the thing works, everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first". And from what I've read from the reviews of [i]British Lion[/L], people expected something that would fit nicely among the Maiden sound. Sadly, I do think people dismissed it right away, and didn't give it much of a chance. Admittedly, it took me a while to really get into this album the same way I'd get into solo Bruce or an ASAP record- in fact, count me among the people who were disappointed and didn't think much about it at first, but like any complicated album, I continued to listen and listen. Eventually, it got to the point where I did what I did with BTBAM's Colors
(which itself took me a while to get into)- listened to it on a proper stereo setup at loud volume in the living room.
admittedly gets off to a rough start with its opening track "This is My God", which is a mid-tempo rocker that isn't very energetic and kinda just drags. It sounds a bit like Pearl Jam and while it has a nice bassline (and the synth during the first verse is admittedly nice sounding), it just sounds bland and unexciting. I don't mind the vocals- in fact, a tip of the hat to Richard Taylor for his efforts on album. He isn't Bruce and nor is he Mikee Goodman, but he doesn't try to sound like them and admittedly he has a distinctive voice, kind of like Bono almost. Other disappointing songs are "Karma Killer that, while it could have been good and admittedly sounds similar to "Gods of War" from Bruce's 2nd solo album Balls to Picasso
, It just falls short and its rather asinine chorus really grates. Also, while I do like "Eyes of the Young", well, it just could have been left off the album and nothing would be missed.
However, the rest of the album does have some gems. Easily the most Maiden sounding songs are "A World Without Heaven" and "Us Against the World". The former sounds very much like something that could have come off of Virtual XI
. And yes, I do like that album. It's mostly a power-rock tune with a catchy beat and an edgy guitar riff. The chorus in particular has a great vocal melody and the instrumental section in the middle has a brilliant part where the drums are limited to hi-hat and bass drum, building tension with Arry's nice touches of bass and peppered with a cool AC/DC-esque riff. The latter, on the other hand, is very fast-paced, starting with a slow keyboard intro and segueing into an energetic blend of Maidenesque metal and Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock. The vocals are noticeably strained throughout the chorus, but it's not a problem when the music easily overpowers it, and a nice solo is thrown in there for good measure too. Aside from the Maidenesque songs, there's great tunes like the very 90s Hard Rock flavoured "Lost Worlds" that is nice and heavy for the first bit, but the best part is the acoustic second half, where Taylor's voice really shines. "Judas" is a very catchy and sleazy rocker that has a party-rock sound to it (nope, not LMFAO's definition). In fact,I'd love to hear Bruce sing this one. He'd do a killer job at it. And the middle part is brilliant! The chorus is catchy and the lyrics comparing an unfaithful lover to Judas are very tongue-in-cheek. The best songs are "The Chosen Ones" and "The Lesson"- the former is very Boston influenced and is catchy the whole way though. It is also very corny and its lyrics are cliched as hell ("But you'll never see us cry (Whoa)/Cause we're never gonna die (whoa)/And they'll never break us down!!/Cause WE ARE THE CHOSEN OOOOOONES! YEAH!!!
"), but you don't think Maiden can be gleefully cheesy at times? It's a fun stadium rocker that is bound to get people jumping up and down. And the latter, "The Lesson", is a string-drenched gothic sounding ballad about how we all have regrets, and we'll never escape it. Taylor's voice is nice on it, if raspy at times, and it's a nice way to close out the album on a subdued high note.
Ultimately, British Lion
does suffer from rather weak lyrics that tend to stick out, a bit too much like a sore thumb, and some rather questionable musical choices at times. I also can't say the production is anything to get thrilled about either- Kevin Shirley's mix of the album is available as a computer featured on the Enhanced portion of the disc, and it sounds much better. We all know production isn't quite Arry's forte (if Blaze's albums and A Real Live/Dead One
are any indication), and British Lion
is no different. But those aside, Steve's solo debut is something that deserves your attention, and requires you to put aside your Maiden-based expectations. I'm actually quite happy to hear his direction he took; as much as I like Serj Tankian's Elect the Dead
, admittedly it sounds like what you'd expect on a System effort, and that's one of many examples of solo albums being glorified band efforts I can name. This album is definitely recommended, but use this review as a note of caution, and you may end up enjoying it more.
Download these tracks:
Us Against the World
The Chosen Ones
A World Without Heaven