Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Review: Steve Harris - British Lion

 When news first came out about the decision made by full time Iron Maiden bassist and overall frontman Steve Harris to spend some time outwith the band that he has served as the leader for prime songwriter of for thirty two years to record a solo venture, there were some heads turned by traditional metal fans, with one of the deeper questions being simply: Does this give us any reason to be concerned about the future of Maiden? It was a valid point, until just a few days ago after Maiden were announced as headliners for next year's Download Festival. I always had a notion that it would happen and now I really need to buy my ticket. So, with that out the way, surely we can listen to Harris' first solo effort British Lion in full without any concern, yeah?

 See, the story behind the release of this album has more detail than one may think. It turns out the songs on British Lion are much older than previously thought, following Harris being approached by a group of homegrown hard rockers dubbed British Lion in the mid-eighties and given a demo of their songs that spent two whole decades without seeing the light of day. Essentially, Harris playing these songs and putting his name to these songs is the act of Harris acting a long demanded favour. And it's a favour with tremendous results.

 Of course, Harris has also provided the reasoning that an album like this allows him to unleash some songwriting ideas alongside those of the bands that would never be able to fit around the body of Iron Maiden. And there's a lot of sense in such a claim. Listening to the metallic grunge offerings that come in the form of This is My God and Lost Words with their driving basslines providing an immense density to the songs and powerhouse grooves that provide a dirty funk to the main rhythms sound like songs that wouldn't sound out of place were you listening to Soundgarden's Superunknown or Alice in Chains' self-titled album. This entire Seattle Grunge vibe is certainly aided by the soulful howling of Richard Taylor making himself sound like a creepier version of Chris Cornell on Karma Killer.

 Of course, there's no possible way that Harris could simply depart his conventional manner of Iron Maiden songwriting, I mean it has to have been ingrained into his mind and it reflects across British Lion as well. Us Against the World immediately opens with a pounding of galloping basslines that Harris has become so influential for crafting, with the sound of Iron Maiden re-imagined in a dreamier more soul-based form is creating, with smooth textures and verses put alongside squealing lead guitars. Even the bands that influenced Iron Maiden are recreated throughout the album, with A World Without Heaven and Judas wearing their Rainbow and Judas Priest influences on their sleeves, with the latter song genuinely having a spike of intensity and urgency in it's rapid fire performance. The Priest influence is even heard in the beautiful Eyes of the Young, the song on British Lion most representative of a ballad, which is done genuinely convincingly.

 It was always obvious that if Steve Harris were to involve himself with a solo project, it was going to have the sound of raw British hard rock and heavy metal metal whose influence was traditional in it's approach but unlike what many were expecting, British Lion sounds nothing like a collection of Iron Maiden B-Sides, instead, it takes on the form of a whole new beast, while showing clear references to songwriting themes that we can obviously recognise Steve Harris for as well as showcasing the influence of bands that existed before Maiden even formed and making the surprising turn of displaying tracks with a genuine grunge based sound. It means listeners hear iunfleunces ranging from UFO to Soundgarden and from Thin Lizzy to Stone Temple Pilots, all taking on their own darkened personality and characteristic that ranges from triumph to pure bleakness. Once again, as the Download headliner announcement proves, this is a Maiden member doing a side project that won't affect their day job but can be viewed as a project as respectable as what their full-time job requires.

Steve Harris' British Lion is out now via EMI. 

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