Monday 25 November 2019

Phil Campbell - Old Lions Still Roar (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Oct 2019
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While they can be wildly inconsistent, I have a particular fondness for this sort of album, which is a solo project brought to life with a varied line-up of guest stars. I like them all the more when those guests take the main man in completely new musical directions. Think Carlos Santana's Supernatural or Dave Grohl's Probot. Santana got to record with Lauryn Hill and Rob Thomas, while Grohl got to play with Cronos and Tom G. Warrior, not likely team-ups but very effective ones.

Now it's the turn of Phil Campbell, who's apparently been planning for years to do a similar style of solo album but was too busy touring the world with Motörhead. Campbell wrote a bunch of songs, sent them out to friends and let the project coalesce. As you might expect from the success of Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, his three sons feature heavily here, one or more of them playing on six of the ten tracks, but the guests aren't just vocalists; they fill all the roles needed.

Most of the album rocks, of course, though the bookends are interesting. The opener is a sort of folk/country story song that tells Campbell's life story thus far. It was written by Leon Stanford, whose voice adds emotion. I love the imagery of "the whole world screaming 'I don't want to live forever'" in a song that looks back on a life, even one that's thankfully still massively productive. The album ends with an introspective instrumental, Tears from a Glass Eye, on which Campbell plays guitar and piano and Joe Satriana handles everything else.

In between, there are unsurprising songs featuring unsurprising rock royalty like Rob Halford on Straight Up, Alice Cooper on Swing It and Dee Snider on These Old Boots, on the latter of which Campbell also plays bass. There are songs featuring a couple of vastly different Welsh singers. Nev McDonald of Kooga and Skin provides a soulful AOR vocal on Left for Dead, with Mark King of Level 42 on bass. Benji Webbe of Skindred brings a surprisingly emotional touch to Dead Roses, with Matt Sorum of Guns n' Roses on drums. These songs are all solid, whether they're up tempo rockers or the more soulful songs.

The more surprising material explores stoner metal territory, not something I'd expect from Campbell. Ben Ward from Orange Goblin sings Faith in Fire, a relatively straightforward stoner track, though again it's a good one. Walk the Talk is funkier but still very heavy. I really dug this one, even though it's arguably nu metal. The two vocalists are Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age and Danko Jones of the band of the same name. Oliveri also plays bass, while Ray Luzier of Korn adds drums.

I thoroughly enjoyed how some of these musicians brought their usual sound with them, Campbell playing along with it as if he's checking off subgenres from his bucket list. He's not likely to play a lot of material like Dancing Dogs (Love Survives), a grungy rocker featuring Whitfield Crane of Ugly Kid Joe, but he clearly has fun with it. Others play along with whatever's being done, Chris Fehn of Slipknot and Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe content to let Dee Snider take These Old Boots wherever he wants.

The inherent problem with albums like this is that the different approaches are likely to work to different levels, meaning inconsistent quality. While I liked a lot of Supernatural, for instance, some of it left me totally dry. This, on the other hand, is solid throughout. I don't think I'll be playing it as often as I do Grohl's even more varied Probot album, but this is much closer to that in quality. I enjoyed it a lot.

What's more, unlike Probot, I could easily see a follow up to this. Campbell has done very well for himself with Motörhead and, with that era of his life sadly over, he's free to do whatever he wants. He's busy with Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, but he should have plenty of opportunity to put together more material like this in the future. I hope he does. Let's see what other checkboxes he has yet to mark. Old lions definitely still roar.

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