Tuesday 21 January 2020

British Lion - The Burning (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 17 Jan 2020
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It seems that this band is now called simply British Lion, as I think it was always intended to be and that's a good thing. On their previous album, back in 2012, they were Steve Harris' British Lion and the presence in that name of one of the most important rock musicians in British history both helped a lot with publicity and hindered a lot by skewing expectations. While I still haven't listened to that album, I have heard a lot of mixed reactions to it, much of the negativity stemming from the fact that British Lion weren't Iron Maiden.

They aren't Iron Maiden here either, at least not in general style. They do feel a little like Maiden in odd changes or runs here and there, the build on songs like Lightning and in the recognisable Harris bass that shows up in some of the quieter moments. Father Lucifer is the closest song to a Maiden sort of sound and, even there, it's very much Maiden Lite, every musician in the band more restrained and everything they play simpler and more direct.

While Father Lucifer may be ironically the best song here, there are others that are strong without sounding like Maiden in the slightest. The epitome of that may be Elysium, with a soaring emotional vocal from Richard Taylor that happily gets us past the inevitable comparisons to concentrate on what he does well in his own right. He's really not a bad singer at all if we're willing to stop comparing him to Bruce Dickinson.

The history of British Lion goes back to Taylor and guitarist Grahame Leslie reaching out to Harris back in 1982 to produce them. Nothing came of it, as the band split up before they could do much of anything, but they apparently kept in touch and revisited the project a few decades later, becoming a new band with Harris on bass in 2012. I don't believe they've ever been a Harris solo project, certainly not the way many expected, and they feel like a band to me here.

What's more, the music is good. It's clearly rock rather than metal and it's a mix of old and new schools. Harris's tastes are well known and it's hardly surprising to find Wishbone Ash in here, most obviously in the intro to Last Chance, but there's nowhere near as much prog as I expected. Both Leslie and drummer Simon Dawson used to be in the Outfield and there's definitely some eighties melodic rock in here too. Spit Fire sounds like something Magnum or Demon might conjure up and those bands aren't bad guides to the balance that British Lion find between heaviness and melody.

However, there's more variety here. The opening song, City of Fallen Angels, has a pop/punk urgency to it, though it's channelled into a hard rock feel. It means that this isn't just seventies and eighties in influence, it's the seventies all the way up to the present. At the other end of the album, the closer, Native Son, has a folky feel to it, again without ever leaving hard rock for a different genre.

Perhaps the best praise I can give this is that it doesn't feel long, though its eleven tracks nudge the running time over an hour. These are comfortable songs, consistent but with a little variety, full of decent riffs and decent hooks, with some decent solos too. Nothing here knocked my socks off, but if you asked for my favourite track, I might pick any one of half a dozen songs at any particular moment.

I should still check out that first album, but I'm warier now than I was, as I have a feeling that this is much better all around because the band aren't misrepresenting themselves and have a better idea of who they are.

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