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Every artist has that one work that never got a chance to get off the ground and that they’d do just about anything to bring into the light fully developed. After all, that is why Guns ‘N Roses eventually finished Chinese Democracy after spending over a decade as the rock world’s biggest punch line: It is just sickening to see a dream fester and die in spite of your efforts to bring it into fruition. But what happens when an idea has been in limbo for so long that it is unable to ever fully be realized?
Enter British Lion, the debut solo album by Iron Maiden mastermind Steve Harris and one with a rather odd backstory. Largely consisting of material that was intended for a band of the same name that he wrote for and mentored in the early 90s, Harris has finally taken the material out of Development Hell and brought some of the original players along for the ride. The results are controversial to say the least.
Even if Harris has been the main writer for Iron Maiden for over three decades, it is still naïve to assume that the sound is anything like his main band. Sure there are some melodic metal tinges on songs such as “Us Against The World” and “These Are The Hands,” but it would be a stretch to call this metal in any sense of the word. I hate to label this with such a lame tag, but it may be better to just call this a rock album. The overall sound is one of unclassifiable genericness but there are influences from post-grunge, alternative, and classic 70s rock to be found throughout.
And with being such an oddly put together album, it isn’t too surprising to say that the band is somewhat disjointed. As expected, the bass playing dominates the mix and compete with the guitars as both drive the songwriting. On the other end, the drums aren’t particularly flashy and the lead singer sounds like an odd cross between Bruce Dickinson and Don Dokken. I don’t think the vocals are quite as awful as some have pointed out, but there is no denying that they do suffer from a distinct lack of power.
But while the sound is rather generic and the performances are mixed, the songwriting is what ultimately saves this album from the scrap heap. There aren’t exactly any classic or mind blowing moments on here but this is one of those weird albums where the second half is better than the first, a welcome observation considering how the first three songs always remind me of the times Dream Theater tried to go modern rock. (Anyone else remember “You Not Me?”)
Predictably, the tracks that hint at metal influence are the best on here with “Us Against The World” and “These Are The Hands” offering melodic guitars and hopeful choruses. “The Chosen Ones,” “A World Without Heaven,” and “Eyes Of The Young” also stand out as memorable highlights though the vocals’ lack of charisma does make one wonder what they could’ve sounded like if the Air Raid Siren had gotten the chance to make them his own. “Judas” is also pretty solid but that melody segment comes in too abruptly for it to be a true standout.
Overall, Steve Harris’s first solo release is quite the mixed bag though not the vulgar display of failure that some have suspected. The sound and performances will be enough to turn some off the effort but those who stick around may find some potential in the writing involved. It is a warning to those artists that have a project that needs to be revived and a pit stop for anxious Iron Maiden fans. So when’s Bruce going to get another solo album out there? It’s been seven years already!
“Us Against The World”
“The Chosen Ones”
“A World Without Heaven”
“Eyes Of The Young”
“These Are The Hands”