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Not quite the king of the jungle. - 60%

hells_unicorn, November 13th, 2012

A well established icon lending his name to an unknown project is a real gamble, not so much for the sake of the icon, but for that of the project. While it can prove to be invaluable in getting the word out in a way that old fashioned leg work can't, it also brings in a level of expectation that can prove to be insurmountable. Add to the equation that the icon in question is none other than Steve Harris, famed NWOBHM pioneer and founder of a metal institution in that of Iron Maiden, and it's impossible to understate the level of expectation that is sure to follow. This project, ironic enough, has been about 20 years in the making, and when accounting for the time period that the idea was first floated and discounting the amount of hype that surely follows a band carrying this name, the result isn't all that bad.

A number of people have likened the sound present on this album to a quirky mixture of alternative metal and some traditional hard rock influences, but the actual picture is more along the lines of an almost pure 1970s rock homage with a modern production. On a few occasions it seems as though the band is veering into progressive territory, which kind of fits since the singer has one of those subdued, squeaky clean tenor voices that normally gets employed by bands paying homage to Dream Theater, but the formula never wanders off into the typical mishmash of time signature changes and outlandish rhythmic twists. The closest they get to that sort of sound is on the opener "This Is My God", which goes through some syncopated motions and has a sort of jam band feel to it, but ultimately this song doesn't veer too far away from a traditional pop/rock song structure and the lead guitar parts, though loaded up with wah-pedal noise, are pretty safe and standard.

In a manner of speaking, "British Lion" is all but the antithesis of an Iron Maiden album, in that the name of their game seems to be easily digestible, catchy tunes rather than impressive, long-winded compositions. "Lost Worlds" and "Eyes Of The Young" are pretty much light rockers that are fit for mainstream radio, and seem to take a fair amount of influence from some of the later 70s arena rock bands. "The Chosen Ones" sees that band actually forgetting that they are an original band and sneaks in some heavily familiar musical paraphrases from a number of famous songs by Boston ("Don't Look Back" and "Long Time" in particular). Pretty much the only thing on here that could be categorized as outright metallic is "A World Without Heaven" which has a fair amount of Krokus and Ozzy Osbourne influences to it; all but literally casting off all the 70s influences in favor of an all out hair band approach.

While this is definitely a fun album the first time through, after a few follow up listens, it starts to wear thin and shows some pretty sizable flaws. Despite the novel concept of revisiting a rather exciting period in hard rock history and giving it a modern twist, most of these songs tend to drift off into forgettable territory, largely due to there not being a lot behind the performances. The guitar work is less an inspired fit of nostalgia than just a series of derivative quotes that, while competently done, don't really go much of anywhere. Steve Harris' bass work basically dwarfs the rest of the arrangement, more so because it's high in the mix than being overtly impressive, but he does manage to sneak in a few signature tricks to give the overall sound a little punch. The only other thing on here that really manages to push its way through and be distinctive is the vocal work, and it proves to be a one-trick pony spread over an act that goes on for just a bit too long.

Any negative reaction that this album receives because of the expectations attached to Steve Harris' name are pretty well justified, since on its own, "British Lion" is intended for a very different audience than the one it has been attracting, one that is smaller and generally of a less fervent nature than the Iron Maiden rank and file. But taken in itself, this album gets the job done for what it is trying to do and will probably appeal to some 70s hard rock enthusiasts who also ate up retro-rock bands like Jet, Coheed And Cambria, and a few others a few years back. Just don't listen to this expecting a metal album, let alone something along the lines of what Bruce Dickinson does under his own name.