CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In tracing the career of Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris, it's hard to fathom that he hasn't openly ventured outside of that metal monolith since he founded it 37 years ago. That beening said, here we are with Harris' maiden (pun intended) solo effort, "British Lion."
It appeals to logic that "British Lion" would, for good or ill, lean heavily on Maiden-esque orchestration. After all, Harris has been involved with approximately 84 percent of Maiden's album catalog. (Yes, I've done the math!) However, "Lion" delivers a hard curve as it veers more toward now retro sounds, which undoubtedly guided Harris early in his career.
It wouldn't be inaccurate to envision this romp as a joint project or even a side band, as it were. Harris had mentored vocalist Richard Taylor and guitarist Grahame Leslie since the early '90s, which, inevitably, laid the groundwork for "British Lion." Eventually, the trio enlisted old mates David Hawkins (guitar/keyboards), guitarist Barry Fitzgibbon and drummers Simon Dawson, Ian Roberts and Richard Cook to record the collection. So, over the past two decades, the tunes came together, which brings us -- in a roundabout way -- to square one, the materialization of "British Lion."
One doesn't have to traverse far into "Lion" to absorb the album's admittedly '70s vintage vibe. The disc kicks off with "This is My God" and "Lost Worlds," which translate "Jailbreak"-thru-"Thunder and Lightning"-era Thin Lizzy. It's fairly obvious, too, that the spirit of Phil Lynott was present during the recording of "Judas." "Karma Killer" retains a gritty, modern feel while juxtaposing Led Zep's experimentations a la "Physical Graffiti"/"Presence."
Predominant throughout (most notably on "The Chosen Ones") is a melodic heaviness along the lines of Joe Lynn Turner-phase Rainbow comparing chops with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. However, there's no escaping the Maiden parallel as the chant-like guitar phrases on "A World Without Heaven" and "Eyes of the Young" recall the bravado of the classics "Aces High" and "Fear of the Dark."
In as much as Iron Maiden flows through Steve Harris' creative veins, it's clear that he purposely steers away from many of its benchmarks. As a vocalist, Taylor is (for lack of a better description) more of a crooner, the polar opposite of Bruce Dickinson or Paul Di'Anno. There mighyt be a hint of Blaze Bayley, and I say that in the terms of a complimentary comparison. The guitar and rhythm section, too, are quite trippy and sedated -- you might say melancholic -- when correlated with I.M.'s precise three-axe attack.
Now, with all of this cumulative variety and pointed Harris differentiation, the unavoidable question is: How does "British Lion" size up? Well, suffice it to say, if you went in expecting (minimally) a bunch of Iron Maiden B-sides, you might be less than satisfied. However, if you wanted to experience the previously unexposed side of the master conductor Steve Harris, then "British Lion" is an adventurous excursion.
I don't think there is any danger that Ed Force One is headed for the hangar; "British Lion" should, therefore, give Harris purists something to hang their headphones on until Iron Maiden once again takes flight.