As Iron Maiden fans will be more than aware, Steve Harris has been rather busy over the seven years that have passed between the first British Lion album and the arrival of The Burning. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine exactly how the bassist found time to write and record this new material, but fans of oh-so-classic rock will be very thankful that he did.
In truth, the first British Lion record didn’t exactly set the world alight, despite being pretty damn good. A stoically straightforward and melody-driven hard rock record, it was full of great songs and moments of gritty flash, with Harris’s finger-powered rumble dominating the sonic background and vocalist Richard Taylor’s engaging croon leading from the front.
If there was a downside, it was that a slightly vexed and muddy production ensured that the album was an acquired taste and, despite widespread great reviews, wasn’t as celebrated as you might imagine a Steve Harris side-project might be. Fortunately, The Burning sounds vastly more punchy and powerful than its predecessor, while also giving the distinct impression that British Lion have evolved into a fiery and characterful ensemble with a strong identity of their own.
We are still firmly in traditional rock territory here, and Harris’s love of UFO and Golden Earring remains as cheerfully conspicuous as ever, but thanks to a brighter, breezier sound and unmistakable hints of looseness and swagger, everything from the briskly uplifting title track to the brooding hulk of Bible Black sparkles with freshness and weirdly youthful vigour.
While many contemporary classic rock bands seem fixated on reproducing the aesthetic specifics of bygone eras, songs like motoring opener City Of Fallen Angels and preview single Lightning clearly favour timelessness over nostalgia. Similarly, melancholy closer Native Son wears its prog influences with pride and dares to saunter down a more restrained, acoustic path, but the sum of those parts is simply an irresistibly downbeat rock ballad, worthy of any era you care to mention.
It may be significant that Harris’s bass is less domineering second time out: his absurdly nimble fingers still propel the songs along, augmenting everything with those trademark chords and flourishes, but never muddying the sonic waters with a surfeit of rumbling bottom end. Meanwhile, Taylor sings with unfussy aplomb throughout, clearly thrilled to be part of such an honest, unpretentious enterprise, and blessed with a generous helping of brilliant songs to sing.