Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Album Review: Lionheart 'Second Nature'

It's been over 30 years since melodic rockers Lionheart released an album, but 2017 sees the release of new album 'Second Nature' which has made us all the more excited for the upcoming UK tour with Airrace later this year.

Thinking about Dennis Stratton brings us thoughts of him plucking strings in early Iron Maiden and Praying Mantis as well as watching him and Dave Edwards play rock classics in small East End boozers- good times! Dennis though, also formed the very brilliant melodic rock band LIONHEART in 1980 alongside Steve Mann (MSG, Eloy, Liar), Rocky Newton (Wildfire), Jess Coxx (Tygers of Pan Tang) and Frank Noon (Def Leppard). After debuting at the infamous Marquee Club in London; undergoing various challenging line-up changes (consisting of many members of rock royalty) the boys got back together in 2016 for Rockingham Festival which later led to the band recording new album Second Nature.

After releasing 1984 album Hot Tonight, the band have come back with new vocalist Lee Small, best known for his vocals with Phenomena and Shy. And boy is he the perfect match! With his supreme melodic vocal he matches the style of Lionheart perfectly. 

After a short prelude, the album kicks off with track 'Give Me the Light' which definitely gives us some light into what the album is going to bring. It oozes with sheer melodic rock and could very well be mistaken for a track on their 1984 album. Then bang, straight into 'Angels With Dirty Faces' with an explosion of lead guitar tickled with that NWOBHM sound we were all expecting to hear from the guitar work which fuses wonderfully next to the smooth AOR tones of Lee's vocals. 

Lionheart's rendition of Chris De Burgh's  'Don't Pay the Ferryman' is definitely up there with some of the best tracks on the album. It's as if this song was made to have a faster, heavier tempo. The vocal melodies here are strong and it's one of those songs that stays with you even after listening to the entire record. A definite stand-out tune. 

Next up is '30 Years' and there's no prizes for guessing who this song is about. Describing an "ordinary East End boy" who has gone "from the roughest part of town, to the marquee" and referencing a certain Iron Maiden?  A brilliant, fast tempo track with high energy and power throughout- some of the lyric and vocal structure conjuring thoughts of a heavier Johnny B. Goode in it's story-telling manner. Lee's smooth vocals are combined perfectly with the heavier guitar sound that pummels right through you and is broken down nicely by an archetypal NWOBHM style lead. 

After that great bout of energy, 'On Our Way' cools things down with an atmospheric instrumental where we definitely hear the influences of Lionheart friends such as Michael Schenker. This gives the album an interval which sets the scene for the title track on the album. Additional to the superb lead vocals, the rest of the band are really showing off their backing vocal skills as they harmonise giving a heavy nod to AOR. 'Prisoner' starts off much the same and is shrouded in AOR goodness with it's keyboard riff, then mixed up with tempo changes, heavier guitar riffing and an epic chorus created for a fan sing a long. 

When you have a vocalist as strong as Lee, it's inevitable that he's going to be putting his magical touch into a ballad. This 'magical' touch is reminiscent of both something you'd hear from a Disney picture but sung by vocal master Glenn Hughes. Of course, what is a ballad without a handful of guitar leads and solos that really give more of that heroic feel. This is a song to definitely hear live!

It's time for title track 'Lionheart'. With an opening drum roll, fast-paced riff and a vocal structure that heavy metal greats would be proud of. Dennis has definitely had his hands all over this song as we are treated to some more of that NWOBHM goodness with added power and speed. A surprising but pleasing track to hear and perfectly named. Finally, we come to the 'Reprise' and once again Lee is executing the sounds of Glenn Hughes and sometimes even Dougie White as he really rips into this mini- track. A commanding way to end a brilliant album.

I'm a sucker for some synthy keys so if I could add something to 'Second Nature' it would definitely be a few more opportunities to divulge in some air keyboard - something that the first album had lashings of.  This album though, does get increasingly better with each listen. It's everything you expect with it's typically brilliant AOR tones, brushed beautifully with NWOBHM sounds that you'd usually find on some later Praying Mantis albums. Lee Small was a perfect choice of vocalist and is supported greatly with strong backing vocals throughout. Whether you've been a fan since Hot Tonight or if you're just being introduced to Lionheart, you won't be disappointed. 

Now to fast forward to December where we'll be witnessing Lionheart live with Airrace at London's Camden Underworld.

Score: 4.5/5

Produced, engineered and mastered by guitarist Steve Mann, it's set for release on 25th August on AOR Heaven. Japan are lucky enough to have it already but you can pre-order yourself a copy here.

Line Up
Lee Small - Vocals
Dennis Stratton - Guitar
Steve Mann- Guitar
Rocky Newton- Bass
Clive Edwards- Drums

Writer: Kayleigh MG

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