The ultimate trouble with a solo album from a musician whose name is inescapably attached to a specific band is that the solo effort in question is immediately and often unfairly tethered to the work of that greater entity. British Lion isn’t an Iron Maiden album, of course – and one must presume that it’s not an Iron Maiden album for a reason. (Having heard it, I can assure you that the reasons are many.) The material comprised within wasn’t designed for Iron Maiden, and the gap between the two is wide, though, of course, there are unavoidable hints of Maiden that serve as much to show the true width of that gap as they do to tie the two together.
So, though it is unfair to ‘Arry and his new bandmates, it is inevitable that this will be held up against the almost insurmountable heights of Maiden’s three-decade reign at the top of the heavy metal heap. Though British Lion is attempting something different from the realms of Maiden’s time-honed epic metal, there is virtually no way for any Iron Maiden fan – and let’s face it here: Iron Maiden fans are the target market – to listen to this and not filter their impression through their feelings for Maiden.
And the rub is this: Either way, you lose, though to different degrees. Evaluated on its own merits, British Lion is just lifeless and boring, but when saddled with the fact that its namesake is directly responsible for some of the greatest songs in metal history, the album suffers further indignity because Steve Harris can do far, far better than this, and anyone who’s listening to this knows that.
In the end, British Lion is an album of lackluster rock that can’t quite seem to find its feet. It’s stuck somewhere at the crossroads of the 1970s rock that Harris has always championed (UFO, Thin Lizzy), the classic prog-inspired metal that Maiden made out of that 70s rock, and mid-90s post-grunge radio fodder. The opening track utilizes a wah-heavy riff that sounds like a Stone Temple Pilots outtake, and then runs that head-on into a drifting arena-rock chorus that goes nowhere. “The Chosen Ones” sounds like early 1980s AOR, with harmonized guitar lines that feel wholly borrowed from Boston. A few moments throughout Lion toy with bits of Maiden’s established style, and not surprisingly, they’re the album’s best – some of “Lost Worlds” treads melodically close to the proggier material from the last few albums, although Maiden would’ve muscled the track up a hundredfold. Still, most of the Maiden-ization only succeeds in showing how much lesser British Lion truly is. “Us Against The World” appropriates Maiden’s trademark harmony guitars, but balances them against more of the same drifting hard rock that never catches fire.
While much of the online pre-release commentary has centered around the (truthful) fact that vocalist Richard Taylor possesses the most unconvincing metal voice since Don Dokken, all faults are not his. There’s an equal failure at play: These songs are simply bland. Though it’s Taylor’s limp performance that ultimately sinks “Us Against The World,” one of the few flickers that almost flame up, but at best, that song would’ve been a Bayley-era b-side for Iron Maiden. Even Harris’ playing, long the driving force beneath Maiden’s gallop, is featureless and dull, something that could never have previously been said.
Since I was twelve years old and first discovered Somewhere In Time, Steve Harris has been one of my heroes, Iron Maiden one of my favorite bands. So it pains me to write this review, but the truth remains the truth. I hate to chain ‘Arry to his past accomplishments, however great they may be, but for a solo album from a member of an established group to truly succeed, no matter if it’s stylistically different, it has to be of comparable quality to the material of the parent group (see: The Chemical Wedding), and this one doesn’t hold up. At best, British Lion is destined to be nothing more than a footnote in Maiden history, one that die-hards will collect and even a few might defend, but one that all but those few will forgive and gladly forget. It’s ultimately uninteresting and unnecessary, vastly overshadowed by even the worst works of Harris’ real band. In the end, this Lion roars far too little.