Wednesday, 5 March 2014

House of Lords' 'Precious Metal' - Album Review

As far as melodic hard rock goes, House of Lords are probably one of the most established names in the genre. While they have never been all that commercially successful, they have been releasing albums for years and have made a name for themselves on the AOR circuit. Their late 1980s/early 1990s work is probably their most famous, but since getting back together in 2000 the band have released six studio album with Precious Metal being their most recent. Only frontman James Christian remains from the band's original line-up but, since 2005, guitarist Jimi Bell, bassist Chris McCarvill, and drummer B.J. Zampa have been ever-present and have contributed to five of those recordings (although McCarvill did have some time out of the band during 2008 and 2009). House of Lords are a fairly new band for me and, although I have heard a few of their songs over the years, Precious Metal is the first full album of theirs that I have listened to. I bought it on a whim after watching the video for current single Battle on Youtube and loved it from the outset. Sometimes, these impulse purchases can backfire but thankfully, with this album, that was not the case. As it was on Frontiers Records too, I was a little worried about how it was going to sound. Now I love Frontiers Records, and many excellent albums have been released under their name but some of their 'projects' are a little sterile as the same songwriters, musicians and producers seem to be involved all the time. I knew that House of Lords was a band with a history that pre-dated Frontiers Records but I was a little worried that this album would just be another vehicle for the songs of Erik Mårtensson, Alessandro Del Vecchio, etc. (as good as much of their material is). Again, thankfully, this is not the case. Christian and Bell write the majority of the band's songs and the sound of Precious Metal is a little harder overall than the 'meat and potatoes' of Frontiers' key projects. If you like melodic rock, this well produced (mostly) collection of songs is sure to impress you. The legendary Bob Marlette also assisted the band in the mixing of the album so the balance of the instruments is just right. While the focus of the band's sound is Bell's guitar, there are also plenty of lush keyboard textures courtesy of Jeff Batter.

The aforementioned Battle is the album's first song and sets the tone with a gritty guitar riff that is in contrast with the very 1980s keyboards sounds. The whole album is a great mix of old a new with a wide range of sounds being used. Christian's voice mostly sits within the mid-range and, although he never really hits any especially exciting notes, he has a lot of depth and power in his voice. The song's chorus is the main strength as the melodies really grab you and sink into your brain. Bell's solo has something of a young Yngwie Malmsteen in the phrasing and tone and it makes me wonder why I have not heard much about him before. I'm Breaking Free follows and it is another slab of melodic goodness that once again mixes guitars and keyboards well to get the best of both instruments. It is hard not to think about bands like Danger Danger or Winger while listening to this song. The chorus is anthemic and definitely has a hair metal vibe about it, but the song is much more thoughtfully put together than the more sleazy end of the spectrum. Epic gets started with some twinkly keyboards before Christian's voice and Bell's simple riff take over. Again, the chorus is a real AOR treat with soaring melodies and lines that are easy to remember and sing a long to. Bell really shreds in this song. His arpeggiating guitar lines in the chorus are subtle but his solo is flashy and fast, like the rest of the song. Live Every Day (Like it's the Last), despite it's cliché sentiments, is another excellent song. It plods along at a crunchy mid-pace, but the melodies and vocals are what makes this song memorable. The huge wall of backing vocals in the chorus make it infectious even if the song's music is not as interesting or memorable as the ones that have come before. Still, I defy anyone to listen to this song and not have the chorus stuck in your head! The next highlight is the beautiful title track. Opening with just an acoustic guitar and Christian's full-bodied voice, the stripped back atmosphere really works for this delicate ballad. Gentle strings soon join in and it is not long before the chorus arrives. This song's chorus is one of the few moments when Christian moves outside of his 'normal' vocal range and uses some nice high notes to convey emotion. In classic ballad format, the rhythm section join in after the first chorus and there is a very slow, melodic solo from Bell. Christian, however, is the star here and his vocal performance on the song is amazing.

The album gets back to rocking with Swimming Wih the Sharks. It is probably the first song on the album where the bass is nice and prominent and McCarvill's work in the chugging verses help to beef up the sound. I really like the main riff of this song and, again, the verses have that Winger-esque vibe. As is common with the songs on this album, the chorus is full of melodies, and the keyboards seem to harmonise well with Christian's voice to create a nice big sound. Bell again channels his inner Malmsteen on a tasty neo-classical solo that fits with the heavier feel of this song. The next highlight is the epic power ballad Enemy Mine which sees Christian dueting with his wife Robin Beck, herself a big name in the AOR world. The other thing which sometimes winds me up about Frontiers Records albums is the abundance of average ballads, but this one is a real winner. Beck has quite a ballsy voice, that fits song well, and her and Christian's voices blend together well. A really 1980s-style synth keeps cutting through the mix to play a short melodic lead that sounds a little dated, but it still sounds great. To be honest, most AOR sounds pretty dated, and that is why we love it! Talking of dated, Action has a very 1980s sound. Again, this song has that semi-hair metal sound with a hip-shaking rhythm and a snaking main riff. The chorus is another winner with plenty of harmony vocals to enhance the melodies and there is also a short, shredding solo from Bell. Turn Back the Tide is another very melodic treat of a song with just enough pomp to give it a big sound. However, there is a short part after the chorus that sounds like a part of Battle which is a little annoying as it is too similar to get away with, especially on the same album! The album comes to an end with You Might Just Save My Life. It might not be the album's best song, but it ensures the album ends on a good note with a big chorus that features some nice shuffle drumming from Zampa. Bell's solo is also very good. He aquits himself very well on this album and it seems that his songwriting partnership with Christian is very solid. He never overplays and his solos always fit well within the song. Overall, Precious Metal is a very good album from a band who I will be definitely checking out much more in future. The two main members of the band, Christian and Bell, are both awesome and I would love to hear more of their work. Anyone who likes melodic rock will love this album!

The album was released on 24th February 2014 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Battle.

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