I have to admit to being new to the Lionize camp and to be honest it appears like I have quite a lot to catch up on as these boys are extremely prolific; releasing at least a short album every year for the past few years it seems.
I had a little bit of a preconception as to what they were going to sound like, partly based upon the name Lionize. I mean, I agree, lions are very metal aren’t they? But instantly I am thinking reggae influences, stoner rock maybe. The other preconception is that I had heard one track off the album already and it was very Hammond organ driven. So, I am thinking, dubby, reggae-ish, space-rock driven by 60s organs.
Having a dig through the Lionize back catalogue to an extent, I am not wrong – these influences certainly can be heard. The aspects of reggae they have used, though, are the captivating drum and bass lines, which is actually what punk did in the 70s. The further injustice comes when listening to this new release Nuclear Soul because once you peel back the layers, the influences are much wider-ranging than I am giving them credit for, and the subtleties and scope on this album makes it an engaging, interesting and altogether surprising piece of work. The moral of this story? Don’t prejudge because you may just be turning your back and closing your ears to a whole new world ready to open up to you.
Lionize themselves are a Maryland-based band and have been jamming together since 2004. They are old school friends and this relationship and familiarity provides for a solid foundation. Nuclear Sounds is the first full album for the past few years and there seems to be a lot of interest in the guys at the moment with their set at Bloodstock Open Air going down very well last weekend. What Lionize are also able to do is straddle many camps and they apparently went down just as well at the Ramblin’ Man Festival. This is because at the core of Lionize’s heart is a blues rock that is both familiar, carrying the ages of American blues in the voice and riffs, and fresh at the same time.
The album is topped and tailed with those Hammond heavy tracks and it has taken me a while to look around that to see what’s underneath. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with an organ on a track but it’s just not one of my favourite instruments and I don’t think it is overly representative of Nuclear Soul either. What both of the tracks do have, though, is an energy and rock that sweeps you along, and if you love that sound they probably are some of the stronger tracks.
What I like most about Nuclear Soul is that whilst every track is clearly Lionize they are able to bring in a whole range of different influences to add a special twist to that blues rock sound, and it works well. On “Face of Mars” I can’t but help that the funkiness of the beat and the way the guitars and bass are played reminds me a lot of Living Color at their best. It’s a great combination; the funkiness of the instruments with strong vocals, and a great chorus. Another song with a strong influence is “Fire in Athena”. The first slower building song of the album and for me one of the strongest on there. It has a vulnerability to the vocals as it begins but the track and the vocals find strength with the introduction of the instruments and it projects a band mentality, a brotherhood. This is further cemented with the excellent use of a Thin Lizzy guitar and a catchy chorus. An excellent song and I think the one on the album that allows you to see Lionize in a different way.
It is another of the slower songs that next caught my ears. “Ain’t it a Shame”. It’s difficult for me to put my finger on exactly what it is about Lionize that works so well, especially on some of the slower moments. That’s is a certain depth and timelessness to the sound that draws you in. You want to hear the story; nothing appears to be overcooked. Lionize at heart are a laid-back type of band and if you are prepared to listen, they are prepared to tell the story. One song that does have that organ sound but caught my attention on the first play through of the album was “Election Year”. I think the message in itself seems pretty clear with its “Don’t trust the government” chorus and tales of liberty.
So, Nuclear Soul is a record that is going to take you on a journey, at times it’s going to want to make you dance, at others we are going to get a can of beer, sit on the porch and reminisce the night away before getting up in the morning and bringing down the government. For a band that I initially suspected to be purveyors of a more stoner style copycat of rock I couldn’t be more wrong. One thing is for sure, these guys have soul and lots of it and they also have the talent, ability and lyrics to turn around even the most of cynical of us.
Nuclear Soul is out on September 8th 2017