Album Review: Phil Campbell – Old Lions Still Roar

The last couple of years haven’t exactly been quiet for Phil Campbell. After the release of The Age of Absurdity with the Bastard Sons, (even before it), the band toured relentlessly and when we spoke with Tyla last year, he mentioned a solo album from Campbell Senior has been in the works for some time. Finally, sharing with the world the fruits of his labours, it’s been worth the wait.

With an apt title, Old Lions Still Roar shows Phil Campbell not only still has plenty to offer the world but how versatile a guitarist he is. Where the Bastard Sons did that to an extent, this goes one better with each of the ten tracks with their own individual rock style and personality, reflected by featuring different vocalists and anchored with Campbell’s recognisable riffing. Think of this as when Slash did the same a decade ago to launch his own solo career. It’s simply his own spin on it.

Whilst there’s a number of household vocalists across the tracks, it’s not just them who are lending their talents. There’s guest spots from Mick Mars, Matt Sorum, Chris Fehn, Joe Satriani, Chuck Garric and more all lending their respective talents to tracks. And there’s plenty of contributions from Campbell’s sons for good measure with Tyla, Todd and Dane all featured in songs with a number of combinations from them to back up dad. However, if you’re looking for all three on one number, you’re going to be disappointed as it never happens and vocalist Neil Starr is nowhere to be seen.

That said, the album flows in a way that you’re never left wanting for a Bastard Sons song. You just want to hear who Campbell has teamed up with on the next track and where the assembled musicians are going to take it and what sub-genre they’ll visit. Namely, this is dictated by the vocalist and Campbell has paired the vocals perfectly with the meat of the song. From the opening acoustic and Southern twangs of “Rocking Chair”, it’s obvious this isn’t going to be what you expected. Leon Standford’s (The People The Poet) biography of Campbell sets the rest of the album up as one bookend to the other – the atmospheric and melancholic instrumental closer “Tears From a Glass Eye”.

Where these two tracks are the least likely you’d expect from Phil Campbell, everything between it varies from the expected to unconventional. Despite there being very little to tie it all together, as an album, it flows perfectly. If this had been a band releasing this, the first thing you’d accuse it of being is inconsistent. Yet it’s that very nature which makes this so enjoyable to listen to. There’s traditional hard rock/metal on “Straight Up” and “These Old Boots” (Rob Halford and Dee Snider, respectively lending their vocal talents – both of whom are in fine form here). Elsewhere, to complete the old guard of vocalists, Alice Cooper snarls his way through the bombastic rocker “Swing It”.

Elsewhere, for the less conventional Phil Campbell tones, there’s the stomping doom-filled “Faith in the Fire” (Ben Ward) and the sleazy “Walk the Talk” (Nick Oliveri who also provides bass on the track). “Dancing Dogs (Love Survives)” has old friend Whitfield Crane feature on a dirty, grungy number with a dark glint to it. Meanwhile, there’s the tamest moments of the album – “Left For Dead” (Nev MacDonald) strays into AOR. It’s poppy without veering into sickly sweet territory. Then, there’s “Dead Roses” which features Benji Webbe of Skindred. This one goes full power ballad, more focusing on keys and you half-expect a “Careless Whisper” saxophone to chime in. However, whilst Campbell takes a backseat on this one, it does something better than that – shows the real power and range Webbe can put into his vocals. He should be doing more of this but that’s mainly because Skindred are, frankly, a bit shit.

As his first true solo effort, Old Lions Still Roar is some of Phil Campbell’s best work. It displays how diverse his guitar work can be whilst still stamped all over with his signature sound. No two songs come close to sounding similar, nor do you want them to be. And whilst this may have been several years in the making, it’s been worth the wait, showing there’s still plenty of life in the old dog.

Old Lions Still Roar is released on 25th October

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