Lion's Share - Dark hours 4.5/5

Reviewed: 5-8-09





Tracklist:

1. Judas must die
2. Phantom rider
3. Demon in your mind
4. Heavy cross to bear
5. The bottomless pit
6. Full metal jacket
7. The Presidio 27
8. Barker ranch
9. Napalm nights
10. Space scam
11. Behind the curtain


Honestly, I have a feeling that most people have no idea how good Lion's Share have become. Their last 2 CDs are amazing, yet they don't appear to have made much of a ripple, given how little chatter they have generated on the Internet sites I frequent and in my circle of metal friends. I've got a couple of theories as to why. Maybe people still associate them with guitarist/mastermind Lars Chriss's initial incarnation of the band in the mid-to-late-90s. Sure, Lion's Share were a fine band in those days, with the superb Andy Engberg on vocals, but the lush, pompous power-prog style was not the most thrilling. So maybe people assume that Lion's Share are still prowling the same stylistic territory as they did on their first 4 CDs. That assumption would be gravely erroneous, as Lion's Share today are a far darker, more aggressive, heavier, faster and more exciting beast than the "Mark I" version of the band was. Or maybe people find the cover art of the last couple of CDs unappealing and off-putting. I could understand that reaction. Certainly, that armless, headless, miserable-looking mascot is one of the most hideous creatures in heavy metal today this side of a Cannibal Corpse sleeve. Or maybe Lion's Share have just been lost in the shuffle because, for whatever reason, they've failed to curry favor with BW&BK, ProgPower, and other taste makers.

Whatever the reason may be, the fact of the matter is that, if you haven't checked out this band recently, you are missing out on some of the finest traditional metal to emerge from the iron-rich shores of Sweden in years. My jaw was left scraping the floor last year when Lion's Share's 2007 CD, 'Emotional coma', finally secured a U.S. release. In my Metal CD Ratings review, I raved about the superb vocal performance of Patrik Johansson (Astral Doors, Wuthering Heights, Space Odyssey) and the uniformly high quality of the diverse songwriting on display. Looking back, my 4/5 rating of 'Emotional coma' seems a bit stingy. Well, folks, 'Dark hours' is even better. Right out of the gate, this CD explodes with the ripping, blistering "Judas must die", probably the best song the Chriss/Johansson/Axelsson composing team has ever written and among the strongest tracks of 2009 so far. "Phantom rider" juxtaposes creepy verses (lyrically and musically) with a brilliant anthemic chorus, topped off by Johansson's soaring voice. Elsewhere, "Heavy cross to bear" effectively channels the haunting spirit, vibe and atmosphere of 'Headless cross'-era Sabbath. Then there's "The Presidio 27", a splendid track contrasting mellow verses with a chugging, fiery chorus. It's an exercise in futility to start reciting highlights on this CD, because the writing is so good that you will find no weak links in these 11 songs. I love the fact that Lion's Share are equally adept at the faster, thrashier tunes and the more atmospheric tracks, with everything unified by a dark mood, a totally heavy approach, a common lyrical thread (tackling some of the more somber episodes of the 60s, such as Vietnam, the Manson killings, the Presidio mutiny, and others), and of course the band's uncanny knack for penning great melodies.

Don't be misled by the "traditional metal" tag, either. 'Dark hours' is not some dusty, retro, throwback 80s-styled CD. In fact, it doesn't come across as dated at all, but feels fresh, alive, vibrant and infused with crackling energy. If pressed for style comparisons, I would describe this CD as Savatage at its darkest/heaviest, mixed with the Dio and Tony Martin eras of Black Sabbath, with a touch of Smolski-era Rage (for the heaviness, energy, dynamics and aggressive guitar playing) and a sprinkling of Astral Doors (mostly because of Johansson's voice) thrown in for good measure. Think razor-sharp riffing, sublime hooks, and what is probably the finest vocal performance of Johansson's star-studded discography.

If any of this sounds appetizing to you at all, track down 'Dark hours' without delay. It wipes the floor with what most of the so-called genre leaders are doing these days. It is eminently worthy of your support, your time, and your hard-earned money. And, perhaps best of all, it is readily available for a reasonable price in the U.S. thanks to the expansive distribution enjoyed by Chriss's label, Blistering Records. Now sit back and hear this lion roar!



KIT




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