Thursday, August 13, 2015

Album Review: Praying Mantis - Legacy

Praying Mantis is one of those bands that has been around nearly forever, but has never really garnered much attention. They've been releasing records for the better part of three decades, but few outside of the hardcore melodic rock/metal fans will have had much experience with their music. Myself, I don't come into this album blind, as I have heard some of their music before. Specifically, their one outing with former Michael Schenker Group singer Gary Barden, who appeared on one album, and did a great job of helping Praying Mantis make some really good melodic rock/metal. I will admit that I often forget about that record, and rediscover it every so often, but I do know that Praying Mantis is one of those bands that I should spend more time enjoying.

So for this new album, we're dealing with the latest incarnation of the band, which features yet another new singer (it's a bit of a Spinal Tap situation). This time around it's Jayce Cuijpers behind the mic, and he continues the band's tradition of being able to recruit solid singers to fill out their ranks, even if they can't manage to keep any of them long enough to gel an identity. Cuijpers has a more metallic tone to his voice, and gives it his all through the album, even when a bit more restraint might be useful.

"Fight For Your Honor" opens things off with a bombastic keyboard riff, and the song itself is an 80s style beast, with plenty of cheesy keyboard lines running in the background, and a chorus that has an ample hook. In many ways, it reminds me a lot of a song that could have been on the first three Dio records, which is always a good way to start off an album. "The One" completely shifts gears, going from Dio to Bon Jovi. It's amazing how well Cuijpers is able to channel the tone of Jon Bon Jovi's voice here, which definitely makes the song more enjoyable. That being said, like most of what Bon Jovi has written in the last twenty years, it's a song that's too laid-back to really be gripping.

The band's bread and butter is in writing energetic rock songs, which they do often enough here to afford them the occasional experiment. Songs like "Believable" are what you expect from Praying Mantis, and even though it does absolutely nothing new, it's just as satisfying. A great song is a great song, whether you can see it coming or not.

Speaking of those experiments, "Tokyo" would qualify as one, with some Eastern feeling being integrated into the instrumentation. It is a bit of a gimmick, using stereotypical Japanese sounds in a song about Tokyo, but I can forgive it when the core of the song is strong enough. When you get to the hook, it's the kind of huge chorus that I imagine an arena filled with fans would be singing with the band when they tour Japan.

Now we get to the crux of the problem for a band like Praying Mantis. I thoroughly enjoyed my previous experience with them, and this album is also a solid collection of songs, but it's also a forgettable album. While the songs are good, there isn't a unique hook about anything the album offers up. The riffing builds songs without standing out, the melodies are solid but never remarkable, and even the guitar and keyboard tones have been done dozens of times. None of that is the band's fault, but it does make it harder for this kind of record to stand out among the huge quantities of music that are constantly coming out. "Legacy" is a good album, for sure, and I enjoy it quite a bit, but I just don't see Praying Mantis having a strong enough personality to cut through and make me remember them.

Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that they are always breaking in new singers, and can't spend multiple albums honing a specific sound, but I would just be speculating. What I will say is that "Legacy" shows that Praying Mantis is still making good records, even if they do get lost in the shuffle sometimes.

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