Nuclear Soul by LionizeRelease date: September 8, 2017
Label: The End Records
While seemingly regarded as Clutch apprentices may have had some benefits – guest appearances on your albums and bagging tour slots – there comes a time when Lionize will have to step out on their own to further form their own identity. On their sixth album, Nuclear Soul, they have departed from their Maryland pioneers Weathermaker records to sign with The End label. However, the Clutch association isn’t entirely cast adrift as Clutch’s Jean-Paul Gastor is among the collaborative production team along with J. Robbins and Lionize themselves.
There are a few marked differences to this latest release as they trim their progressive genre exploring urges where they can be prone to veer off into reggae and dub, and other further afield musical quests. While diversity isn’t a bad thing, on Nuclear Soul they do instead demonstrate a notable directness, instantly punchy, fat reduced, riffy rock overload satisfaction. The production, coinciding with the song writing is sharp, crisp, and as modern as the classic rock template can possibly ever sound.
Lionize burst out of the blocks like prime era Usain Bolt with a supercharged vibrancy and tightly controlled attention to song writing detail. The songs boast the energy of Clutch fed through classic era Deep Purple and UFO without ever sounding like copying their heroes. From the opening keyboard wizardry of ‘Darkest Timeline’ to the spirited funk rock of ‘Face Of Mars’ via the vibrant riffy rush of ‘Power Grid’, the rollicking drive of ‘Blindness To Danger’ and the heavy pummelling riffage of ‘March Of The Clones’, are all startling demonstrations of a lean, pumped up Lionize.
And these are songs which, after several listens, eventually encourage big sing along to moments. Whether it’s to the current social/political worrying times of the ‘Darkest Timeline’, “You know I’ve got American Blues”, “We’re on the darkest timeline”. Continues with the hip shaking urgency of ‘Election Year’, “Don’t trust the government, it’s a pack of lies, it’s a fantasy about liberty” warns Nate. Believe me, you will bellow along making political uncertainty, or future dystopian sci-fi (it’s all open to interpretation), never sound so enjoyable.
While Chris Brooks exemplary speedy Hammond Keyboard and Nate Bergman’s nifty guitar riffs collide in exciting fashion all over the record. To the contrasting reflective, astutely pitched, soul/rock ballad of ‘Ain’t It A Shame’ as they skilfully avoid sugary sentimental trappings. Oh, and let’s not exclude the fine Thin Lizzy esque ‘Fire In Athena’. The melodies and choruses throughout are huge!
There a couple of missteps though as ‘Let You Down’ does indeed do what the title informs. It is a second-rate Joe Cocker ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ ballad belter attempt. It lacks the impassioned pull the Sheffield gutsy balladry bruiser could expertly muster in his prime. And the title track itself, which again doesn’t quite succeed in delivering a deep emotional depth it is no doubt aiming for, though vocalist Nate does give it a fair crack of the whip.
But despite these two miss-firings, and even though British rockers Inglorious may be currently lapping up all the attention by the classic rock media, it is Lionize who have made the most thrilling, most lyrically universally relevant classic rock album this reviewer has heard this year so far. Nuclear Soul is the sound of a band in control, focused, and clear of their musical direction. They have achieved the triumphant combination of sounding creatively fresh, aided by memorable riffy hooks, with a strong song writing prowess which comes from an expanding confidence and experience. The apprentices have grown their mane to come of age.