Among the original flock who got penned in with that New Wave Of British Heavy Metal tag coined by Geoff Barton back in 1979. Praying Mantis tended towards a more melodic hard rock nuance than the savage sound of heavy metal that was proffered by most of their contemporaries – That they’d come into existence even earlier, in 1973, is likely down to the fact the band has always featured brothers Tino and Chris Troy, on guitar and bass respectively,
Aside from them, in and out over the years, in between the period the band split, have been members previously with Iron Maiden, and who’ve gone on to play with the likes of Sweet, Uriah Heep and Michael Schenker.
Katharsis is now the third album to include vocalist Jaycee Cuijpers, drummer Hans in’t Zandt, and fellow guitarist Andy Burgess. Much of this I recall from memory, or recent news footage, because it transpires; I’ve not picked up a disc by the band for nearly two decades, with The Journey Goes On.
Prior to that release I’d considered them similar to US rock act Riot, in their overall rock stance, but with a certain sense of melancholy, that I believe may be a folk vestige of the Troy brothers’ Turkish Cypriot heritage – Now, if I’m wrong on that aspect don’t sue me, Praying Mantis’ official website has had a major overhaul since last I ventured there, and their focus looks to be on the current line-up and their activities not their past.
Previous shifting line-ups, and for a long period signed to a Japanese record label, where they maintained a solid following and predominantly played live, meant they’ve not gained a stronghold in the UK, rarely performing live here over the years. That’s changed in more recent times however, and no doubt down to the solidified band membership. Prior to this review, our esteemed editor informed me he’d seen them live not so long back and how impressed he was.
Thus, contemplating this review, I dug deep and got to give most of their back catalogue a listen, and in keeping an ongoing line-up it’s obvious it has given them a more solid identity – One where you can see them gaining further traction on mainland Europe, and listening to this new album it’s easy to picture them slotting into what (pre-covid) was aa healthy rock festival circuit over there, without any due fuss.
The most apparent aspect of that is with Dutch singer Jaycee Cuijpers. His voice, as evidence on opening number ‘Cry For The Nations’ favours that Dio-gutteral roar so many of the continent’s mainstream metal bands try to assimilate. When he opts less for that sore-throat stylisation the timbre of his voice lies more comfortably between Graham Bonnet and the late John Lawton’s.
‘Cry For The Nations’ begins with a gentle piano played affectively in a sub-classical manner and as rhythm section accentuate this it evokes the kind of theme music one might expect from some televised drama series set in a pastoral location but within seconds we’re galloping in a sprightly manner, guitars slashing away with Cuijpers in anguished plea: “Cry for the children, cry for the nations”. Sadly, it all sounds far too timely with all that’s happening in Ukraine as I type. The guitars join his final scream as they surge towards soloing conclusion, the piano motif replaying with the song’s final embers, and as entry point for the album it gets a thumbs up.
Piano again opens ‘Closer To Heaven’ with a gentle “Ohh” espoused before it takes on a mid-paced melodic metal stance, that’s big on harmonies come the chorus. Sat to one side of the power metal brigade, in so doing, it again calls to mind the celluloid world, but here epic movies like Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, while in truth it’s a love song, and you wouldn’t get folk phoning in complaining were it to be released as a single and heard on mainstream radio (whatever that actually is these days).
Aside from a selection of guitar squeaking histrionics, ‘Ain’t No Rock ‘N’ Roll In Heaven’ is one of those standard three chord rock declarations about the almighty power of rock, and it’s followed a little later by ‘Long Time Coming’ that proves a little crasser to these ears – These kind-of-numbers tend not to appeal to me, thought I accept they’re enjoyed by many a fist-in-the-air pumper. ‘Non Omnis Moriar’ sits between the two, and is akin to the first number but more Euro-melodic with some melancholy present while also taking in side routes of instrumental diversion.
‘Sacrifice’ is a slow dramatic power ballad big on harmonies but without the expected guitar solo climax. Keyboards and guitar mingle nicely on ‘Wheels In Motion’ that cruises sweetly in an AOR manner, pacing nicely, varying harmony arrangement and sections again that feel nicely appropriate for background music for movies etc.
Strident while keeping to a slow pace, broken chords invoke incantations, and our singer pours on the Dio-like roar through ‘Masquerade’, the tempo only increasing in the last minute and an impressive guitar run briefly heard during the opening section returns to cast enchantments.
As for ‘Find Our Way Back Home’ – This one came out of a totally different box: an electronic Eurobeat with a little Roxette AOR, Foreigner big ballad choral sections, and yet something that evokes vintage Whitesnake balladry too. This smorgasbord shouldn’t work but I found it quite compelling.
‘Don’t Call Us Now’ returns us to what I would call familiar Praying Mantis tropes with its peddling rock steady beat and somewhat tearful guitar melodies. An instrumental electric folk section falls to the background as searing twin guitars ensue, and in the last 50 seconds it suddenly speeds up and almost parodies that whole NWOHM sound they helped originate but brings a smile on your face in doing so. If you played this one to an old Uriah Heep fan they’d swear it was John Lawton on vocals.
Looping melodies – from guitars, bass and keyboards – find form in a majestic broad-sword swinging rocker, that’s big on the “Oh-a-ohs” with some choice lyrics, not least “Heaven’s closed for business” in ‘The Devil Never Changes’ – which, I fear, is where we came in, reflecting on the world at large. Some very tasty solos, of differing tones phase in over the latter half of this number and put that sour reflection on reality to one side for a while and we’re left to contemplate Katharsis as a whole.
Praying Mantis’ 12th studio album, written collectively by the band I believe; it lasts just over an hour. If you’re a fan already, it’s the most cohesive from this line-up. Personally, I found I needed to hear it a few times to appreciate the album’s overall intent and ambition. While not everything worked for me, I’ll certainly keep a closer ear to the band’s activities in the future, and should they actually pursue the production of music for film, and TV I’d also be happy to give that a listen.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Katharsis is released via Frontiers Music and is available now.
- Official Website
- Cry For The Nations
- Closer To Heaven
- Ain’t No Rock ‘N’ Roll In Heaven
- Non Omnis Moriar
- Long Time Coming
- Wheels In Motion
- Find Our Way Back Home
- Don’t Call Us Now
- The Devil Never Changes