Praying Mantis – Sanctuary (2009, Frontiers Records)
- In Time
- Restless Heart
- Tears In The Rain
- So High
- Turn The Tide
- Touch The Rainbow
- Threshold Of A Dream
- Playing God
Tino Troy – Guitars, Keyboards & Vocals
Chris Troy – Bass, Keyboards & Vocals
Mike Freeland – Lead Vocals
Andy Burgess - Guitars, Keyboards & Vocals
Benjy Reid – Drums/Percussion
Producer: Andy Reilly
Country: United Kingdom
Total Time = 51:18
I have always been a big fan of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement from the early 1980s and I always make it a point to check out the new albums that some of the continuing bands release. Back in the day, I remember reading a lot about their debut TIME TELLS NO LIES (1981) in a lot of the Rock magazines and I eventually picked it up as well as some of their other albums I discovered when I started to research some of the classic bands in the late ’90s. Despite being lumped in with the rest of the up and coming bands of the NWOBHM era, Praying Mantis always seemed to have a different style to their music: more Melodic Hard Rock and AOR than all out Heavy Metal. When I read that Praying Mantis was releasing their first new album in six years, I knew that I was going to pick it up and that it would be a good record.
Let’s talk about the band lineup first. The Troy brothers (Tino & Chris) have always been the mainstays of the band and they are joined by touring members Benjy Reid (drums) and Andy Burgess (guitars, keyboards) so there is a consistent base. One thing Praying Mantis is known for is numerous lineup changes, especially at the vocal spot. Former singers include some big names like Doogie White, Gary Barden, Paul Di’anno and Bernie Shaw…..now add Mike Freeland (ex-More, ex-Nemesis) to the list! Freeland has a very melodic voice but with a lot of power and range, he kind of reminds me of Joe Lynn Turner a bit because his singing sounds so effortless and melodic. Also maybe Toby Hitchcock from Pride Of Lions and Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, current Place Vendome). Freeland doesn’t have that high Metal range like a Ralf Scheepers or Geoff Tate in his prime but he has a solid singing voice that fits the music perfectly.
SANCTUARY starts off with the melodic Metal of ‘In Time’, it has some Power Metal characteristics at times with driving drums and excellent guitar work but the song leans towards the melodic side half the time. Some high vocals here from Freeland set the bar high for the rest of the record. ‘Restless Heart’ reminds me of Journey and Survivor with a powerful lead guitar and vocal harmonies as does the mid-tempo ‘Tears In The Rain’. Both songs have that solid blend of guitar harmonies, complimentary keyboards and excellent vocals…..songs that would have been radio singles back when radio was good! Momentum picks up again with the Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow style of ‘So High’, my favorite song off the album. It’s very melodic but Hard Rock and the band sounds energetic and fluid performing with ease and the vocals are top notch. ‘So High’ has that melodic hook that gets you cranking the stereo and singing along.
A piano and acoustic guitar intro opens the smooth ballad ‘Turn The Tide’ that has really great vocals harmonies like AOR greats Survivor and Journey but Freeland has that smooth JLT thing going again and it fits the track perfectly. I’m a sucker for an acoustic based song and the guitarwork on ‘Turn the Tide’ is superb. Praying Mantis picks up the tempo again with another Rainbow influenced song, ‘Touch The Rainbow’, and the melodic Metal of ‘Threshhold Of A Dream’. Both songs show off the excellent axework and vocals but I found myself concentrating on Benjy Reid’s drums and Chris Troy’s bass, a solid rhythm throughout the entire album, it sounds like they’ve been together for years. ‘Playing God’ gets heavy with a thick main riff and solid guitar solos but there is that melodic touch that Praying Mantis adds in that really makes the song memorable…..this is how it is over the entire record and that makes a good record! Moving back to the ’80s AOR of Journey, Bad English and Toto, ‘Highway’ is an excellent melodic song that would have been a hit single back in the day. It’s a very commercial, radio friendly song that is the polar opposite of the band’s NWOBHM roots but Praying Mantis are so versatile that they can play different styles with ease. The album ends with the title track ‘Sanctuary’, a six minute melodic Hard Rock feast.
I went into SANCTUARY expecting Praying Mantis to pull out a heavy, NWOBHM styled album but instead they produced one of the best melodic rock albums I’ve heard this year. There are heavier and faster songs, a couple of ballads and a few mid-tempos that all blend in together perfectly to make SANCTUARY a top album of 2009. The Troy brothers are still the solid anchors they’ve been since the late ’70s and they are complimented well by both Burgess and Reid but the standout has to be new singer Mike Freeland. Freeland puts in a solid performance showing he can sing both the harder and softer side of Hard Rock with good tone and range, he is definitely the man to fill the vocal slot in Praying Mantis for years to come. If you like ’80s styled AOR/Melodic Rock with a heavier updated twist, then SANCTUARY is well worth picking up.
I really enjoyed the entire album but the standouts for me were ‘Restless Heart’, ‘Tears In The Rain’, ‘Turn The Tide’ and ‘Heaven’/