I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Lionize. Mixing up enough Hammond Organ to make Arnold Rimmer ecstatic, stinging guitars with enough bite to earn the band a place at Bloodstock and huge washes of psychedelia potent enough to give you a contact high, the band feel like they were buried in a time capsule, just waiting to be dug up at an opportune moment. This is far from the band’s debut, however, and ‘Nuclear Soul’ is the band’s sixth LP (not to mention numerous EPs and singles) since 2005. You may enter into the experience unconvinced, but lend the band your ears for a few songs, and you’ll soon find yourself evangelizing with the rest of us for ‘Nuclear Soul’ is, quite simply, a glorious album.
Opening with ‘Darkest timeline’, a thrilling head-rush of a song that draws upon the dusty soul of the Black Crowes, the road rock of Steppenwolf and the arch psyche-rock of the Doors to exquisite effect. Nathan Bergman may sing about having “American blues”, but he does so with a twinkle in his eye and if you can resist Chris Brooks’ mental exertions upon the Hammond Organ, then all hope is lost for you. ‘Face of Mars’ offers no less energy, Chase Lapp’s inventive trips around the kit leading the band into a funky groove underpinned by Henry Upton. A million miles away from the American Blues of the first track, it sounds like a mad social-scientist swirling Bootsy Collins and Deep Purple (Mk III) into one delicious brew and the track builds to one hell of a climax. It’s time to relax the pace a touch and the Pink Floyd meets Gomez prog rock of ‘Fire in Athena’ offers up dusty vocals, harmonised leads and odd shifts that take the listener by surprise repeatedly, yet without diminishing the power of the song’s epic chorus. Aptly titled, although it takes a minute to figure that out, ‘Power grid’ offers up a number of false starts before kicking into a gleeful riff that is one part AC/DC to two parts ZZ Top. Bluesy, soulful and full of energy, it’s a cracking track and the necessary corollary is the gentle, late-night blues of ‘Ain’t it a shame’ with its shimmering leads and somnolent beat. If you’re going to summon up a carnival atmosphere, it probably should be on a track entitled ‘Election year’, for what better theme can you provide for a bunch of clowns on the march? Whimsical, rather like soul asylum playing in a big top, it’s Chris Brooks’ Hammond keys that make the track, although Nathan lays down some suitably blistering riffs to keep things on the right side of rock ‘n’ roll.
The album’s longest track, ‘March of the clones’ is based around a mental, arpeggiated, organ riff. A chugging monster with grinding guitars and huge chords thrown out in a manner that recalls Led Zeppelin at their heaviest, it also offers up plenty of space for the audience to get involved, and it’s easy to imagine the track going over famously in the live environment. A slow blues, ‘Let you down’ is a reflective piece that is all the more poignant for how far it strips back the more esoteric elements the band throw in elsewhere. Next up, the brief weirdness of ‘The mad scientist of sunshine’ gives way to the strangely reflective ‘nuclear soul’, a song that hints at a love of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis with its naked vocal, rich Hammond lines and gorgeous melodies. Ending the album on an exquisite high, Lionize tear into the manic ‘blindness to danger’ as if their collective lives depend on it. It sees the album out on a surge of adrenalin and it’s another track that you can easily imagine pouring gasoline upon the mosh pit and tossing in a match.
So, what to make of Lionize? Gloriously contradictory, their influences lies all over the spectrum, their energy knows no bounds and, most importantly, they’re a whole heap of fun. Not exactly retro, but not the future either, their gleeful mixing of influences makes them a timeless rock ‘n’ roll band as likely to be thrilling audiences in ten years as much as now. ‘Nuclear soul’ is a huge, joyful, multi-coloured beast of a record and one that will brighten your days for years to come. Buy it! 9