If, like me, the appearance every couple of years of a new album from James Christian under the House of Lords banner has started to become less and less of an eagerly-awaited event and more and more an exercise in trying to stoke up some enthusiasm for something you know isn’t going to bowl you over, then you could be forgiven for not even investigating the band’s new album, brought to you under the unprepossessing title of Saints and Sinners

Indeed, after the title track (which is also the opening track of the album) has receded from memory, you’ll probably be thinking the same thing as I was: Like every other thing they’ve done in the last ten years, it’s OK, nothing more, nothing less. Competent. But then, as the album wends it’s way through another ten tracks – at least three of which will come to be seen as being amongst the best this band has ever committed to wax – you begin to realise that you are in the presence of something really rather splendid indeed.

The key to this for the most part – and I don’t want to underplay the importance of anybody else involved – is the presence in the band of AOR God Mark Mangold; Mangold, you’ll remember, had a hand in writing not only the greatest AOR anthem of all time, Touch‘s Don’t You Know What Love Is, but also Michael Bolton‘s staggeringly epic Everybody’s Crazy elpee and a slew of Titanic releases with his own band Drive, She Said… and his contributions here, both as a songwriter and a player, elevate this album to true behemothic status.

If anything, Mangold’s ivory-tinkling presence returns the band to it’s initial status in the mind of founder member Gregg Giuffria as a keyboard-led pomp rock band; Certainly tracks like House of The Lord, Take It All, Avalanche and Takin’ My Heart Back look back more to the days of the band’s first couple of albums then they do to more recent efforts, and for that long term fans will surely be weeping tears of joy when they get to hear this remarkable album.

Take It All is pure AOR nirvana; dramatic, overblown… all the good things; based around a frankly staggering vocal from Christian, if you’re body doesn’t resemble one giant goosebump after hearing the chorus for the first time there’s a fair chance you’re not listening to the same album as me… Guitarist Jimi Bell adds a classically concise solo to proceedings, crisp and to the point, but it’s the wall of parping keys and tear jerking vocals that make this track one for the ages.

Avalanche sends the drama needle deeper into the red, pushing Christian’s voice to it’s limits and then some, whilst perhaps the best of all is Takin My Heart Back; a high speed-slice of cruisy radio rock, this really takes you back to band’s glory days via a multi-layered refrain – Christian really excels himself here – another scorching solo from Bell and Mangold’s oh-so-classy keyboard interjections on the chorus that will spark off scenes of PURE AOR MANIA in your living room the first time you hear them. I’m not even joking.

Elsewhere Road Warrior tweaks the pomp levels to maximum, replete with virtuosic playing from Mangold and power drumming from new guy Johan Koleberg who combine to ramp up the drama in best seventies-era Deep Purple fashion, but really the fun doesn’t stop wherever you drop the needle. Others may disagree – and that’s their prerogative – but for this reviewer, Saints and Sinners is, pound-for-pound, the best, most consistent album James Christian has delivered under the House of Lords imprint since 1990’s Sahara. Stunning stuff.

Saints and Sinners releases on September 16th.