Three albums in to their ‘Dutch Period’ NWoBHM stalwarts Praying Mantis have delivered the record we’ve always known this particular iteration of the band was capable of. In short, it’s a near-faultless exposition of melodic hard rock, boosted further by the fact that the band aren’t afraid to take a few left turns along the way in their quest to strengthen their already-impressive legacy.
Opening track Cry For The Nations might share it’s title with a venerable old Michael Schenker tune, but it’s undoubtedly Praying Mantis through and through, reaching it’s cruising speed early thanks to some nice drumming from Hans In ’T Zandt and ramming it’s point home with some classy vocalising from John ‘Jaycee’ Cuijpers. However, good though this track is, it’s likely your memory of it will be completely wiped by the off-the-scale AOR grandeur of second track Closer To Heaven. PM have always tilted towards the more melodic end of metal, and with this track they tip completely over the edge into the pastel-shaded dustcoat abyss. It’s absolutely marvellous, with the Neal Schon-styled solo from (I’m assuming) Tino Troy setting off a goosebump revolution across any areas of flesh you may have left inadvertently uncovered whilst listening. As I write, it’s not even the end of January but if this track isn’t near the top of my own particular tree at the end of the year then we’re in for one hell of a listening ride in 2022.
Ain’t No Rock n’Roll In Heaven is a serviceable, straight-down-the-line rocker that’ll go down a storm live but is probably the weak point in an otherwise bulletproof album; Things pick up again however with the portentous Non Omnis Moriar (which my Latin-speaking editor tells me means something like ‘I Will Not Completely Die’), which is followed by the strutting Long Time Coming which chronicles the band’s early days in a sunny, rose-tinted fashion that harnesses the ghosts of Bad Company and Boston in freewheeling, smile-inducing fashion.
The AOR counter revs up again on superb power ballad Sacrifice; Tino and guitar partner Andy Burgess add some nice harmony work here as Cuijpers sets the control for the heart of the , um, heart with an impassioned performance that may yet come to be seen as his classiest yet under the Mantis banner. It’s sumptuous, timeless stuff, and another reminder of the sometimes underrated songwriting smarts that lurk within this band.
Biggest surprise is Wheels In Motion, where bassist Chris Troy takes over the mic to deliver a classy vocal. Completely different in style and tone to Cuijpers (I thought he sounded a bit like West End crooner Matt Monroe – rapidly ageing Ed) yet still fitting the Mantis mould in fine style, long term Praying Mantis fans are going to absolutely lap up his tour de force performance on this track, which is so good you might find yourself hankering after a few more doses of the man’s laid back vocal offerings on future releases.
Normal service resumes with the stately pomp metal of Masquerade, a slow-burning track that builds on some ominous riffage and another powerful but controlled performance from Cuijpers; Tino and Burgess again add some winning harmony flourishes to the mix, underlining again just what a tight, battle-ready unit this lineup has become. Find Our Way Back Home, with it’s eighties synth backdrop, carries the air of the epic pop produced in that decade by names like John Farnham (that’s enough dustcoats – Ed), although thankfully these guys don’t feel the need to break out the bagpipes, preferring instead to simply build up the tension and drama throughout the song’s duration right up to it’s gospel choir-assisted climax. Again, this is classy, superbly executed stuff that’ll drag the smile on your dial from ear to ear every time you put the track on…
Did I mention left turns? Well, how about the jaunty Don’t Call Us Now, which starts quietly like one of those Gary Moore instrumentals from the seventies before seeing the Troy brothers draw on their Greek heritage for some unexpected musical jollies. Praying Mantis in folk metal storm? Not quite, but again, this track shows that Praying Mantis in 2022 are comfortable enough in their own skins to give anything a go if they think a song demands it – and that’s something worth applauding. When In ’T Zandt gets his power metal kick drums going mid song, accompanied by some fine dual lead work from Troy and Burgess, you won’t be able to keep still, I guarantee it!
The album closes with longest track The Devil Never Changes, another classic in waiting with – you guessed it – yet more impressive guitar work from Troy and Burgess and a fine, commanding vocal from Cuijpers. And a nice nod to fellow Brit rock institution UFO on the fade out… Praying Mantis have rarely, if ever, released a duff album, but in Katharsis they’ve put something out that’s truly fit to sit at the top table of their output over the last forty-odd years. More power to them, and long may they continue in this rich vein of form…
Katharsis releases on January 28th.