Praying Mantis – Defiance (Frontiers Music)

Friday, 19th April 2024
Rating: 8.5 / 10

Originating as Junction in 1973, a year later Praying Mantis would be a more fitting moniker for this UK act featuring the brothers Tino and Chris Troy who maintain the quality output as they celebrate their 50th (!) anniversary for their 13th studio record in Defiance. Accurately included in the NWOBHM movement, over the years they’ve also leaned into more melodic and AOR-oriented songwriting from time to time – especially when considering other contemporaries that developed into more energetic terrain like Angel Witch, Diamond Head, or Iron Maiden. The current lineup has been in place since 2013, keeping the eyes firmly on the catchy formula that has always elevated interest through this latest set of eleven tracks.

The shimmering use of clean guitars next to softer keyboard patches builds momentum in specific songs when the power chords or lead breaks take place – the mid-tempo title track an early highlight as vocalist Jaycee Cuijpers settles into an alluring delivery that recalls classic Ronnie James Dio belting out magic from his Rainbow through Black Sabbath and early Dio records. Tino Troy as guitarist/keyboardist along with fellow guitarist Andy Burgess fills the musical components in a thoughtful stairstep manner – very commercial with specific Queen-like vocal harmonies to keep “Feelin’ Lucky” and “One Heart” standouts that contain the right balance between necessary hooks and embellishments (the acoustic, Latin-tinged solo for the former stellar). Reaching back into the early Thin Lizzy playbook for twin guitar melodies within “Nightswim”, this instrumental also gives a tip of the cap to bassist Chris Troy for his low-end foundation while adding some subtle texture to the gorgeous atmosphere on display. The playing may not be fancy, but the choices expressed send visions of the past to new light – many will dig the 80s synthwave / guitar syncopation that takes “Standing Tall” to bouncy horizons, an ideal song for the band that could have appeared on many movie soundtracks back in the day.

Finally recording the Russ Ballard song “I Surrender” for the album after wanting to do this back in early 1981 for the Time Tells No Lies record (a conflict with Rainbow letting the listeners know who won that battle) – it’s an exquisite tribute once again positioning Praying Mantis in exemplary form as top-notch musicians. Defiance will not stain the deep discography of the group – and should add more acclaim for an act that still has plenty left to say creatively for those who love the melodic, AOR-side of heavy metal.

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