Lillian Axe - XI: The Days Before Tomorrow (AFM Records)

Steve Blaze and company are determined to leave the past behind...
Release Date: 
26 Jan 2012 - 11:30pm

Aah, the ‘Axe. At one point in 1990 (in my house at least) it looked like Lillian Axe were going to be the next big thing. Great songwriters, they somehow managed to bring the worlds of hair metal bombast and more cerebral, Queensryche-informed epicry together in the seemless meisterwerk that was their magnum opus, Love and War. They couldn’t maintain that level of brilliance of course, and the band disbanded in 1995, done in by the onset of grunge (I still hate typing that word, even now) and, it has to be said, a general lack of interest on the part of the greater listening public.

The band climbed aboard the reformation bandwagon before the twentieth century was done, and has continued to ply its trade, generally unnoticed, since. In 2012 the good news is that Lillian Axe has at last teamed up with a decent label – AFM – and is looking to regain some of its former glory. But is XI… the album that’s going to get them back to that former pomp?

Unfortunately, no. I guess the first warning should have been noticed on the genre description accompanying the album’s download link – ‘modern rock’. A horrible term that brings to mind blood chilling oafs like Doughtry and Nickelback, It’s not the sort of term you want to bandy about lightly. Luckily, LA axeman Steve Blaze knows his onions, and you can see what he’s getting at when the band launches into songs like The Great Divide. It’s a pompous, portentious stab at the sort of material Muse’s Matt Bellamy tosses off in his sleep. This new direction also rears its oh-so-current head on the slow burning Bow Your Head, where new vocalist Brian Jones puts in a sterling – if slightly nasal- performance on a balladic epic that, whilst being no Ghost of Winter, certainly points pleasingly to what an accomplished songwriter Blaze continues to be when he puts his mind to it.

Elsewhere, however – the almost-metal of Caged In, for instance – the whole things falls over horribly. Jones' voice simply isn’t up to what Blaze is trying to achieve here, leaving the vocalist sounding strained and uninspired where he should be energized and raging. It’s a most unconvincing attempt at post-grungy metal and it lets things down badly, no matter how well Blaze solos towards the end of the song.

Soul Disease
heads back into Muse territory, and I have to admit it’s a pretty pleasing effort. Blaze has managed to integrate some pretty tasty axework into this number – tastefully bombastic, it is, an’ no mistake – as well as writing some gorgeous melody lines for vocalist Jones to have a field day with. If Lillian Axe has to go modern, then this is definitely what the band should be sounding like.

At the end of the day, what separated Lillian Axe from most of the hair metal dross back in the day was the band’s willingness to take a few chances with what was a pretty formulaic medium, so it would be churlish in the extreme to stand here in 2012 and lambaste them for making the choice not to record a nostalgia album with three fifths of the old line up (in fact only Blaze remains here from the band’s ‘glory’ days but you know what I mean) before setting off on a where-are-they-now tour with Lynch Mob, stopping at a county fair near you this summer. They’ve made an album that they believe in, and whether I particularly like it or not that’s something they should be commended for.