‘Immortal’ is the fourth studio album from Pride of Lions, the melodic rock project pairing one-time Survivor keyboard player Jim Peterik and vocalist Toby Hitchcock.  Right from the release of their debut in 2003, the band have received almost constant praise from the melodic rock community – somewhat unsurprising, since Peterik is considered one of AOR’s finest songwriters.

On this 2012 record, Peterik’s ability to write eighties influenced melodies and hooky choruses is, as always, almost unparalleled.  Sadly, however, ‘Immortal’ suffers the same fatal flaw as all of Pride of Lions’ previous works: the listener has to endure the overbearing presence of Toby Hitchcock.  If you love his voice, you’ll love this, but if not, his purely theatrical approach can be very hard to take over prolonged periods.  Hitchcock’s voice is huge, but in many ways, it is just too huge. More suited to live theatre performances than singing on a melodic rock record, in terms of actual ability, he’s almost wasted here.

Across the album’s first three numbers, Petrik and his session guys (including Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy) pull out all the stops to create rather fine AOR tunes, only to have their efforts dwarfed by Hitchcock’s booming voice at almost every turn.  By the intro of the fourth track ‘Shine On’, Toby’s voice borders on the unbearable.  Backed only with a piano at first, he booms and wails in equal measure, the stripped back music only highlighting his over-performing tendencies even further.  By the time the rest of the band join the arrangement and ‘Shine On’ actually finds a solid footing, various tried and tested melodic rock elements pull together effectively.  There are some great melodies, a strong chorus and a short but well played lead guitar break along the way – everything you’ve come to know (and love) from the AOR subgenre.

‘Everything That Money Can Buy’ takes Pride of Lions’ love of all things huge that step too far, as Hitchcock gets his vocal chops around a particularly nasty tune that sounds like the rock ballad equivalent of something from a Disney musical.  All strings and over-emoting, it takes melodrama to unchartered heights with its levels of pleading and reaching out to the listener.

One of the album’s better tracks ‘If It Doesn’t Kill Me’ has all hallmarks of Survivor’s eighties greatness: an instantly likeable chorus sits atop a superb mid-paced arrangement, over which the staccato lead guitar parts and occasionally stabbed keys (both played by Peterik) are impeccably played.  With a backing vocal fleshing out the chorus, even Hitchcock’s voice approaches something tolerable.

Of greatest interest to long time Survivor fans (and it’s likely those guys making up 90% of Pride Of Lions’ record buyers) is the song ‘Vital Signs’.  As you may expect, the song has roots in Survivor’s 1984 sessions.  Despite various attempts, Peterik never managed to finish the upbeat rocker to a satisfactory level…until now.  Its chorus section hits harder and faster than most of Survivor’s output, but the eighties origins are unmistakable in places.  The bell-like keyboard work during the opening verse has a very welcome eighties tone in particular.  Overall, although it’s a tad bombastic, it’s the absolute high point of this disc.

Toby Hitchcock has been heralded by many as AOR’s wunderkind, but his ability to over sing nearly every note in a purely theatrical way actually works to the detriment of at least half of these songs.  Rather frustratingly, on the flipside, the tunes are often fantastic, bordering on the best standard the genre has to give.  If only Peterik would take those tunes and work with somebody else, they’d be much easier to swallow.  There are hundreds of great rock vocalists out there – most of them would be more sympathetic than Mr. Showtune Foghorn.

September 2012