PRAYING MANTIS is a NWOBHM band known best for housing several original members of IRON MAIDEN at one point or another (Paul Di’Anno, Dennis Stratton, and Clive Burr, for the curious). Despite this, the band sounds nothing like IRON MAIDEN, but thanks to the more melodic chops of brothers Chris and Tino Troy (bass and guitar, respectively), sounds much closer to smooth ‘80s AOR (they were even going to record Russ Ballard’s “I Surrender” before RAINBOW crapped on their parade and recorded it themselves, garnering a Top 10 hit in the process). The band broke up after the release of their debut “Time Tells No Lies” in 1981, but reformed in 1990 and has been releasing albums at a regular pace ever since.
Harmony is the name of the game on “Sanctuary.” There’s Tino and Andy Burgess doing twin guitar harmonies all over the place in addition to vocalist Mike Freeland harmonizing with the brothers Troy on the choruses. It’s certainly a far cry from the IRON MAIDEN style of harmony, though, as PRAYING MANTIS generally makes everything much smoother than the sharper, more aggressive twin leads that Adrian Smith and Dave Murray loved during the ‘80s.
Though it’s all AOR-ish and catchy, “Sanctuary” still feels a good bit moodier than most Melodic Rock fare. Although a few of the songs on “Sanctuary” are upbeat, the majority of the songs are more serious affairs, like the contemplative “Playing God” and the haunting “In Time.” The lack of a distinct “happy” atmosphere is what separates PRAYING MANTIS from the rest of the pack; they’re playing the same style of music, but it has an entirely different effect on one’s mood. The songs themselves are all written with a good degree of competence, but some tracks become a bit boring when the band’s “moody” aesthetic fails to generate interest.
Overall, “Sanctuary” is a solid Melodic Rock release. It’s worthy of a buy for the fan who wants a more serious take on his AOR. Don’t let the song titles like “Restless Heart” and “Touch The Rainbow” fool you; PRAYING MANTIS have a bit more depth than the average ‘80s resurrectee.
(Online June 2, 2009)