Well … it certainly does not!
Time has proven that Mantis, as pioneers of NWOBHM movement, not only lightened the way, but endured, lasting on the frontline, despite all lineup changes, for over four decades, releasing one diamond after another.
When the band started out, was called «Junction» and used to practice in the front room at Chris Hudson’s place in Beckenham. Practice resumed at the school which incidentally is right in the heart of ‘Jack The Ripper’ territory. In fact, an early Junction song called «The Ripper» on ‘Ripper Records’ was penned about this very subject. After a while they converted an old coal store at the school that had thick brick walls. They draped black curtains around the room and jammed there. They also built their own PA system and bought themselves an old Bedford ambulance that kept breaking down on them. Microphone stand was a broom with a claw hammer taped to the business end for stability and the condenser microphone (supplied with the recorder) taped to the top of the handle. As you can picture, they were an inventive bunch. They used 2 recorders to overdub the various elements to create a song. It was on one of these sessions while overdubbing that they started gesturing with their hands while singing backing vocals to Stan’s melody when he burst out in fits of laughter and said: «You boys look like a load of Praying Mantis’s!» The name stuck and «Junction» became history.
Their formation considerably pre-dated NWOBHM movement. Formed in 1973, Troy brothers (Chris on bass and Tino on guitars), along with Bob ‘Angelo’ Sawyer (guitars), and of course mighty ‘Handsome’ Mick Ransome on drums, captured every fucking city in UK right after releasing Soundhouse Tapes EP on Ripper records in 1979, featuring the spectacular and evocative Captured City. This track appears as well on the 1980 NWOBHM compilation Metal For Muthas Vol 1.
Well, here’s is the thing with these guys; they approached a more sophisticated, melodic rock style, without losing at all their heaviness. Vocals were always their secret weapon as they knew well exactly where and then they should color riffs and melodies by adding second and backing vocals. At the same time Mantis were able to perform live all tracks pretty much as written, which is amazing by all means and the truth is there aren’t lots of bands to be that capable on stage!
When timing is right
The band briefly attracted attention by the American Peter Mensch – yeah that’s right, the guy that in his early twenties was managing ACDC-, but he opted to sign up Def Leppard instead!! Nevertheless Mantis nabbed a major deal with Arista and released their debut album, Time Tells No Lies, in 1981. Oh God, I fucking love this album! Arista at the time was at its pick, having just signed Aretha Franklin (1980), after her long relationship with Atlantic Records ended. The label’s most significant acquisition was about to come after three years when Davis signed Whitney Houston. The band may not stood lucky with Mensch, but they did had the chance to work with Mike Shipley, that was also busy this very same year on Def Leppard’s , High ‘n’ Dry .
Monumental is as well the cover of the album that came by Rodney Matthews. Rodney had also designed this very same year, Tygers of Pan Tang’s “Crazy Nights” cover. Matthews is also known from his work with Thin Lizzy -New Day (EP 1969)-, Nazareth – No Mean City, Magnum, Diamond, Eloy, even Motorhead.
Another asset for “Time” was definitely Tim Friese-Green (of Touch fame) that produced band’s debut, that made a respectable showing on the charts and garnered generally positive reviews from a press increasingly receptive to a scene which crackled with youthful energy. Praying Mantis stood as one of the best the genre has ever produced. Tracks such as the urgent ‘Flirting With Suicide’, strutting opener ‘Cheated’, haunting ‘Children Of The Earth’ or smouldering ‘Lovers To The Grave’ showcased a band with the potential to transcend rigid genre boundaries and take their message to a huge audience. Characterized by plenty of layered vocal harmonies (a Friese-Green trademark) and intricate riffs, ‘Time Tells No Lies’ still stands out as one that got away.
In this album we step also into Kinks’ cover ‘All Day And All Of The Night’. Mantis were quite fond of the Kinks, but they were not the only one. Late Jim Morrison admitted once that the Doors ‘borrowed’ the opening riff of ‘All day and All of the night’ for their own ‘Hello I love you’.
During the making of Time Tells No Lies, Mantis recorded also a version of the Russ Ballard penned track «I Surrender», but ran into conflict with Rainbow, who went on to release their own version, and had a Top 10 worldwide hit. Instead, Praying Mantis released «Cheated» which reached No.69 in the UK Singles Chart (in January 1981). In a band’s interview later on was appointed by Chris: “I remember our manger coming in one day clutching this tape saying, «Guys just listen to this song, it is out of this world and we will soon have a chart hit.» We were recording the «Time Tells No Lies» album then, so we also began recording this song. When we were almost finished one day the manager came in with a very long face and told us that Rainbow had also got the song. Not only that, they were releasing it in a few days. We were flabbergasted and very, very disappointed.»
Released in January 1981, the song became Rainbow’s biggest hit in the UK. Originally, some backing vocals were recorded by Graham Bonnet, but after he quitted the band, lead and backing vocals were sung by his replacement, Joe Lynn Turner. In 2017, the revived band, under the name Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, released a re-recording of the song as a digital single, with vocals from the current lead singer Ronnie Romero.
Actually, «I Surrender», is a song written by former Argent guitarist and singer Russ Ballard and was first released by Head East in 1980 for their sixth album “U.S.”. It is better known for being a hit for Rainbow. The song also appears as bonus track to 1997’s “Messin’ with the Boys” rerelease from the band that Marie Michelle Currie and her identical twin sister, Cherie Currie (Runaways), formed back in 1980. In 1980’s original release of Messin’ with the Boys, Russ had contributed to more than one song, one of them being «Since You Been Gone», also reaching glory later on with Rainbow.
The band toured along with Iron Maiden while Chris Troy reveals: “I recall that whether it was constructed specifically for the show or another event, at the central section of the front of the stage the organizers had constructed a temporary make-shift stage extension where one or two of the bands could venture during the set to strut their stuff and shove the guitar necks towards the heavens. It was probably only about 3 x 1 meters. What I failed to add is that the whole stage was pretty high, something like about 8 feet off the ground. At the base of this temporary stage construction I could see a few cross-braced scaffolding poles, which I trust were there to hold the thing up! Then show time came on and there was a really healthy crowd, who you could see were really up for a good night and were in fine voice. We went through a few of the main numbers that were featured on the ‘Time Tells No Lies’ album such as ‘Children of the Earth’, ‘Panic in the Streets’ and ‘Lovers to the Grave’. The songs were going down a storm! The more the crowd cheered, the more confident we became, and by this time I was merrily traversing between my dedicated part of the stage in front of the bass amp and the projected temporary section of the stage. On each occasion, I was so conscious of how high I was up on that stage and the relatively small passageway that existed for me to get between the section of stage in front of the bass amp to the super trooper section! The sight of the scaffolding poles coming towards me was actually pretty terrifying and I still recall that vision vividly to this day! Then the horrible smash as the side of my head seemed to be the first thing that hit something hard and my eyes were still wide open to see the whole spectacle. It wasn’t the scaffold poles thank goodness but the lovely wooden parquet flooring of the hall which incidentally was very nice! The bass guitar also came crashing down almost in synchrony with my body and I saw a few machine heads fly off the neck and skate across the floor. My legs were tangled between the scaffolding so I looked like some sort of trussed up chicken!”
A triggering trail ahead
Management instability undermined their success and Arista decided that they didn’t wish to take up the option of a further album. The following year they signed for Jet Records, but two subsequent singles didn’t quite hit the mark and the band folded. After a triggering period for the band, and this short-lived label-shift to Jet Records, the core of the band linked up with ex-Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr’s Escape (later known as Stratus).
The band maintained a strong fan base in Japan, and when the Troys temporarily reformed Praying Mantis for a NWOBHM nostalgia tour in 1990, they were encouraged by the response to resurrect the band full-time. They played a live set in Tokyo with two other former Iron Maiden members in tow, these being guitarist Dennis Stratton and vocalist Paul Di’Anno. Stratton met Steve Harris when he responded to an ad in «Melody Maker» that his wife had read. After joining Iron Maiden and learning all the songs that Harris had written, he played on the band’s self-titled album. In October 1980, Stratton left Iron Maiden due to musical differences and was replaced by Adrian Smith. The concert was released as a new Praying Mantis album, and the band is back in action, with Stratton staying on as permanent guitarist. The band continues on, with several lineup changes surrounding the core of Stratton and the two Troys. Unlike Stratton, Di’Anno didn’t make it. In Chris Troy’s interview after being questioned if he had ever seriously considered working with Paul Di’Anno as your new vocalist after those shows, he answered: «To find a vocalist you can work with is as difficult as telling a fat dog not to fart! Our family tree shows just how many vocalists we have been through because simply each one had a major problem. Paul really had a good voice and we did like him but he was very difficult to work with on a long term basis.»
Their live work was released as Live at Last, and a follow-up studio album Predator in Disguise was released the following year, and the band soldiered on into the new century. Praying Mantis name was revived for some celebratory NWOBHM shows in Japan (Alive in Tokyo City- 1996) and the core of the band – the Troy brothers, Tino and Chris – are still plying their trade today. Their most recent album is 2018’s Gravity, having the chance to see them also in Athens.
For me, Time tells no Lies is a harmonized excellency. Feelings, emotions, power, diversity and astonishment by the flow and the quality that withholds each and every track captured me from the very first moment hearing Cheated.
Mantis’ lover to the grave.