Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Brother Firetribe's 'Sunbound' - Album Review

It seems March 2017 was a month of AOR! I have already reviewed the new albums by Eclipse and One Desire, and US veterans Night Ranger will be featured here over the next couple of weeks or so. Today however is the turn of Finland's resident AOR heroes Brother Firetribe who are back on the scene with their fourth album Sunbound. Despite forming in 2002 (according to Wikipedia, so that must be true), Brother Firetribe have never been the most active of bands, with their schedule often being dictated by guitarists Emppu Vuorinen's busy life as a member of symphonic metal giants Nightwish. Nightwish are legitimately one of the biggest metal bands in the world now, and are very much in demand all over the world. The conclusion of the lengthy world tour supporting their Endless Forms Most Beautiful album means that Nightwish will now enter one of their patented post-world tour long slumbers, and this is the perfect opportunity for Brother Firetribe to spring into action once again! In fairness, it has only been three years since the band released their third album. 2014's Diamond in the Firepit was an album that, for whatever reason, just never really grabbed me when it was released. I was never motivated enough to review it at the time of it's May released, but by the end of the year it had grown on me and I included a mini-review of it in my round up of the year (which can be seen here). While still following the AOR trend of 2006's False Metal (later reissued as Break Out) and 2008's Heart Full of Fire, Diamond in the Firepit is less immediate and less in-your-face than those gloriously overblown first couple of releases. While the soaring choruses, smooth vocals, and pompous keyboard leads were still present on Diamond in the Firepit it was presented in a much more subtle and, on reflection, classy way. In a strange twist of fate, it is now the Brother Firetribe album that I reach for the most as I feel the songwriting is stronger than on the first two. Sunbound definitely carries on that somewhat maturer sound established on Diamond in the Firepit, but does also include a few songs which are definitely a bit more in-your-face and more akin to their earlier material. In that respects, you could say that Sunbound is the best of both worlds of Brother Firetribe so far, and it certainly feels like their most complete piece of work yet. Vuorinen is joined as always by frontman Pekka Ansio Heino (who is the star of the band with his amazing voice), keyboardist Tomppa Nikulainen (who also produced the album), and bassist Jason Flinck. Drummer Hannes Pirilä makes his debut in the studio with Brother Firetribe on Sunbound, but he is no stranger to the band as he has been playing live with them since 2014 when he replaced original drummer Kalle Torniainen to tour Diamond in the Firepit.

After the brief instrumental title track which helps to set the scene with a building piano melody and the odd soaring guitar lead, the album gets truly underway with Help is on the Way. A slightly crunchy opening soon gives way to a joyous keyboard riff which will not fail to put a smile on your face, before a slightly restrained verse, driven by Flinck's bass, introduces Heino for the first time on the album. His voice is perfect for this type of music, with a tone that just oozes quality but also carries the hooks perfectly. While the chorus is not as big as you might expect from an opening song, after a few listens it really grows on you with it's huge choral backing and subtle keyboard leads. Indelible Heroes is the band's tribute to all of the great musicians that we have lost in recent years, with acts like Motörhead, the Eagles, and Prince referenced in the lyrics. The keyboards dominate the song, and provide a synthy sheen throughout which shimmers with a perfectly poppy feel. The chorus this time is much more obvious, and is made up of all of the aforementioned tributes. Vuorinen's solo is a little strange here, and seems to be more about creating a noise with a raft of effects than to do something more traditional. It seems to work, but it does stand out as being a bit of a strange choice. Despite being released as a single last year, Taste of a Champion finds a permanent home here and it is easily one of the album's real highlights. I have often seen Brother Firetribe compared to American AOR legends Survivor in the past and had not really agreed with the comparison, but Taste of a Champion really does sound like a classic Survivor anthem. I am surprised it was not included in the latest Rocky movie! Nikulainen's driving piano chords really prove to be the song's backbone, and Vuorinen provides plenty of subtle guitar leads throughout too, as well as a more traditional solo this time around which really takes off with some excellent melodic runs. The chorus is the album's best too, and has a real uplifting vibe that is sure to temporarily banish any bad moods! Despite opening with a bit of a sombre keyboard riff, Last Forever soon picks up the pace with a pomp-driven riff and a soaring guitar lead showcase. The verses are quite low key, with the odd thrash of an acoustic guitar which penetrates the wall of keyboards to back Heino's vocals. The sombre keyboard riff returns in the chorus, but with the context of the rest of the band now takes on a more uplifting feel with a strong pomp backing and plenty of smooth vocal harmonies. Give me Tonight is another real favourite of mine, and is another song that could be an old Survivor classic. It is an uptempo rock song with crunchy power chords driving the verses as Heino's sultry vocals hook you in. This is a song that would have seriously troubled the charts if it was released in the mid-1980s and it is a song that you only have to hear once before you can nearly sing all of the words! Unsurprisingly the chorus is an absolute winner, with a really cheesy keyboard melody, and a vocal line that is purely irresistible. Vuorinen's solo is one of his best too. He will never be listed among the world's greatest guitarists but his rudimentary shredded really fits the vibe of the song perfectly.

After a string of more upbeat numbers, Shock slows thing down a little with a smooth groovy feel which is helped by a very deliberate drum pattern from Pirilä and a snaking bassline. I have never felt that this type of song suits Brother Firetribe as well as their more traditional upbeat pomp, but this song manages to create a pretty addictive vibe with the somewhat prominent rhythms and the use of lots of different keyboard sounds to create layers of atmosphere and melody. While not a classic, it helps to break the album up somewhat and add a little variety to proceedings. Strangled is more upbeat, but still a little more on the downside than much of what has come before. The verses are quite bass-heavy once again, with lots of synth loops and programming to help create extra little rhythms and textures. The chorus is another big one however, with some real 1980s keyboard sounds pulsing away and a perfect choir of harmony vocals. The smooth guitar solo is great too, and helps to enhance the catchy but restrained mood that the song seems to portray. Heart of the Matter raises the mood slightly once again as the song moves along at a solid mid-pace with a spiky bassline and floaty keyboards. Vuorinen's playing is surprisingly bluesy throughout, with quite a few little interlude leads that show off his tasteful skills. The chorus is a little more restrained than one might expect, but it still becomes well-entrenched in the memory after a couple of listens. Heino seems to have a way of making anything he sings become memorable and that is true of most of this album! Following on from the tradition established on Heart Full of Fire, Brother Firetribe have covered another obscure 1980s action film song, and this time they have tackled John Parr's Restless Heart which was featured in the film The Running Man. It is not a song I was familiar with before, but it certainly fits well on this album and the version the band have cooked up is very much in tune with their signature sound. Bouncy guitar riffs mix well with playful keyboard melodies, before a killer chorus kicks in which just oozes pure class with another heroic vocal display and keyboard arrangement. Big City Dream sees the return of the upbeat pomp of the album's opening few numbers and is a song that definitely has a lot in common with the band's first couple of albums. Huge driving keyboard melodies are prevalent here (think Journey's Ask the Lonely) and the lyrics deal with the age-old search for the perfect life and having big dreams. This was a topic that was used heavily by the 1980s AOR bands, but this is more than a simple pastiche. The key change in the final chorus is classic too, and this is another of my favourites from this album. The closing song Phantasmagoria is another slower number and definitely has a big of ballad vibe while still maintaining a bit of a rock crunch. The chorus is a little haunting, and is a bit different from what you would usually expect from Brother Firetribe, but it works well and the song presents a real atmospheric face. This somewhat epic feel makes the song work well as a album closer. Overall, Sunbound is an album that sees Brother Firetribe finding a perfect balance between the overblown pomp of their first couple of albums and the more mature sound forged on Diamond in the Firepit. They have written many of their best songs yet for this album and, with a quite a few live shows booked throughout the year, it looks be a big success for the Finnish AOR band.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Indelible Heroes.

No comments:

Post a Comment