Friday 3 April 2020

Bonfire - Fistful of Fire (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 3 Apr 2020
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I remember Bonfire from the late eighties, especially their excellent second album, Fire Works, from 1987. What I hadn't realised then or somehow until now was that the band had been around for a decade and a half by that point under a different name, issuing three albums as Cacumen. Counting them, this is the 22nd Bonfire album. They've never really gone away since 1972, even though Hans Ziller, the only founder member left in the band, took a seven year break in the nineties, a couple of which were spent in a sort of Bonfire called Ex.

The current band is a relatively fresh line-up, the longest serving members other than Ziller being Ronnie Parkes and Frank Pané, who joined in 2014. I have to say that Bonfire have been a busy bunch of late, because this counts as the sixth studio album for those two and even the fourth for Alexx Stahl, the latest singer, who didn't join until 2016. That's amazingly prolific for a band who have been around in some form or other since I was a year old.

If you haven't heard Bonfire, they fit firmly in the hard & heavy category, moving effortlessly back and forth between hard rock and heavy metal. Often that's from track to track, following up a solid heavy metal song like Fire and Ice with an equally solid hard rock song such as Warrior. Sometimes, it happens within a single song, like Rock 'n' Roll Survivors which kicks off with power like a slightly lighter Accept and mostly stays there, including during the clichéd and surprisingly not too annoying chorus, but moves more towards hair metal during the verses.

This is classy stuff from the outset, an instrumental intro called The Joker seguing so naturally into opening track Gotta Get Away that we should see it as part of the same song. It's a strong starter, the first of a few obvious singles. And then The Devil Made Me Do It kicks off with orchestration like Bonfire want to play in symphonic metal territory. They don't, because this is another hard rock song but they do hint at some form of power metal a lot on this album. Stahl shifts effortlessly from a warm melodic rock vocal to a power metal scream.

Perhaps to highlight how good Bonfire are at both styles, my favourite songs here are a mix of heavier and lighter ones. It's also telling that I have no least favourites, except maybe the acoustic version of the power ballad When an Old Man Cries that's tacked onto the end of the album. It's not bad but I much prefer the electric version because the emotion works better there.

Ride the Blade is the first peach for me, a hard rock song elevated both by its catchy chorus and its guitarwork, not only the shreddy solo but the way that it incorporates some eastern sounds into proceedings. Fire and Ice may have softer hair metal verses but the core riff is a killer and it builds on that wonderfully as a power metal song. Gloryland is even heavier and really gallops, even during the slower verses, and it never loses sight of hooks. A Fistful of Fire is really classy hard rock, patient and with a sublime tone.

The album looks more generous than it is, flaunting fourteen tracks, because three of them are instrumental intros or interludes. Fire Etude features the most overt shredding anywhere on the album, while The Surge is more based in rhythm than guitar. All are worthy inclusions, though, and even if we ditch the bonus acoustic track, there's still three quarters of an hour of strong melodic rock and powerful metal that deserves to be seen as more than just a new album from an old band. Most of the band is pretty new and this feels as if they're all young and still hungry.

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