I remember Dare from the late eighties, when they put out a killer debut album called Out of the Silence. After that 1988 arrival on the scene, I'm not convinced I heard anything more. I probably thought they'd split up and gone their separate ways. They kind of did, but after a second album in 1991, they returned in 1998 with a third and they've been at it ever since. This appears to be their eighth studio album of original material, with two others reworking earlier releases. Their prior original album was Sacred Ground in 2016, so it's been six years. I'm glad they're still around.
What I remember most from Out of the Silence was the warm, inviting voice of Darren Wharton, a former keyboard player for Thin Lizzy, and their melodic approach, which was notably against the trends of the time, when bands were getting heavier and moving into extreme metal. Of course, a certain Nirvana album the same year as Dare's follow-up was just a further reminder that people wanted something different. Three decades on, I'm happy that so many bands impacted by such a volatile moment in time kept at it anyway and are still putting out strong material today.
While Wharton was initially known for his work in Thin Lizzy, he sounds more like David Coverdale than Phil Lynott, his voice breathy, honeyed and soul-infused. However, his tone is different and he doesn't deliver every line with a knowing wink in his eye. That grounds him and it shifts the overall effect closer to someone like Bob Catley of Magnum. In fact, the longer I listen to this album, the more it sounds like a janglier, subtly folk infused version of Magnum and it's that folk angle, which isn't a huge one, that delineates them.
Born in the Storm is a Magnum-esque opener, and it's a peach too, but Cradle to the Grave sounds folkier, because of the way the vocal line unfolds. If Runrig had tried to emulate U2 in the eighties, they might have ended up sounding like this. On the other hand, those folk melodies are there in the title track too, but they're phrased very much like Magnum would phrase them. In between is a real grower of a track, Fire Never Fades, that's as good as the songs around it even if it took me a couple of listens for me to realise it.
That's four excellent tracks out of four, four varied tracks as well that underline how powerful this album is. To me personally, it's another reminder that, while I was focusing on increasingly heavy material in the eighties, there was so much softer and quieter rock music that I should have found worthwhile too. It's not just Wharton's fantastic lead voice, it's also the guitarwork of Vinny Burns that adds consistently elegant solos and solid riffs like the one on Fire Never Fades. Ironically, for a band founded by a keyboard player, there's not a lot of keyboards early on.
The catch is that this album promptly softens up after those first four tracks and, while it remains good stuff throughout, I'm not going to praise the rest of it the way I've praised the four openers. Lovers and Friends is too soft for my tastes and, while Only the Good Die Young and Grace aren't, I have to say that they're not far away. Suddenly, the obvious comparison ceases to be Magnum and starts to be Bryan Adams. That's especially notable on I Always Will, though it's there to a greater or lesser degree on all four of those songs, surprising me to realise that there's a light/heavy line between Bryan Adams and Magnum.
To my mind, things pick back up with The Devil Rides Tonight, which fits so well with those first four tracks, even with a quiet opening, that I couldn't help but wonder why it wasn't shifted up to play alongside them. That choice would have created an album of two sides, one hard and one soft, and listeners could easily choose which they wanted to replay, depending on their tastes. As it is, it only serves to remind us how impressive the album was early on and how much it had softened up since that point.
I think that means another split the difference rating. Half of this is at least 7, often 8/10. And half is 6 out of 10, well constructed and well played but missing the oomph of the rest. So I'll go with a 7/10. If you're a big fan of the softer end of the spectrum, then you may want to a point to that.