BONFIRE – Byte The Bullet

Here’s a career roller coaster if there ever was one. Bonfire was back in the 80’s – 1987, to precise – on the threshold of big success with their second album Fireworks. Unfortunately, the follow-up Point Blank (1989) failed to take the band to the next level and after that the band was pretty much done, success-wise. Their third album Knock Out (1991) was a damn fine record but by then only a few were still interested in the band. Despite that they have never split up and kept on releasing records in an even pace – albeit with so many line-up changes they made Whitesnake look like a stable unit. However, in the last few years, Bonfire has gone Spinal Tap on us with the changes in the line-up, in this special case, their singer. Lead singer Claus Lessmann has been with the band since back in 1979 when they were called Cacumen and has since been the only original member who has played on all of their records – and the driving force in the band together with guitarist Hans Ziller. Now, Ziller was out of the band between 1989 – 1996 and has since run the band with Lessmann.

After some internal fighting between Ziller and Lessmann, Lessmann got the boot and Ziller hired American singer David Reece (Bangalore Choir, Accept and million other bands/ projects) and released the underwhelming Glörious (2015) (the 5/10 I gave it is at least one point too many, the way I see it today) and the pointless double CD Pearls (2016), the latter a release of old Bonfire songs rerecorded with Reece. Nobody was the least surprised when Reece jumped the ship after five minutes and his replacement Michael Bormann stayed even shorter without recording anything at all with the band and all of a sudden, Bonfire became the laughing-stock of melodic hard rock (only beaten by Quiet Riot…). Maybe the idea to boot Lessmann wasn’t that great after all. Especially since he released an album with his new outfit Phantom V that sounded more Bonfire than anything Bonfire had released in many, many years. That’s when Ziller let out the news that Bonfire did have a new singer onboard – Alexx Stahl – and that they now were on a roll for real. And yes, their new album would shut every doubter up. I don’t know how many believed him, but I sure didn’t. I only wondered how long Alexx would last. My my.

Opener “Power Train” starts with a pretty long intro that makes me think of “The Hellion” by Judas Priest but when the actual song starts it takes the same route as “Ready 4 Reaction” from the Fireworks album. It is a powerful melodic hard rock song with a punchy verse and a distinct chorus and the song really convinces – it’s a lot better than I had imagined a new Bonfire song could be. “Stand Up 4 Rock” takes a faster pace and has a rougher twist. It’s ok, but the lyrics are too cheesy and cliché and I have a hard time relating to it since I’m not 15 anymore. “Praying 4 A Miracle” is an upbeat AOR stomper with a melody that’s really memorable and the chorus sticks right away. Again, Fireworks seems to be the template. Great song. “Some Kind Of Evil” is slower and both dark and heavy and “SDI” from their debut album Don’t Touch The Light (1986) comes to mind.  It’s a song that both sounds like classic Bonfire and don’t. No matter what, it’s a damn good song! No melodic hard rock album would be complete without a power ballad and in “Lonely Nights” we get one. It sounds like a mix of “Give It A Try” and “Who’s Foolin’ Who” – classic Bonfire balladry – very good.

The title track is a pretty sleazy rocker with a big live feel but unfortunately it’s predictable and forgettable – it’s really nothing special and goes in one ear and out the other. The first single is a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” and I guess it’s ok. I mean, I was never a Jethro Tull fan and I have only heard the original sporadically so I really can’t compare the two fairly. That said, the song passes me by kind of without making much of an impression. “Reach For The Sky” is classic 80’s Bonfire, an uptempo melodic rocker with a big pop chorus catchy as hell. Yes, I like it very much. “Sweet Surrender” is a standard melodic rock track with a standard melody and it sounds like one of those thirteen a dozen Frontiers project songs. No, Bonfire aren’t on Frontiers, I know that. “Friedensreich” isn’t a song at all, only the band pissing about in the studio making some member – I’m guessing their English bass player Ronnie Parkes – repeating German words. A complete waste of time and it shouldn’t even have a title – or even be on the record.

That “InstruMetal” is an instrumental track speaks for itself. The song is compilation of a bunch of well-known classical music pieces and while it’s done well, it’s hardly anything new. It’s  a good track but we have heard these songs being covered many, many times before and quite frankly, it has been done to death by now. “Too Far from Heaven” borrows from both classic hard rock and the melodic rock that Bonfire are known for. It also sports a very Ritchie Blackmore influenced guitar break. A good song without being remarkable by any means. “Without You” is the album’s second power ballad. Starting out with a lonely piano before the rest of the instruments kicks in and turns it into a track that could very well have been lifted from the Fireworks sessions. As a closer we get – “Sweet Obsession”. Again. The song was first featured on Fireworks and then it appeared on both Glörious and Pearls. Also, Joe Lynn Turner, who co-wrote the song has made his version of it. This version brings nothing new to the table, feels pointless and I can’t figure out why on Earth it’s on this album as well. Besides, Turner’s version is the best one.

My first reaction when I heard this album was that I was taken aback because of how good this album actually is. I really hadn’t expected Bonfire to ever release an album that would make me interested in the band again. This album sounds just like classic Bonfire and it seems like Fireworks have been the template for both sound, melodies and arrangements on this record – and I can almost guarantee that’s intentional by the band (read: Ziller), Fireworks is by far Bonfire’s most popular album. With Alexx Stahl, Ziller & co has taken another step to take the band back to their classic sound. Whereas Reece is a good singer, his voice really didn’t fit the band and just like Journey and Judas Priest before them, Bonfire has hired a soundalike – Stahl sometimes sounds so much like Lessmann it’s scary and think what you will of that but it sure sounds like Bonfire again. Still I can’t shake the feeling that a Bonfire without Lessmann just isn’t Bonfire. Still, a surprisingly good record and their best since Knock Out!

6/10

Other Bonfire reviews:

Glörious
Branded

Tracklist:

1. Power Train
2. Stand Up 4 Rock
3. Praying 4 A Miracle
4. Some Kinda Evil
5. Lonely Nights
6. Byte The Bullet
7. Locomotive Breath
8. Reach For The Sky
9. Sweet Surrender
10. Friedensreich
11. InstruMetal
12. Too Far From Heaven
13. Without You
14. Sweet Obsession

Advertisements