I’m gonna start this review with a little confession: I have never been a particular big Bonfire fan. Throughout their 32 year-long career that have spawned no less than 15 studio albums including this one, only two of the albums are records that I really, really dig – Fireworks (1987) and Knock Out (1991). Not that everything else is bad, records like Don’t Touch The Light (1986), Point Blank (1989) and Fuel To The Flames (1999) are records I think are good but with a few steps to go to reach great. The rest of their discography goes from ok to bland and mediocre. When the band – read guitarist Hans Ziller – announced in 2015 that singer Claus Lessmann, the only member of the band who is on every single Bonfire record, had been given his walking papers I thought the band would be over. I mean, the guy had been Bonfire’s heart and soul since the beginning when they released their debut album in 1981 under the Cacumen moniker. How would they manage to make anything out of this band without him?
The vocalist spot went to American singer David Reece but he was gone after one year and two albums – the underwhelming Glörious and the pointless double CD Pearls, an album of rerecorded old songs – so the band recruited Michael Bormann who was gone before he even joined, kind of and the soap opera called Bonfire was starting become a musical laughing-stock. Enter: Alexx Stahl, a German singer that sounded so alike Lessmann it’s scary. But with Stahl, the band finally got some stability and even though his debut album Byte The Bullet (2016) left some to be desired quality wise, it at least showed that the band was back and they would stick to their guns no matter what. The fact that Stahl gave the impression to be very passionate about Bonfire and that the album was their best release in many, many years gave some hope that Bonfire may actually work without Lessmann. And what do you know, they’re back with a new album – and Stahl is still the singer.
The album starts with the intro “In The Beginning” (is it only me that thinks “Shout At The Devil” here?) and for once it is an intro that actually does its job – it do builds up an atmosphere. It runs into the title track that opens the album and the song is something of a shocker. Why? Because this is a Metal track with blazing Judas Priest influenced riffs, thunderous drums and speed. The tune holds some very sing-along melodies and there’s a big Pop vibe in the chorus, all of which makes this close to a Power Metal track. Not that it matters because this actually fits the band quite well – and Stahl sings the hell out of it. Very good. On the following track “On The Wings Of An Angel” they turn things around completely and go pure Melodic Rock on us, a genre this band is known for. Taking the classic Fireworks sound to the front the band brings on some AOR redolent keyboards to this uptempo rocker and together with a Pop crazed refrain the tune hits the goal hard. This is brilliant.
“Feed The Fire (Like A Bonfire)” is mid-paced, a bit darker in sound and sports a heavier groove but it’s still very much Melodic Rock we’re talking about here. Again, the chorus is really hard-hitting and very catchy albeit not in a radio-hit way, it’s more of an album track than a single. Very good. “Stand Or Fall” is an upbeat Arena Rocker, very distinct and sounds like it has been taken straight out of Sunset Strip back in 1989. The song do brings on some catchiness but for me it don’t go all the way and feels quite standard. And the fact that it’s chosen as a single is beyond me. That said, it’s not a crap song. “Comin’ Home” is the album’s big ballad – big as in huge! It’s very heartfelt, beautiful and emotional on the dark side but at the same time it’s bombastic and majestic that takes it off to power ballad land – and I love it. The best Bonfire ballad I have heard since I don’t know when.
“I’ll Never Be Loved By You” is in a slower pace in the verses but speeds up when the excellent chorus kicks in. Again Fireworks comes to mind as the tune is a time machine back to 1987 and while some people probably will call this dated, I say it belongs equally in 2018. Yes, I’m sucker for this type of song if well-written and well-written this is. It’s catchy as hell and to me, this is a single. Great tune. “Fly Away” takes a step more into the vein of AOR and is on a huge 80’s trip. Its refrain comes of as a bit saccharine but it’s also impossible to not like for that very reason. So yes, I dig this. “Love The Way You Hate Me” adds a small funky, reggae vibe in the verse over the traditional Melodic Rock. The rest of the tune, however, is classic Bonfire all the way – uptempo, in-your-face, pretty crunchy Melodic Rock with a very memorable refrain.
For some weird reason the band have decided on putting the first single “Crazy Over You” last on the album. When I first I heard the song I didn’t know whether to love it or hate it. Why? Well because the song is very close to theft. It begins with a riff stolen from their own “Sweet Obsession”. Then the tune goes into a 1987 sounding poppy rocker only for the chorus to be a shameless rewrite of “You Give Love A Bad Name”. But since the tune is so damn catchy and I can’t help singing along to it, I say I like it. It’s not my favorite song on the album, though. For the deluxe version there’s an acoustic version of “Comin’ Home”. It’s way more stripped, earthy and raw – and more atmospheric and I actually prefer this version. And then we get “Friedensreich II – The Return Of The Zünsler Into The T.O.L.”, a 20-minute goof-fest where the band goes off fucking about with their buddies and I can’t help wondering if they were all on PCP when they recorded it. Think the annoying “Tonmeister” from Knock Out ten times worse and you get the idea. It’s a waste of time and the sole reason for not getting the deluxe-version.
Ok, here’s the deal – never in a million years did I believe that Bonfire would release an album that would surprise me in a way that this album have done. I know that some people held the last album dear but to me it was only ok and this album is much better. In fact, I hold this album their best since Knock Out. The band have held their classic Bonfire sound intact and close but the production is a bit heavier than what we’re used to and there are some Metal influences waved in here and there which also takes away any talk of them sounding exactly the same over and over again. For someone who has more or less lost all hope for Bonfire ages ago, this album really comes as the (probably) biggest surprise of the year. well done!
More Bonfire reviews:
1. In The Beginning
2. Temple Of Lies
3. On The Wings Of An Angel
4. Feed The Fire (Like The Bonfire)
5. Stand Or Fall
6. Comin’ Home
7. I’ll Never Be Loved By You
8. Fly Away
9. Love The Way You Hate Me
10. Crazy Over You
11. Comin’ Home (Extended Acoustic Version)
12. Friedensreich II – The Return Of The Zünsler Into The T.O.L.