BONFIRE – Glörious

4e0edd740203165aa697f461766509101bf9f3e7Way back in 1987 when yours truly was a huge fan of poodle haired rockers with lots of keyboards and big choruses (I still am, but back then that was more or less all I listened to), German rock bands weren’t among the usual suspects in my record collection. Sure, I have always loved Accept and the Scorpions, but in 1987, neither of them were on their ups, so to speak. Accept were on a split with singer Udo Dirkschneider and was looking for a new singer (which ironically has everything to do with this review) and Scorpions took their time recording the follow-up to their huge classic Love At First Sting (1984) – and there was no new bands from Germany that could match them. Until one day when I was listening to Sweden’s then biggest hard rock show on the radio, Rockbox. The DJ, Per Fontander, introduced av new German band called Bonfire and he played the opening track from their then new record Fire Works (1987), “Ready 4 Reaction”. I was stunned – this was bloody awesome. Later he also premiered the song “Champion” and a decision was made. I needed that album. Of course, the record was a killer (and it still holds up very well today) and in Bonfire I found a new German band while waiting for the new albums from Accept and Scorpions, albums that would later leave me underwhelmed. To me, Bonfire sounded like a poppier version of the Scorpions and I found out that Fire Works was their second album under the Bonfire moniker, Don’t Touch The Light (1986) being their debut, an effort with a rougher sound than its follow-up. It also turned out that Bonfire had existed since 1979 under the name Cacumen and had released three albums, their last was called Bad Widow and came out in 1983. Cacumen were nothing like Bonfire quality wise and sounded like a second-rate version of the band they would turn into later, even though the band members were practically the same. But Bonfire would never release an album as great as Fire Works again. Their 1989 follow-up Point Blank sure had its moments but apart for being way too long, 16 tracks, it sounded mostly like a strained attempt to rewrite Fire Works and even though the album didn’t bomb, it wasn’t as big success as its predecessor. Since then, Bonfire has kept on releasing lots and lots of albums with various results and changed more members than Whitesnake, Rainbow and Deep Purple combined, leaving singer Claus Lessmann as the only permanent member. Bonfire’s biggest problem has been that their music is too forgettable, although not necessarily bad. Albums like Knock Out (1991), Rebel Soul (1998) and Fuel To The Flames (1999) were all really good, while the rest of their catalogue has been more or less uninteresting and albums like Free (2003) and The Räuber (2008) was plain awful. Their last studio album came out in 2011 and was called Branded and it turned out to be quite enjoyable, although not great. It showed a band that was on their way up but the album left some to be desired still. That’s why it came more or less as a shock that singer Claus Lessmann had left the band. Lessmann was the guy who had kept Bonfire going for 35 years and now he was gone. Today, Bonfire is resurrected by guitarist Johann “Hans” Ziller, the Cacumen / Bonfire original guitarist who left the band between 1989 – 1996. Bonfire of 2015 are nothing else than Ziller’s solo band Ez Livin under the name of Bonfire with a new vocalist – David Reece. It needs to be pointed out that Reece actually sang on Ez Livin’s latest release Firestorm (2014), which makes this album more a follow-up to that album than to the latest Bonfire record…

Reece is mostly known for his stint with Accept back in 1989, a stint that ended in a catastrophe with not only internal screaming, but even a fist fight between Reece and bassist Peter Baltes and you kinda wonder if David Reece and melodic rockers from Germany is actually a combination to go for. Reece is also known for singing on everybody and their mother’s records. After Accept, he started Bangalore Choir that fell apart almost immediatley (Reece has since then resurrected that band as well) and he can be heard on albums from bands like Gypsy Rose, Sircle Of Silence, Stream, Tango Down, Reece – Kronlund plus a couple of solo releases. And now he’s with Bonfire and their new-start. Wow, a bit much to digest, huh? Well, even though my interest in Bonfire has declined in the last ten or so years, this album was a must hear, if not only to see if this new version of Bonfire are relevant in 2015. And no, I have not listened to Ez Livin yet, so I have nothing to compare this with except for earlier Bonfire records. The album opens good and well with “21 Guns Salute (Goes Boom)”, a good commercial hard rock song, but to these ears, this sounds more like Bangalore Choir than Bonfire. “Nothin’ At All” follows and just like the title suggests, this is really nothing at all, just a standard melodic rocker that goes in one ear and out the other. “Can’t Break Away” however, is great. A very catchy melodic hard rock tune with single potential and this time I hear Bonfire. “Remember” is also very good, a pop-metal ballad-like tune with a melody to die for. “Fallin’ Outta Love” is a killer ballad that could have been a song by the 1989 version of Whitesnake. The title track also echoes of classic Bonfire, catchy pop-metal the way it was made in the late 80’s. They keep the good vibe up with “Supernatural Disguise”, a steady rocker reminiscent of the most catchy tunes of Turbo era Judas Priest and Reece sounds very similar to Rob Halford here. Half-time and so far, so good. Lots better than I thought it would be, to be honest. But then things falter a bit. “Shooting Star” and “Lies” leaves no marks and passes by unnoticed before “Put Out The Flames” puts things back on track for a while. A good, commercial 80’s rocker with a twist of 70’s rock. But “Free Wind Desperado”, brings the quality down again. A big cliché, both lyrically and musically and I have heard this kind of music done better a billion times before. To make matters worse, Ziller and his boys has decided to make re-recordings of two classic Bonfire tracks, both from Fire Works. First out is “Sweet Obsession”, a real classic and one of Bonfire’s best songs. This version isn’t bad per se, but it is totally pointless. I can’t see any reason at all to listen to this version instead of the original. Besides, Joe Lynn Turner, who co-wrote the song, has recorded the best version of the song, anyway. The second re-recording is “American Nights”, a song that had the skip button on it already on Fire Works. It’s a banal song from the beginning with a lyric so embarrassing and ridiculous that I have a problem seeing Reece, who’s American, singing this with a straight face. A crap song made crappier, I’m afraid. The reason for the re-makes is, of course, to show the fans how the old songs sounds with Reece behind the mike. I can understand that, but it just doesn’t work. They close the album with a cover of The Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends”, a choice that reveals bad imagination. C’mon already. But, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, after all, Bonfire did make a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”. Go figure. Any way, the cover is pointless and should have been left in the vaults.

To sum it up, it needs to be said that David Reece is a great singer and has a raspy voice that’s perfect for this kind of music so he kind of fits the mold here. But – and I say this will all the respect for Reece – he do not belong on a record by Bonfire. To me Bonfire equals Claus Lessmann and without him Bonfire could be any old Reece-fronted band in the world. There are very few moments on this album that shows any signs of Bonfire and this is only because I know I’m listening to a Bonfire record. Played random without any info, even songs like “Glorious” and “Can’t Break Away” could have passed as any melodic hard rock band out there. I’m sorry, but without Lessmann, Bonfire has lost all their identity and I really can’t see any reason at all for calling this Bonfire. Maybe to score some free points and some extra sold records, but then again, Bonfire were never a huge band and they sure aren’t today, so Ziller could just as well has made this album under the Ez Livin moniker or formed a completely new outfit. No matter how you see it, to me Bonfire is over and if there is anything Bonfire-related I’m looking forward to now, then it is Supremacy, the band Lessmann has formed with guitarist Michael Voss (Mad Max, Casanova, Michael Schenker) and bass player Francis Buchholz (Scorpions, Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock). I bet they will sound like Bonfire.

Jon Wilmenius (5/10)


1.  21 Guns Salute (Goes Boom)
2. Nothin’ At All
3. Can’t Break Away
4. Remember
5. Fallin’ Outta Love
6. Glorious
7. Supernatural Disguise
8. Shooting Star
9. Lies
10. Put Out The Flames
11. Free Wind Desperado
12. Sweet Obsession
13. American Nights
14. With A Little Help From My Friends

One comment on “BONFIRE – Glörious

  1. Hmmm…

    Really enjoyed the read nice history for those not in the know, but being a BIG fan of Reece and his vocals, can’t say too enthused about a 5 rating LOL…

    Not being a huge fan of Bonfire will make this an easy listen without little expectation, and as loved ReeceKronlund, Gypsy Rose and Bangalore Choir’s ON TARGET continues to improve with age, a great record sadly overlooked by the changing times from when it came, reckon this one is going to please these ears fer sure \m/

    Hope to have the CD in the next couple weeks, if some overtime coin comes through might even splash for a digital fer the right price too cause quite keen to hear this one!

    Thanks for reviewing \m/

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