PHANTOM V – Phantom V

Phantom VIt is 1987 and the 19-year old me is glued to the radio as I always am once a week to listen to Sweden’s then only radio rock show Rockbox. All of a sudden, this brilliant track comes on and it just blows me f**k away. The song was called “Ready 4 Reaction”, the album it was taken from was called Fireworks and the band responsible for this was called Bonfire. Another track just as good – “Champion” – was played later in the show and by those songs I decided that that record was a must-have for yours truly. Said and done, the album was bought and damn what a killer it was – and still is. I thought Bonfire would be huge and of course, their debut Don’t Touch The Light (1986) was also purchased and even though it wasn’t as good as Fireworks, I still found a lot to dig on it. Unfortunately, Bonfire would never make such a killer record again. Needless to say, Bonfire never became the huge band I thought they would be. The follow-up, Point Blank (1989), sure had its moments but it couldn’t hold a candle to its predecessor. Even though, they put out a couple of really good albums later on – Knock Out (1991) and Fuel To The Flames (1999) – the rest of the band’s discography have been somewhere between mediocre and ok and even a really crap one – The Räuber (2008). Yes, folks, in my opinion, Bonfire were and are an ok band, but forgettable and uninteresting. The band was formed by guitarist Hans Ziller as Cacumen back in 1972 and in 1978 lead singer Claus Lessmann joined the band and they released two albums under that name, the debut came out in 1979, before they changed the name to Bonfire. Since then the band has had so many line-up changes that Whitesnake looks stable in comparison. Even Ziller left the band on two occasions during the years, leaving Lessmann the only remaining member throughout Bonfire’s career. Up until now. In 2015, Ziller and Lessmann fell out and Lessmann found himself out of the band that he and Ziller had been running for all those years. Claus was replaced by David Reece (Accept, Gypsy Rose, Bangalore Choir), a very good singer, but by that, Bonfire’s whole identity went out the window. But Lessmann didn’t spend much time moping about, he licked his wounds quickly and together with guitarist Michael Voss (Casanova, Mad Max), who also had a short stint with Bonfire,  and they decided to form a band together. They recruited Frontline guitarist Robby Boebel and Jaded Heart drummer Axel Kruse and as the final piece of the puzzle, Ex- Scorpions and current Michael Schenker bassist Francis Buchholz joined and voila, Supremacy were formed. But due to legal reasons (brought to life by Ziller, according to Lessmann), Supremacy couldn’t be used as a name and the band changed the name to Phantom V. Frontiers Records saw what was coming and signed the band and now the result is in our hands to enjoy.

First song out is “All The Way” and the song is sure a great way to get the album started. For Bonfire fans, this tune must be Heaven because it sounds like it has been taken right off the Fireworks sessions. The melodies are really strong and the chorus goes right for the throat. “Blue Dog” is up next and if you’re a fan of how melodic hard rock sounded around 1986, then this track will definitely make you smile – this is some very catchy stuff. The same thing goes for “Someday” – in 1987, this song alone could have made Phantom V a chart climber. It’s actually close to sounding dated, but the rescue comes in a very strong arrangement and a refrain so memorable a senile would remember it weeks away. “Don’t Touch The Night” is a melodic rock track with a more hard rock vibe, very Bonfire-like – a good song that is very direct. There is also a lot of Bonfire in “Renegade” and that’s not only because of Lessmann’s voice – the whole track just oozes Bonfire. A catchy tune in a classic melodic hard rock style. “Flying High” lies in the territory somewhere between melodic rock and pure hard rock – think Bonfire in bed with Prisoners In Paradise – era Europe and you’re pretty close. Good one as well. Of course, an album like this wouldn’t be complete without at least one power ballad and that’s what they give us in “Since You’re Gone”. It actually sounds a little bit dated, but since I have a thing for this kind of tune, I reckon it works anyway. In 1989, this would have been all over radio and MTV. “They Won’t Come Back” is musically a brilliant melodic rocker, so catchy it’s almost painful. Lyrically, it might make some rockers cringe a bit. The lyrics pay homage to all the fallen rockers that have bitten the dust in the last decade or so, so lyrically it runs the risk of being just a bit cheesy, but it’s written and sung with such love and conviction that it works anyway. Also, one extra point for bringing up names such as Jani Lane (Warrant) and Jimi Jamison (Survivor). Those are extremely underrated musicians that deserves to be noticed once in a while. Well, I think it’s a great song! “Frontline”, even though totally melodic rock, takes a more hard rocking and rougher road and the arrangement is a bit heavier than the other songs. That said, the band haven’t given in on the melodies, so it’s still really catchy. “We Both Had Our Time” is a good, pretty memorable hard rock tune, a bit too mainstream maybe and it doesn’t sport a big chorus so it’s a bit on the forgettable side. Closing track “Why” stands out a bit with its heavy riffing and hard rock dress-up, but it’s hardly heavy metal by any means. The melodies are very memorable and distinct and I find the track one of the best on this record.

I think you might have guessed it by now, Phantom V hasen’t reinvented the wheel and the music they play is retro melodic hard rock, done by hundreds and hundreds of other bands. But that don’t have to be a bad thing as long as you have at least a little bit of your own sound and in Phantom V’s case, I think they do. Well, to be honest, Phantom V sounds like a new version of Bonfire with another name and since Bonfire doesn’t sound like Bonfire anymore, they guys do get away with it. Also, this is the kind of music these guys love and it shines through on this record. There is heart, soul and a lot of conviction all over the record. And since most of Bonfire’s records has left me underwhelmed, it feels really good to say that this record sounds like the true follow-up to Fireworks – yes, Phantom V’s debut album really owns every Bonfire album out there except for Fireworks. In all honesty, I wasn’t convinced after the first listen, I thought it was really mediocre, but after two more spins, the album have really grown on me. Lessmann need not to worry, there is a bright future for him without Bonfire. Well done, boys.



1. All The Way
2. Blue Dog
3. Someday
4. Don’t Touch The Night
5. Renegade
6. Flying High
7. Since You’re Gone
8. They Won’t Come Back
9. Frontline
10. We Both Had Our Time
11. Why