I know that lots of those Frontiers Records’ projects are looked upon with skepticism – and at times, rightfully so. But here and there, those projects really delivers the goods on all accounts. First Signal, featuring Harem Scarem singer Harry Hess, is one of those. Ever since I set my ears on the self-titled debut album, this project has been a love of mine. It would take six years to finally release a follow-up, the almost as good One Step Over The Line. With that record, Swedish drummer, keyboardist, producer and song-writer Daniel Flores (Find Me, The Murder Of My Sweet) had taken over song-writing and drumming duties with guitar and bass help from Michael Palace (Palace, Kryptonite) which made this project crawl a bit closer to feeling like a band of sorts. With the new album, Hess, Flores and Palace called in bassist Johan Niemann (Evergrey, Therion,) with a bunch of different song writers where Hess actually participated in as well. With two killer records released, this comes with a great deal of expectations. Would all involved be able to reach those expectations a third time?
Opening track “Born To Be A Rebel” bodes very well for said expectations. It’s an upbeat Melodic Rock track that lands somewhere between Harem Scarem and Bon Jovi from the days when they actually rocked, with a twist of Survivor thrown in. It’s a straight-forward, 80’s groovy rocker with some chugging guitars and strong vocals where all melodies hits where they should. The refrain brings the catchiness up yet another level and turns the song into a true winner – very good. The same can be said of the following “A Million Miles” – an uptempo tune but with bigger AOR influences and a Find Me meets Palace outlook. It’s very slick and smooth without being cheesy or sugary but very Pop with memorable melodies all over that track and a brilliantly catchy refrain that sticks right from go. Very good.
“Last Of My Broken Heart” is a bona fide power ballad where piano and guitars meets in a fine way in the intro before the tune goes off. This could very well have been an early Harem Scarem outtake, very sweet and late 80’s sounding but still emotional with an über-catchy refrain. I guess I’ve heard this kind of song a million times before but since quality never goes out of style, I dig this lots. First single/video “Tonight We Are The Only” starts out slower on a ballad note but turns into an uptempo AOR track with a big Pop influence. It’s a slick song but it’s not too syrupy – and the refrain is a killer, very striking with lots of hit-potential. “Walk Through The Fire” comes in a mid pace – AOR with a heavier groove and clear Hard Rock vibes. It holds a rougher outlook, a bouncy rhythm section with a punch and more in-your-face but it also brings on a very direct and effective refrain that’s ridiculously catchy. Doubtless one of the album’s finest moments.
Both tough and upbeat but also very slick and poppy, “Never Look Back” brings on an infectious pop-rock groove, lots of mid 80’s sounding synths and a chorus that hits the right spots immediately. If Michael Palace had a hand in Harem Scarem’s debut album, it might have turned out like this. Very good. The title-track is an uptempo, punchy and straight-forward AOR-rocker, very memorable with a live-feel all over the track. The refrain is catchy enough but even though I like the track, it’s not as strong as the previous ones. With “Here With You”, First Signal goes back into power ballad territory – slick, silky and very Pop where the acoustic guitar takes a front-seat and the smooth lead vocals of Hess takes us back to the earliest of Harem Scarem’s days. That said, it never runs into a sugar overkill and it’s also quite bouncy. The refrain is a true winner as well – if this was released in 1988 this tune would have been all over MTV. Very good.
“Need You Now” is AOR heaven, poppy yet upbeat and again, it’s impossible not to make Harem Scarem comparisons here. Full of hit-potential, the tune treats us with a chorus so amazingly catchy you couldn’t even brainwash it away from the brain. It’s not a single yet but they’d be foolish not to make it one. I say it’s a hit! “Falling” is an uptempo mix of Hard Rock and Melodic Rock. It’s straight-forward, a bit edgier and with a good, tough punch but the big melodies aren’t forgotten here and neither is the strong refrain that makes the tune memorable. Good one. The album closes on a darker, heavier and grittier note with the latest single “The End Of The World”. Lyrically, it might have the odd cliché stapled on another one but I’ll let that slide because the tune is so damn good. Over the raunchier music lies big, pop-laden melodies, shitloads of hooks and a refrain so catchy it hurts. A great closer that leaves you with a lust for more.
If you have a weak spot for the two previous First Signal albums, I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t dig this one as well. If you’re into Melodic Rock, AOR and American Arena Rock there are lots to love here – world-class musicians, a singer that’s so underrated it’s criminal, a slick and smooth production that never becomes cheesy because the Hard Rock roots are always showing and strong tunes where the worst one is good. I still hold the debut as my favorite First Signal outing but this one sure is breathing down the debut’s neck. I know it might just be wishful thinking on my part but sound wise, Line Of Fire brings on more of a band-feel here than ever – maybe it’s because there are four guys handling all the musical duties here, I dunno. But with three great records down, I sure can’t help but to wish for this project turning into a full-blown band now. I know I’d go and see them in a heartbeat if they ever were to land on Swedish soil.
More First Signal reviews:
1. Born To Be A Rebel
2. A Million Miles
3. Last Of My Broken Heart
4. Tonight We Are The Only
5. Walk Through The Fire
6. Never Look Back
7. Line Of Fire
8. Here With You
9. Need You Now
11. The End Of The World