Artist: Brother Firetribe
The 80s have returned! Brother Firetribe has paid homage to the music world’s greatest decade with False Metal (2006), Heart Full of Fire (2008), and Diamond in the Firepit (2014). After the release of Diamond…, singer Pekka Heino promised that the fans didn’t have to wait for another 6 years to hear the follow-up, and the band totally delivered: this spring, the Kerava-based AOR extravaganza sweeps us back once again to the time of shoulder pads and Wayfarer sunglasses with their latest effort, Sunbound.
To the people not acquainted with Brother Firetribe’s material, the name of the game is adult-oriented rock with such catchy melodies and feel-good vibes that if listening to it doesn’t create a wide grin on your face, you’re probably dead inside. Sunbound doesn’t waste time – the titular intro track’s reverbed drums and piano track sound like the equivalent of spraying Cheese Whiz straight into your mouth. The actual first song, “Help is on the Way”, starts off with Emppu Vuorinen’s hefty guitar riff and a drum fill, with the keyboards joining in, carrying the song through the verse to a flawless Firetribe chorus. The vocal harmonies between Pekka Heino and the bassist Jason Flinck sound amazing after 3 years! For some reason, the chorus was reminiscent of “Wolf and the Moon”, a song from Heino’s other band, Leverage. Wonder if it was intentional? “Indelible Heroes” is another guaranteed killer track, in which the band pays their respects to rock musicians already passed. The song’s chording is incredibly simple, but Brother Firetribe doesn’t have to over-complicate things to make their songs work. Both “Help is on the Way” and “Indelible Heroes” will surely be staples in their live sets on this spring’s tour.
Sunbound’s first single and the soundtrack for HOK-Elanto’s marketing campaign, “Taste of a Champion”, might just be Brother Firetribe’s best song to date. The band shamelessly rips off the best parts of all the movie montage themes from the 80’s, but not once does the song sound like plagiarism. The song’s verses, while excellent on their own, only function as catalyst for the chorus that wipes the floor with half of the worn-out 80’s hit singles – this would have topped all the charts 30 years ago!
Even though Tomppa Nikulainen’s soothing keyboards carry “Last Forever” nicely onward, as a bit of a calmer piece, its fate is to be slightly shadowed by the glory of “Taste of a Champion.” Sunbound’s own “Heard it on My Radio” – titled “Give Me Tonight”, and is played practically wholly in major chords – speeds things up for a moment before the record slows down to its most tranquil part. “Shock” is a pretty atypical Brother Firetribe ballad, probably featuring Heino’s lowest-pitched vocal melodies in the band’s repertoire, but the minimalistic song wins over its listener with its pressing and ominous chorus. This kind of integrity isn’t achievable by everyone.
The record returns to its more rockish pace with “Strangled”, greatly reminiscing Diamond in the Firepit’s “Trail of Tears.” Moreover, “Heart of the Matter” moves towards a more easy listening –type of track, as the guitar trades places with a playful keyboard melody. If the keyboards were more dominant, one could almost compare them to Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand.” The song ends pretty abruptly though – I would have loved to listen this for one more passage.
Brother Firetribe arranged a poll a while back on their Facebook page, asking their fans which song they should record as a cover for Sunbound. I voted for John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire”, and eventually I got half of it correct – the cover choice was Parr’s “Restless Heart”, originally made for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man. For the first time that I was listening through the album, I let it play on the background as I was doing something else, and it wasn’t until the end of the song when I actually realized what was playing. If that doesn’t give a hint on Brother Firetribe’s ability to make other people’s songs their own, I don’t know what will. An excellent output, and with these merits you definitely should do “St. Elmo’s Fire” for the next album!
Freshly released as Sunbound’s third single, “Big City Dream” offers that faster rock stuff for the last time, but the album’s closing track, “Phantasmagoria”, is such a piece of work that all those rock bands that lived their golden years in the 80’s are likely to be home, crying over their sequined shirts because they cannot create anything like this song anymore. The song begins with a tender rhythm and gradually increasing orchestrations, interrupted by a brief acoustic guitar, before exploding into a chorus the size of an apartment building. The orchestrations keep growing larger as the song moves towards its bridge and the final chorus, after which it’s all out. Five minutes is not enough for this kind of sublimity! If the kids these days still understand a thing about music, “Phantasmagoria” will be the last ballad for the evening everywhere this year.
All-in-all, Sunbound is an extremely fine record and a manifestation of the fact that Brother Firetribe’s magic hasn’t gone anywhere. It even might be their best album yet – at least close – and even if it’s only March, I can easily predict Sunbound being featured on the ‘albums of the year’ –lists of quite a few rock fans. While the songs are rock-solid, the production values don’t lose one bit, as Sunbound plays with a good deal of beefiness to it without sounding too polished. With a package like this, the band should easily be able to make it big outside of Finland as well, so hopefully the guys will embark on a world-conquering tour after the summer, before Nightwish once again engulfs Emppu Vuorinen.
I would love to bump the score even more, but fading out “Phantasmagoria” was such a criminal act that Sunbound will have to settle with ‘only’ a 9.
Score: 9/10 or 4.5/5 stars
2. Help is on the Way
3. Indelible Heroes
4. Taste of a Champion
5. Last Forever
6. Give Me Tonight
9. Heart of the Matter
10. Restless Heart
11. Big City Dream