I’ve never been a big fan of Finland’s Brother Firetribe. People who know my musical taste often express surprise at this, but heretofore there’s always been something about them I’ve felt wasn’t quite right. To me, they’ve never lived up to the hype.
With Sunbound, all that has changed. By some way this is the best-ever sounding Brother Firetribe record, with all the promise the band has undoubtedly had over the years seemingly coming together in this one complete package.
The songwriting is better, too. Opening track Help is on the Way has an understandable whiff of Nightwish about it – you’re telling me you didn’t know ‘Wish guitarist Emppu Vuorinen was in the band? – but after that what you’re getting is pure, eighties-obsessed AOR of the very highest quality.
Single Indelible Heroes farewells the musical icons that passed away last year in catchy fashion but the real treats start with Taste of a Champion. Oh my word. Vuorinen chugs away discreetly like Frankie Sullivan of Survivor, and as the song develops those Survivor influences just don’t quit. The fight-em-til-you-can’t lyrics come right out of the Jim Peterik songbook, and the impassioned vocals of Pekka Ansio Heinio? Well, yes, they do bring to mind the late, great Jimi Jamison now I come to think of it…
They could stop here and quite frankly I’d be happy, but there’s plenty more where that came from. The balladic Shock is up next, building up from sparse beginnings into a smouldering tale of dark yearning and unrequited lust, whilst Last Forever, built on a twinkling keyboard riff and some quite superb melodic soloing from our man Emppu is another California sun-soaked anthem of quasi-gargantuan proportions.
The uptempo Give Me Tonight is almost unhinged in comparison to the superbly controlled melodic hard rock surrounding it, at least in AOR terms. Guitars and drums head into the red zone as Heinio delivers another first class vocal, bringing to mind another lamented AOR god, this time Fergie Fredriksen. Vuorinen delivers again come solo time, the result being an enjoyable slice of vibrant fun and games that, if not as finessed as the other material, certainly shows the guys know how to enjoy themselves.
Strangled is another keyboard-drenched epic – props really must go Tomppa Nikulainen, whose ivory-tinkling throughout is absolutely top notch – it’s atmospheric feel making you feel it might well have played over the closing credits of a long-forgotten Arnie film you may or may not have seen in the eighties, it’s uber-dramatic refrain lodging itself in your subconscious good n’proper after just the one listen. Heart of the Matter takes it’s foot off the pedal in terms of dynamics but still delivers another hair-raising chorus, and then the band drop a bomb I simply wasn’t ready for,
The bomb of which I speak is the band’s utterly grandiose cover of the classic eighties anthem by John Parr, Restless Heart. I’m not making this up. The goosebumps are still pounding on the forearms as I tap out this doggerel in praise of one of the most simultaneously ludicrous yet utterly essential cover verions I’ve ever heard. The original is great – this is greater. Believe.
After that you’d think it was all over bar the towelling down, But the band pull out another couple of tracks; The penultimate, Big City Dream, is a strident rocker bellowing with pompous keys and stern faced riffage whilst the band bring the curtain down with Phantasmagoria, as epic as it’s title suggests and a fine way to let the listener down gently before they go back to the start and pres play again.
They don’t make many records like this anymore – even the bands that cornered the market in this stuff in the genre’s eighties heyday just don’t seem capable of writing material of this consistency and quality, so Sunbound should be revered and cherished quite rightly as the work of genius it undoubtedly is. Top marks, Finnish blokes!