Friday, October 30, 2020

HARMONIZE "Warrior In The Night"


(c) 2020 Independent Release

  1. Warriors In Line (Intro)
  2. Never Back Down
  3. Warrior In The Night
  4. Angel
  5. The Astonishing End
  6. Tonight
  7. Crawling Among Shadows
  8. Beyond Darkness (Outro)
  9. Angel (Acoustic)

Sozos Michael--Lead Vocals
Giorgos Constantinou--Rhythm Guitars
Lambros Apousinas--Lead Guitars
Panagiotis Takkides--Bass
Harvys Peratikas--Drums

I want you to take a good, long look at that album cover.  Seriously...give it a hard stare.  Pretty dang cool, right?!  Definitely a metal cover with the silhouetted warrior, the fire, the swords, and the professional-looking logo.  All top notch!  Trust me, the back cover is, also, with a wolf silhouetted against a lightning strike in some ominous looking mountains.  Again, very cool!  And I want you to etch that into your memory, because once you actually listen to Warrior In The Night, I want you to have SOMETHING memorable to take away, because the music is definitely not!

Things start off okay...actually, fairly good...with a thunderous drum cadence that kicks into a big battle march-styled pattern, with some pretty good riffing going on underneath.  There are some cool guitar licks going on as the cadence intensifies and the power grows, with the vocals not joining until the last few seconds when the song's title is power-bellowed, "Warriors, In Line!"  Not bad, really, and I still have some hopes things may turn out okay.

"Never Back Down" sounds a bit like the galloping type of power metal that Iron Maiden used to put out back in the day, but with inferior vocals, far inferior production, and severely inferior drumming.  The rhythm guitars are pretty solid, however, and the guitar solo is decent, so things aren't unlistenable at this point, even if they aren't necessarily enjoyable.  It feels like I have heard this a hundred times from a hundred different bands that want to be the next Manowar or Hammerfall or the like, but as with all other imitators, Harmonize fails.  And they fail largely because they don't do anything original or exciting, even if they are competent in the execution of this track.  The production is not good, which doesn't help, as we have a very muddy mix and the guitar tones are flat and completely off.  And to throw a bit more on the fire, the lead vocals, while definitely not the worst I have heard, are pretty heavily accented and overdramatic, which just slaps another layer of cheesy schmaltz onto an already struggling song.  And the really sad thing?  This is the best song on the album!

The wheels fall completely off by the time the title track rolls track three, no less.  Honestly, the tone and tempo of "Warrior In The Night" makes me think of some of the over-the-top drama that Spinal Tap produced on-stage in that classic film!  This is's bad, folks.  Is Harmonize trying to create a new power-doom genre here?  Because if they are, I think they succeed to a degree, but the results are not good.  The lyrics are what I sometimes refer to as "pure Swiss", meaning all cheese and full of holes!  Pick a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, take every cliched lyric you have ever heard about that campaign, and set it to off-tune, poorly mixed power metal (played at a doom metal pace for half the six minute track), throw in some off-the-cuff death metal-esque vocals and you have a decent idea of what we are dealing with here.  The lead guitars aren't terrible...not overly original, but not terrible...and the bass line is competent, but the song is about three minutes too long and that overwrought intro just kills anything good that may have come of this track.

From this point on, things get even worse.  "Angel" may be the most painful song on the album, and we have to listen to it TWICE (once in acoustic form)!  Why?!  Again, brutally bad lyrics and some of the most cringe-inducing down-tempo drumming I have ever heard plague another poorly mixed track that goes absolutely nowhere.  The accent on the vocals is annoying, the random shouting of "Angel!" in the background is annoying, the hyper-repetitive guitar riff is annoying...and did I mention the drumming?  There is a nice uptick in the tempo at roughly the three minute mark which turns the song from a plodding nightmare into a galloping bad dream, so that's a step up, I suppose. this on the record twice is punishment for a crime I didn't commit!

Sadly, "The Astonishing End" isn't the end of the record (the forced re-listen to acoustic "Angel" brings things to a close), but it is nearing the end of my patience.  The rhythm guitars aren't bad and the drumming is...okay, I suppose...but nothing works here, and they don't work for nearly seven LOOOOONG minutes!  But even more sad is the fact that this isn't the longest torture session on the record!  No, that (dis)honor goes to "Crawling Among Shadows", which spends the first two minutes dragging the listener through a sludgy pit of doom, only to add insult to injury by dumping some subpar death growl vocals into the mix.  The lead guitars are the only, and I mean ONLY, saving grace on this track, and even those seem to lose their tempo a bit when the incredibly long instrumental break launches after the second (or was it third) run through the chorus.  Actually, this instrumental break isn't that bad and may be the true highlight of the album!  Heck, even the drum patterns come off as a bit interesting here.  But then those dang vocals come back...and then have the balls to tease you with a false ending at the seven minute mark!  THERE'S STILL TWO MORE MINUTES OF PAIN HERE!

I may have misstated things earlier when I said "Angel" was the worst track here, because the real worst track here is the SIX AND A HALF MINUTE LONG SPOKEN WORD outro!  And I don't care if this is performed by the London actress Nicolina Papas, who also co-wrote this metallic mish-mash (should I know who she is?), this is just bad, bad musical drama at it's D&D worst.  I'm going to be honest with you and admit that I kept skipping forward in this track to see if there was any reason to continue listening...and there wasn't.  Gack!  I will honestly NEVER listen to this track again, but then again, I will likely never listen to this album again, either.  In fact, I have already deleted the files from my computer.  Now, what do I do with the CD....???

I'm not even going to rehash "Angel"; I'm just not going to do it.  Just know its the same song but acoustic.

In all honesty and seriousness, this is not a good record.  Oh, the effort is there, no doubt, there are parts of songs that are pretty good, and there are some moments where things almost come together in a good way, but they are few and far between...and I did say almost come together, because it never really happens.  And I hate saying these things because I want every independent band to succeed.  Perhaps Harmonize will get there, they just miss the mark on this effort, and they do so in virtually every way.

My suggestion to the band would be to spend less on the artwork/insert budget (which is very well done) and focus more on the production and mixing of the album.  Let's be honest; we have all heard KILLER records from a simple slipcase, and while not ideal for those of us who are collectors, it is a far sight better than an amazing package with nothing to back it up.  Such is the case with Harmonize, sadly.

Rating:  Give this a 2 and TURN IT OFF.  However, you should pin the cover art up somewhere because...well, it is pretty metal!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020



(c) 2020 Lion's Pride Music

  1. Out Of Touch
  2. Price Of Love
  3. Gimme All You've Got
  4. I Don't Wanna Lose You
  5. (There's So) Many Things
  6. Sleeping With The Enemy
  7. It Ain't So Easy (Loving You)
  8. Ride, Ride, Ride
  9. Dangerous Minds
  10. Feel The Hunger
  11. Follow Me Up (CD-only Bonus Track)
Rod Marenna--Vocals
Alex Meister--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Cris Cavioli--Bass, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Sidney Sohn--Keys (2, 4, 5, 7 and 8)
Adriano Fontenele--Backing Vocals (1, 2, 3 and 4)
C. Marshall--Backing Vocals (5 and 11)

It is no secret I am a huge fan of the band Marenna, as I think they are producing some of the best melodic hard rock that you have likely never heard over the past decade.  Since the Brazilian powerhouse vocalist jumped to Denmark's Lion's Pride Music, Marenna has released a tasty little tease of an EP with his self-titled band, and now this full-length follow-up with monster axe-slinger, Alex Meister!  If you are a fan of the melodic hard rock style of the 80s, but with cleaner, beefier production, then this new "super group", Marenna/Meister is going to be exactly what you are looking for!

The album kicks off with the hard rocking "Out Of Touch", which I thought was a typo at first since the album's title is Out Of Reach.  Turns out, this is simply one of those albums that doesn't have a title track.  Regardless, this is a top-notch intro to this album, and right away the change in guitarist styles is different.  The guitar players Marenna has used in his solo band have always been of high quality, especially on his debut, My Unconditional Faith, but with this album, things are ramped up quite a bit.  The melodic quality is definitely still there, but Meister has a shred quality to his playing that was not as obvious in previous efforts.  Marenna's powerful tenor is on full display from the start, and when the rhythm guitars kick in, it is obvious there is something special going on here.  A solid bottom end from the bass and drums helps support the catchy song structure, and a massive solo ripping through the core of the track is pure icing on the cake, with the flash and flair from Meister bringing an additional spark to the always strong songwriting that Marenna brings to the table.  A fantastic start to this record!  

Next up is the album's lead single, "The Price Of Love", and the melodic goodness continues in a big way!  Adding in a few keyboards, Marenna/Meister unleash an absolute must-hear track here, complete with big, layered vocals that intro the track and a driving guitar line that powers its way through the track.  To me, this is the kind of melodic hard rock that was delivered so perfectly by bands like Baton Rouge and Babylon AD back in the day, and Marenna/Meister nails the sound and style here!  Once again, Alex lays into an absolutely huge guitar solo here making the listener wonder why they have never had the chance to hear him bend strings before.  The guy can flat out get after it!  Excellent stuff, to be sure, but you can check out the lyric video below to get your own listen.

"Gimme All You Got" is another big, melodic rocker that is chock full of big hooks and a massive solo from Meister that really leaves me wondering why the guy isn't more well-known outside of South America.  Seriously, this guy has guitar god charisma dripping off of him, he has the look, he has the chops, he has speed, he has why doesn't anyone know who he is???  Anyway, this track is so typical of the greatness that Marenna exhibits with his solo band, and it is only bolstered with Meister on guitars.  Excellent melodic hard rock with Marenna's powerhouse vocals, some great layered vocals on the chorus sections, a strong bass presence throughout the track, and rock-steady drum work; what more could one ask for?

"I Don't Wanna Lose You" slows things down just a bit, teasing at a ballad with the intro before laying into a rifftastic mid-tempo rocker that absolutely nails the style!  The opening guitar riff is reminiscent of something from Def Leppard before giving way to a song that feels more like a Tyketto track or something similar.  Meister's solo here is among the best on the album as his finger do some serious flying up and down the frets and Marenna is dominant as usual.  This is definitely a top three track for me on this record.

The opening guitar riff on "(There's So) Many Things" screams 80s hard rock radio...heck, the whole song does for that matter.  The production on the drums is absolutely 1988, which is a GREAT thing, and the bass line locks in tight to support the solid rhythm guitars and yet another screaming solo from Meister.  I've noticed that a lot of Marenna's accent is gone from this record, which makes his vocals all that much better even if the accent was never really a major issue for me in the first place.  

"Sleeping With The Enemy" opens with a gritty guitar riff and a massive wail from Marenna and this dirty rocker is off and running!  Probably my favorite track on the record, "Sleeping With The Enemy" really has everything an 80s rock fan could possibly be looking for, from a catchy guitar hook, a fret-burning solo, a simple, sing-along chorus, big arena-styled drums, and some really good backing vocal work.  Were this 1989, this would likely be all over Headbanger's Ball.

"It Ain't So Easy (Loving You)" slows things down quite a bit, but I wouldn't really call this a power ballad so much as a slow-tempoed rocker.  Marenna drops into the lower portion of his range, with the backing vocals following suit, and Meister lays into a smooth, soulful solo that is dead-on perfect for the track.  This reminds me of something that Tyketto might have put out in their earliest days, with a lot of power backing the polish of the song, and I would again have to put this in the top three or four songs on the record.  Love this tune.

 "Dangerous Minds" has a funky bass riff and some excellent riffage going on and the song is a bit reminiscent of something Electric Boys were doing in their "Lips N Hips" days.  Definitely more melodic in the vocals department, but you get the picture.  And the album closes in fine fashion with another riff rocker in "Feel The Hunger", giving the listener one more chance to hear Marenna's vocal dominance and Meister's amazing guitar skills, including yet another scorching solo run.  An absolutely great closer to an equally great record.

The CD comes with a bonus track, but unfortunately it was not provided to me for this review.  This seems to be a licensing issue with some European labels, as rarely do I get bonus tracks in digital review packages.  Such is life, I suppose.  I am sure the track is of very high quality, as well, or Marenna would likely not have allowed its inclusion.

The production is very good, if not perfect.  The mix is definitely top notch, and the guitars are very clear sounding, as is Marenna's vocals.  There is a bit of an older sound to the production, which I found a bit odd considering how clean and melodic the material is, but after a couple of listens I honestly didn't even notice it any longer.  Again, the production isn't muddy or dead sounding (dry, flat drums, lacking bass, etc.), it just isn't as...shiny as I might have expected.  Honestly nothing lost in what is presented, however.

As much as I have loved Marenna's solo stuff, I have to say that I think I could find myself falling in line with Marenna/Meister even more, as the aggressive edge and enhanced guitar work really adds even more to what was already a favorite of mine.  I hope that this is not a one-and-done project because I feel like M&M could really be onto something special here, which is a sentiment I think nearly everyone who hears Out Of Reach will agree with.  Excellent stuff well worth seeking out!

Rating:  Crankable in a big way!  Crank this to 8.5!

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Monday, October 26, 2020

NEON ANGEL "Neon Light District"


(c) 2020 Sliptrick Records

  1. Another Kind Of Love
  2. Neon Angel
  3. Love Addiction
  4. Are You There
  5. The City Is Sleeping
  6. World On Fire
  7. Night Tripper
  8. Simon
Johanna Etelakari--Lead Vocals
Tuomas Saari--Guitars
Juho Savikurki--Synth
Tomas Kurki--Bass
Johannes Lati--Drums

Neon Angel is a new band for me that found its way to my inbox from Finland.  Sporting strong female lead vocals, Neon Angel has a definite affinity for 80s metal, incorporating strong guitar leads and a powerful bass presence along with synthesizers and pretty much typical 80s-styled drumming.  However, rather than simply rehash the 80s hard rock sound, Neon Angel uses their synth presence to produce a sound that is a hybrid of 80s metal and New Wave with a little goth rock flavor (especially on "Are You There"), giving them a sound that is not really like anyone else I can think of off the top of my head.

Stylistically, there is no real way to nail down the sound of Neon Angel, exactly, as no two songs here really sound all that much alike and, as I stated above, there is a definite cross-contamination of styles at play.  On Neon Light District's opening track, "Another Kind Of Love", big arena styled drums kick off what feels like a big 80s metal anthem complete with some early 80s Deep Purple-styled keyboard to really provide a full, driving rock sound.  Catchy and teasingly familiar, "Another Kind Of Love" is a really good opening track for the band, although I do with the guitar solo had more emphasis in the song.  What the song does do very well, however, is showcase the vocals of Johanna Etelakari (just Johanna from here on out).  Johanna's vocals are definitely upper-register, with just enough of a sassy snarl to carry that tough 80s rocker chick vibe, and the backing vocals are layered nicely as well, giving Johanna a full sound through the chorus sections.  

The band's namesake track, Neon Angel, is up next and intros with what sounds for all the world to me to be a harpsichord to start things off, before giving way to a really smooth, soulful lead-in solo from Saari, which is one of the few times he is truly given the green light to really show off his skill.  Then, suddenly, the song kicks into high gear on a poppy, New Wave inspired rocker that is very synth heavy with Johanna taking on more of a Debbie Harry-styled approach to her vocals.  Think of Harry singing "Rapture" for an idea of how Johanna handles the vocal lines here, even though the song itself has more in common with a harder rocking Psychedelic Furs than with Blondie. The funny thing is, I actually kind of like the song and applaud the band for bringing all of their influences to the table here.

A dirty guitar riff and a rollicking piano kick things off on "Love Addiction" which again finds Johanna in that Debbie Harry region vocally.  In fact, if pressed, I would have to say this is the style she tends toward throughout the record and I have to give her credit, as she handles the style and range very well.  Musically, this track isn't that far removed from something Lita Ford might have done in the 80s, although there are still more synths incorporated in the track than your typical stadium rockers utilized back in the day.  But that's okay.  Neon Angel is definitely not a clone of anyone and there is something to be said for that.  The chorus is pretty catchy here, and the guitar work, while not flashy, is definitely solid and drives the song forward.  To my ear, this is the musical style the band works best with, and Johanna can seemingly handle pretty much any style the band wants to work in, so I would say "Love Addiction" is one of the best two or three tracks here.

"Are You There" slows things down a bit, but doesn't tone down the intensity or diversity of the music at all.  Starting off with a bass riff and some straight-forward time-keeping percussion, Johanna whispers "are you there?", an 80s-inspired keyboard tone plinks in a few notes, and the song hits its stride.  This is a darker-vibed song than most here and Johanna's voice takes on something of a haunting tone throughout the course of this nearly six minute track.  To me, this type of song screams 80s movie soundtrack, something like Lost Boys or the like, which incorporated hard rockers and more New Wave alt rock tracks.  "Are You There" is definitely in the latter category, and I found myself continually waiting for the guitar that is buzzing just below the surface to really rip itself free of the song, but it never does.  Again, this is an intense, dark song, but it is lacking that something to really put it over the top for me, and I'm guaranteeing that "something" is just a ferocious guitar riff and searing solo to drive this track home.

"The City Is Sleeping" returns to a more straight-forward hard rock style with dirty rhythm guitar riff, thick bass work...and some cowbell!!!...on a gritty number that once again is something akin to what you might have heard Lita Ford tackling in 1988.  This is would probably my favorite track on the record as it the track that finds the band shedding the majority of the synth and New Wave stylings in favor of straight up arena rock (albeit with some seriously kickass bass work from Kurki).  I say "would be my favorite", as well as "shedding the majority of the synth and New Wave stylings because I'll be darned if a key-tar solo doesn't pop up after the second chorus, which really knocked me upside the head and does a lot of damage to an otherwise really good song.  At this point, I'm really wondering if Saari is just not comfortable with (or capable of) solo work.  He is definitely a competent rhythm player, but nowhere does he just lay into an old school solo that would go so far in stepping a couple of these songs forward a big step.

"World On Fire" and "Night Tripper" are both decent enough rockers, with "World On Fire" kicking off with some big, arena-styled drum work and an early 80s hard rock approach that laces synths into the spaces the guitars don't cover, and also features some decent guitar work on the record.  Once again, Johanna is in that Debbie Harry range vocally, and the band sounds incredibly comfortable here.  "Night Tripper" is the hardest-hitting track on the album, with a far more uptempo take on the Neon Angel sound and style than anything else here.  The rhythm guitars are really strong here and the keys/synths are relegated to a supporting role in this track that combines a NWOBHM sound with something closer to Loverboy.  I know, I know...sounds crazy, but that is really where my head goes.  If the keys were there, I'd come close to comparing Neon Angel to Girlschool here, but then those keys hit and my mind goes off on a "Working For The Weekend" tangent for some reason.  Saari does hit his only real guitar solo of the record here, and it's actually pretty good, and I'd have to say this is probably the best track on the record overall.  

The album closes with the longest song here, the nearly six minute ballad, "Simon".  Johanna is really strong here, showcasing her range well, but the track is simply too overwrought for my tastes.  The piano does some nice work on the first half of the song, and the oddly utilized guitars add an eerie vibe to the track, but when coupled with the old-school production, this song just comes at me from a weird direction and doesn't do much for me, to be honest.  On a positive note, the bass work here is once again excellent, and there are some unique orchestrations going on but this is pretty much just a filler track to me.

The production here is definitely old school in its sound, and it really feels like this is an album that might be best listened to on vinyl, or perhaps even cassette, as there is none of the digital sterility that a lot of bands use today to make their music sound brighter and more polished.  That isn't to say Neon Light District sounds like it was recorded in a basement or garage, because that is not the case.  But, just as the band has a definite love and feel for the 80s style, so to do they utilize more 80s-styled production methods on this record, giving the entire project a truly indie band, throwback feel.  Some will relish in the sound and style and some will be turned off by it, no doubt.  It is what it is.

Overall, there is a good deal of talent here, especially in Johanna's vocals and the strong synth work from Savikurki.  That last part is odd for me to write, as I normally find myself complaining about too many keys or too much synth, but with Neon Angel, the synth is such an integral part of the sound a lesser musician would likely have really muddied the feel the band was seeking here.  The rhythm guitars are solid, and while generally unspectacular there are a couple of decent guitar leads, and the bass is really strong throughout the record.  As I mentioned before, the drums are pretty much the 80s New Wave/harder radio rock standard style here, which means they fit well but aren't something that are going to jump out at you.  Giving this project an even more 80s feel is the fact that there are only eight songs here, as was often the case in the A-side, B-side days of vinyl.  All but one of the songs tops 4 minutes in length, with two nearly hitting 6 minutes, so you aren't being cheated out of a bunch of music here, it's just stretched out across longer songs.

If this type of hybrid rock sounds like it might interest you, I think Neon Angel is worth giving a shot.  

Rating:  Not bad at all, and definitely Rock-worthy, although Neon Angel will definitely not be everyone's cup of tea.  Rock this at 6!

Friday, October 9, 2020

FIREFLIGHT "Who We Are: The Head and the Heart"


(c) 2020 RockFest Records

  1. Ready For More
  2. Bang Bang
  3. Who We Are
  4. How To Fly
  5. Keep Your Head Up
  6. Welcome To The Show
  7. Bury The Dead
  8. Arrow
  9. I Believe You
  10. Don't Let Me Go
Dawn Michele--Lead Vocals
Wendy Drennen--Bass, Backing Vocals
Glenn Drennen--Guitars
Justin Cox--Guitars
Adam McMillion--Drums, Percussion

It has been since 2015 that Fireflight released new music, and that last effort, Innova, was a big disappointment to a lot of long-time fans, myself included.  A mish-mash of mostly electronic music with only withering amounts of the modern melodic hard rock that the band had come to be known for, Innova seeemed to be a whimper of an end to a solid career for the band that released their first album, Glam-Rok nearly two decades ago.  But, with a shot at a rebirth of sorts on the booming Rockfest Records label, and co-writing and production credits from hot commodity Josiah Prince of Disciple, Fireflight has come roaring back with Who We Are: The Head and the Heart, due out later this month.

Reuniting the original line-up (minus drummer Phee Shorb), Fireflight comes out firing on all cylinders immediately, setting the tone for their most complete, hardest-hitting record in their seven album (and a couple of EPs) career.  Granted, most of their previous releases featured numerous Christian rock radio hits such as "For Those Who Wait", "You Decide", "Desperate", and many others, but never has one of the band's albums been able to sustain my attention from start to finish.  In fact, as great as many of the singles were, I honestly never really connected with an album in its entirety prior to Who We Are.  Even as someone who owns the band's catalog, and who really likes Glam-Rok and 2012's Now, I always felt Fireflight's records would make GREAT EPs, but carried too much filler and, quite frankly, lost me on the majority of their ballads which come off as simply too sugary.  I am happy to state that these issues are simply not the case with Who We Are!

The album kicks off with a build up of electronics and programmed sounds, and I was honestly concerned we were in for Innova II.  But after about 40 seconds of looped effects, Dawn Michele's vocals kick in, the guitars join the mix, and the drums of McMillion kick in and it is obvious that, at least for the moment, the Fireflight of rock-oriented albums For Those Who Wait and Now has returned.  Dawn's vocals, instantly recognizable as they are, carry a punch and a power they lacked on the last record, dropping the breathy tone she employed on much of Innova and returning to her big, sweeping ROCK voice that drove tracks like "Stay Close" and "Stronger Than You Think".  The bass is thick and present here, and the guitars of Cox and Drennen are lively and driving, using the electronic background as a canvas upon which to paint their rhythms and solos.  A mid-tempo rocker, "Ready For More" definitely had me in the mindset the song's title implies, as I was psyched for what was to come next.

"Bang Bang" ups the energy and tempo as Dawn bursts from the speakers after just a single drum strike, and the buzzsaw guitars are off and running.  Once again, yes, there are some programmed electronic elements employed here, but they are role players here rather than the dominating instrument of the track.  The vocals take on an urgent tone throughout the track, and once again the lively bass line from Wendy Drennen throbs incessantly throughout this track.  Again, the guitar tandem of Glenn Drennen and Justin Cox carves its way through the track with a driving heaviness the likes of which Fireflight has only occasionally hinted at in the past.  This is an excellent rocker that I would imagine will be released as a single in the near future.  

Speaking of singles, the title track and lead single, "Who We Are" is up next and is exactly the type of song long-time Fireflight fans have been dreaming their band would grace them with again at some point.  A soft electronic build is present, with an acoustic guitar drifting across the soundscape, only to be interrupted by some sharp drums and a churning rhythm guitar that revs the track into full gear.  Dawn's vocals are in peak form here (and throughout the record, honestly), and the hard-hitting rock track instantly recalls the best singles of the band's past.  Shouted backing vocals, a sing-along chorus, punchy rhythms, and gritty guitar tones...all the ingredients of what made Fireflight one of, if not THE, dominant female-fronted Christian rock bands in the entire scene...are all present in a big way here and are demanding the band be heard!  Don't let their Christian label deter you from giving "Who We Are" a shot, radio programmers, as this is some excellent modern melodic hard rock that should be in your playlist now!  Check out the video below:

"How To Fly" picks right up where the crushing blow of "Who We Are" ends, punching you in the earhole with a thick guitar riff and cellar-dwelling bass (along with some fat...FAT...bottom end synth lines) to drive home a crunchy, mid-tempo riff-rocker.  There's an airy interlude after the second chorus that throws a bit of a curveball into the otherwise straight fastball mix here, but it serves to remind that Fireflight is not a one-trick pony and allows their more melodic side to show through a bit more.  The full-on rock returns after a few moments, however, and "How To Fly" rocks hard through to the finish.

Things take a bit of a downturn, tempo-wise, with "Keep Your Head Up", a track which starts off with a piano and strings intro that builds throughout the first verse, giving way to the full punch of the band on the pre-chorus and chorus sections, only to return again for the second verse.  There is a nice, crunchy section following the second chorus with a vocal bridge that really lets Dawn explore her full vocal range, then the piano returns for a few bars and the final run through the chorus rips through, complete with an outro guitar solo that is packed with soul and emotion.  Not a true ballad, but definitely a more down-tempo track...albeit one packed with a lot of musical power..."Keep Your Head Up" is head-and-shoulders above most of the slower-tempoed tracks of Fireflight's past, at least for me.

My personal favorite tracks hit back-to-back next with "Welcome To The Show" and "Bury The Dead", two great rockers that again showcase the power that Fireflight is capable of delivering while remaining true to who they are.  "Welcome To The Show" incorporates some quirky vocal tricks from Dawn in the way she intones certain words and phrases in the verse sections, utilizing a wicked-yet-playful lilt that entices the listener and pulls their ear forward in ring-master fashion!  There's a frantic, somewhat spoken-word vocal bridge after the second chorus run followed by a chugging stop-start-stop-start guitar section packed with chainsaw snarl and punch, and then a last run through the chorus that also drops some unique electronic elements into the mix.  I hope that this song gets airplay at some point, as  it is both totally unique and totally Fireflight at the same time.  "Bury The Dead", on the other hand, is a straight ahead rock anthem that will likely become an instant must-perform track at any future Fireflight shows.  A big, sing-along chorus really showcases the power that Dawn is able to pour into a song in which she asks herself if she "can move on if I bury the dead", leaving her broken past behind and surrendering to the Truth.  A big, big rocker with driving guitar lines, excellent drum work, and some killer layered backing vocals, "Bury The Dead" is definitely my favorite track for me on Who We Are, and unquestionably top five in Fireflight's catalog; I love this track that much.

"Arrow" is the album's only real ballad moment, and even then I'm not 100% sure I'd use that tag on the track as this isn't "slow dance" material, or anything like that.  Melding the poppier side of Fireflight with Dawn Michele's sweeping vocals, "Arrow" is definitely a sparse song, largely devoid of any crunch or grind from the guitars and with minimal percussion, but one that delivers in a big way for fans that just want to hear Dawn cut loose and carry a song on her back.

Acoustic guitars intro "I Believe You" and carry the track throughout the first verse and chorus break, joined by a string section and the drums about halfway through verse two.  There's a big build coming out of the second verse, with the whole band jumping in and a huge, melodic guitar solo sweeping in over the orchestral arrangement that supports the song at this point.  I really like how this song brings things together at the end, finishing in a place that you might not have guessed it would build to when you hear the first half of the track.  A really good musical piece.

The album closes with a slow-building-to-mid-tempo rock number that has some really nice punch but also maintains a smooth flow, again echoing some of the things Fireflight has done in the past, but doing it better than I remember in most places.  Dawn's vocals are a definite focal point here, especially as she becomes starkly raw, standing free of the band for a brief moment coming out of the final chorus run, allowing emotion to become the driving force behind her words.  While not the rocker one might have been expecting the band to close with, it is still a song of significant power and strength and is one of the defining moments of an album that, to me, is filled with RE-defining moments for the band.  

While not a member of the band, a shout out has to be given to Josiah Prince of Disciple, who is really making a name for himself in the writing and production world.  He brings a cohesiveness to the project that is not always present on previous Fireflight albums, as the songs all work to move from one to the next without sounding like the same song over and over.  The mix is exquisite and the instruments are all exposed to the listener in a way that makes them easy to hear while not dominating the song.  I really like the extra bit of edge that is added to the guitar tones of several tracks here, and having both guitars back in the band again really adds a power that was definitely lacking from Innova.  Lastly, I feel like Prince really drew the best vocal performance from Dawn Michele that I have ever heard on record.  She always had power and presence, but on Who We Are, she adds emotion without relying on breathiness, she adds coyness without becoming cutesie.  To be frank, at times her vocals took on a saccharine sheen on previous records, especially on ballads, that turned me off to a degree.  Not so on this record, not by a stretch. On Who We Are she crushes the album from start to finish in peak form!     

If I have any complaints about Who We Are: The Head and the Heart, they really aren't about the music or the band.  But, I do have two complaints, so I am going to air them here.  First...why wasn't the 2018 single, "Die Free", which featured Kevin Young from Disciple on guest vocals, included here, perhaps as a bonus track for pre-orders?  It would have been yet another incentive to help boost pre-sales and would have given us "physical over digital" fans a chance to own the track in a non-CD-R burned format.  My second complaint ties indirectly into my first.  Who We Are is actually being marketed as two stand-alone EPs, with pre-orders being the only way to get them both on one CD.  Now, I totally get the gimmick here, especially since Rockfest boss Joseph Rojas did the exact same thing on the most recent release from his band, Seventh Day Slumber; it is a gimmick to drive pre-sales.  And, again, I get it.  But, and this is just my opinion...which is really why you read this blog if you think about it...the pre-sale packages with the t-shirt, signed poster, sticker, and all that stuff, is likely incentive enough for most people that are going to pre-order anyway.  There's no need to make people pay for two separate EPs that, to be honest, would both be relatively short (both would clock in at roughly 22 minutes each).  Like I said, if you want to make a full-length version that had "Die Free" on it as a pre-order bonus, that's awesome; I'm all for that.  Doing it the two EP route just comes off as a money grab to me.  And maybe it is; I am not privy to Rockfest's financial statements, so maybe this is the cost of doing physical release business now in a digital world.  Regardless, I'm set because I DID pre-order the package because I wanted to help support the band and label and, in all honesty, because I wanted the single CD instead of having to buy two EPs.  (See...I frequently buy the albums I review here, even if I get advance promo copies.  I'm a stand-up guy!)

Regardless of my two little gripes, this is a big-time comeback from Fireflight that shows this band has a lot left in the tank.  The writing is the strongest from start to finish the band has ever put together, the performances are tight and punchy and full of energy, and Prince's production makes what would still likely have been a really good project a great one.  It is not a coincidence that I say this is, hands down, the best Fireflight has ever sounded on record and Who We Are: The Head and the Heart is, likewise, the best record that band has ever put out...also hands down.  If you hurry, you may still be able to preorder a copy HERE.

Rating:  A very crankable return for Fireflight, Who We Are is a definite 8.5!  This is excellent stuff!