|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Andy Johnson, Dan Tibell & Kjell Lundstrom|
|Record Label: Rivel||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2006||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 70%|
|Running Time: 50:50|
Firehouse, the fifth full length album from Sweden’s Heartcry, finds the band moving in the same bluesy hard rock direction of its early 2005 release Lightmaker while mixing in an occasional element of commercial hard rock sensibility. The end result is the stronger and more consistent effort musically that holds up under songs featuring catchier choruses and melodies of a more noteworthy nature. Similar to Lightmaker, however, Firehouse does include a few filler tracks, but once you get below the surface you will discover several outstanding examples of bluesy hard rock in “Long Way To Go”, “Thunder & Lightning”, “Viking Of Steel” and “Speed”. The album even delivers a very fine ballad in “Spending Time” in addition to an instrumental entitled “Come Back Home”.
In the end, it is founding member and lead vocalist/guitarist Anders Johansson who ultimately puts the project over the top. One of my complaints regarding Lightmaker was a vocal performance from Johansson that often strayed into strained and abrasive territory. On Firehouse, nevertheless, he still exhibits a few shaky moments but puts forth the better showing with his gritty and at times blues soaked vocal style. Exercising much more control over his delivery, Johansson knows how to add just the right amount of gravel like touch without coming across heavy handed. As a guitarist, he still proves a more than above average talent with his bluesy style of playing, best showcasing his abilities on “Speed”, “Viking Of Steel” and “Come Back Home”. To round out the project, Johansson brought in talented Christian rock veteran Dan Tibell (Jerusalem) on keyboards in addition to two different guitarists and three drummers.
Production values sound better in comparison to Lightmaker but a slight though noticeable element of muddiness still sets things back. The rhythm guitar, for example, could have been mixed more prominently in places, while on a few tracks the keyboards end up a bit “hot” for my taste. Finally, the drums can sound thin and deserve the cleaner mix.
Please note that lyrics were not included with the albums packaging while they are not available at the artists website either.
“This Time” is a good, upbeat album opener. Advancing through its verse portions to an even mix of rhythm guitar and keyboards, the song culminates as it attains a very fine hook filled chorus. Johansson steps forward with several seconds of ardent work on lead guitar.
The bluesy hard rock of “Whats’ Goin” brings to mind the better material off Lightmaker. Opening to a drum solo, “Whats’ Goin” cruises through its first verse at a gritty mid-tempo pace prior to obtaining a tough as a nail chorus with a cool groove-laden vibe. I like how Johansson adds a nice snarl to his vocal delivery here.
“Man Of Love” is one of several tracks on Firehouse to not quite make the grade. The song begins to an instrumental section carried by a blend of keyboards and rhythm guitar. Once the keyboards drop from the mix, “Man Of Love” is driven forward in hard rocking fashion by a pounding riff prior to reaching a chorus effectively backed by an organ. My thoughts? “Man Of Love”, while by no means bad and I can see how others might enjoy the track, does not feature a melody quite strong enough for my taste. I do like, however, how the keyboards and organ dual throughout the songs instrumental section.
“Thunder & Lightning” gets underway to a brief drum solo before taking off to a quickly moving combination of rhythm guitar and organ. Slowing upon reaching its first verse, the song gradually gains momentum until it achieves a high energy chorus buttressed by a complementary touch of vocal harmonies. Johansson decorates the scene with his bluesy work on lead guitar.
The pop flavored “The Clown” also fails to rank with the albums better material. Progressing through its first verse with the rhythm guitar playing a reduced role, “The Clown” obtains a quirky chorus in which Tibell’s keyboards end up mixed way too prominently. A keyboard and lead guitar trade off carries a very well done instrumental section. Similar to “Man Of Love”, on the other hand, I can see how others might get into this one.
The album returns to its hard rocking ways with “Long Way To Go”. Taking off to an in your face mix of rhythm guitar, the pace slows as “Long Way To Go” moves through its verse portions in crunch-flavored fashion only to acquire a catchy chorus highlighted by Johansson’s gravelly vocal delivery. Very well done and definitely one of the albums highlights.
“Lonely Hearts” is another track that is difficult to get into. Perhaps it is the songs overriding pop feel or too forward mix of keyboards, but I find the chorus here to lack a hook strong enough to keep my full attention. Fortunately, this is the last time I hit the skip button on Firehouse- which is good news as the album hits its stride over its excellent second half.
“Viking Of Steel” – what a great title for a song! – commences in an ominous manner to a hard hitting riff before the rhythm guitar crashes to the front of the mix. Maintaining an abundance of energetic momentum during its verse portions, “Viking Of Steel” peaks for a determined yet heartfelt chorus in which the band makes a statement of faith:
I will stand fast
You cannot kill my enemy
I sail the seas
I will storm the gates of hell
Viking of steel…
Johansson again pulls out all the stops on lead guitar, accentuating the song with his red hot licks and chops. Great song.
The pace slows down a bit with “Spending Time”, a haunting semi ballad that moves forward to an eerie blend of piano and keyboards until a touch of acoustic guitar steps forward and shores up a chorus giving rise to a near perfect commercial feel. A nice stretch of fluid lead guitar work really helps this one to stand out. Very, very good song with a hook you will be challenged to keep out of your head.
“Speed” fades in to a forceful riff before gaining impetus in a quickly moving manner to a trace of vocal harmonies. Tapering off to a heavy duty bass line for its first verse, “Speed” regains its impetus for a sweeping chorus fortified by a hint of organ in the background. Johansson’s distorted guitar solo opens one of the albums better instrumental sections. Again, another very fine display by the band of its songwriting skills.
A bit of guitar feedback introduces “Crying” before it moves ahead to a near perfect blend of rhythm guitar and organ. Stopping dead in its tracks for its first verse as the rhythm guitar drops from the mix, “Crying” slowly plods ahead until the rhythm guitar returns and leads the way to an emotionally charged chorus with a good catchy hook.
The album closes with “Come Back Home”, a very well done instrumental that begins to a keyboard driven introduction before gradually moving ahead as a hint of blues flavored lead guitar work decorates the background. Picking up in pace as the drums move to the front of the mix, “Come Back Home” closes out its final minute and a half at a more upbeat tempo.
Firehouse is without a doubt a superior effort when compared to Lightmaker. This is reflected in not only a greater degree of consistency in terms of its songwriting, but improvements in the area of lead vocals as well. In the end, I really want to give this a higher grade – in the 80% to 85% range- but I find the filler tracks to be disappointing and the production values, while an improvement over Lightmaker, could use a bit of polish. I wish lyrics had been included with the albums packaging as well. Irregardless, Firehouse is a legitimate step forward for Heartcry and am looking forward to hearing more from this group in the future.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “This Time” (3:25), “Whats’ Goin On” (5:07), “Man Of Love” (3:13), “Thunder & Lightning” (4:30), “The Clown” (3:00), “Long Way To Go” (4:25), “Lonely Hearts” (3:15), “Viking Of Steel” (5:07), “Spending Time” (4:06), “Speed” (4:33), “Crying” (5:21), “Come Back Home” (4:42)
Anders Johansson – Lead vocals & guitars
Dan Tibell – Keyboards & Hammond Organ
Bjorn Klingvall & Jerry Grimaldi – Bass
Anders Kollerfors, Pelle Petersson & Jack Kelly – Drums