Review by Darren Smith for MPM
Back in 1989, a long-time friend of mine, one evening, when I was at his house before going to the pub, put on an album called ‘Fireworks’ by at that point, an unknown band to me called Bonfire.
I remember listening to it quite vividly as the quality of the musicianship and the songs that I heard really caught my ear. That moment started what has become a near 32 year long friendship with the German rockers music.
It has been one of those relationships that comes and goes I must say, but whenever we are together we have a great time as throughout all those years they have written some stunningly brilliant songs that never ever fail to rouse your spirits and take you to a happy place.
Bonfire, who have been in existence since 1986, when the band changed their name from Cacumen, have released some of the finest melodic hard rock you are likely to come across.
Through the last 35 years, the band have undergone various line up changes but that has not stopped them being incredibly productive and to date they have released 17 studio albums, this album, ‘Roots’ will make it 18, 7 live albums, 6 compilations albums and a box set.
They have never once rested on their laurels and have always been open to new ideas and reinventions which has made for a more than interesting career. ‘Roots’ is no different.
What they have come up, after the Covid outbreak put paid to their promotion and touring ambitions for their 2020 album ‘Fistful Of Fire’ were completely wiped out, is a 24 track double album that sees the reworking of 19 of their finest tracks along with 5 brand new songs thrown in for good measure.
This is all down to the financial support offered them by their fans who got behind a crowdfunding campaign the German rockers from Ingolstadt set up in order to be able to record this release.
In the summer of 2020, the band joined up at Flatliners Recording Studio to start work on their new project. That venture ended up being the truly magnificent ‘Roots – Almost Unplugged’, which was released on the 26th February 2021 on AFM Records.
It is their 5th album with vocalist Alexx Stahl who seems to have really given the German stalwarts a new lease of life with his exhilarating vocals. You just need to take a listen to the albums they have released with him since he joined in 2016 to get a feel for the extra dimension he has added to a band that for me have long lived in the shadows of fellow Germans, The Scorpions.
I guess, it is hard not to do that, when you think of the outfit casting that shadow, but Bonfire really do deserve to walk alongside them, such is the quality of their own output. Having now had the opportunity to get fully engrossed in this album I think that it may well give them their moment, or is it another moment, in the sun.
I don’t know how you begin to narrow down 17 studio albums worth of material into a working amount of songs that you want to rework but however they did it, they did it superbly.
The songs chosen that make up Roots track list all work impeccably. There is not a moment throughout the albums 100 plus minute play time that makes you think that that song or the way it has been revamped should not have been included on the final product.
I can honestly say that every single track has been exquisitely revised to give it a gorgeously majestic feel and give you, the listener, the chance to appreciate it and revel in it like it is the first time you have ever heard it.
From the moment the Deep Purple style keyboard intro heralds the start of ‘Starin’ Eyes’ you know that you are going to be hearing something special over the next 24 songs. A luscious version of the Bonfire classic ‘American Nights’ follows before a blissfully dreamy ‘Let Me Be Your Water’ gives this albums first foray into the bands rock opera ‘The Rauber’ and the only song on disc one that isn’t taken from those all important 80’s albums.
Comin’ Home’ and ‘Ready 4 Reaction’ follow before an awe-inspiring version of ‘Give It A Try’, complete with some grandiose guitar parts that give the track a truly majestic feel.
An upbeat and catchy ‘Sleeping All Alone’ takes us into ‘Who’s Foolin Who’, originally on 1989’s ‘Point Blank’ album. Disc One is then closed out with a heavenly rendition of ‘Why Is It Never Enough’ that is full of some of the albums most divinely harmonious vocal parts.
Disc Two kicks off with a pulsating ‘Fantasy’ that really gets the feet and hands tapping. Then, it is dream time. The version of ‘When An Old Man Cries’ that Bonfire have created and recorded for ‘Roots’ is one word, immaculate. As ballads go, the band certainly know how to write them and the performance of this one on Roots is just off the scale. Moments like this are truly worth waiting for and in a perverse kind of way, we can thank the coronavirus pandemic for giving us this one.
Next up is ‘Love Don’t Lie’, another track from the bands 2008 rock opera. This new version, which comes as a stunning duet between Alexx Stahl and Lydia Panè, wife of guitarist Frank Panè is just beautifully sung and arranged and has been released as a single.
From that piece of beauty we are quickly taken into the alluring, anthemic ‘Lonely Nights’ which although it is in an “almost unplugged” state, does not lose any of its craving to be a hymn for the masses. Just sumptuous! ‘Under Blue Skies’ has also not lost any of its feel, even though we are getting it stripped back in acoustic form and comes complete with one of the albums most blissful and arresting guitar solos.
An incredibly emotive version of ‘You Make Me Feel’ takes us onward on this incredible journey, which if it had been recorded during the heyday of MTV and their Unplugged series, would I am sure have had regular airplay and made the band a truly household name the world over.
No More’ leads into a rousing ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ from last years Fistful Of Fire album. The last of the revamped songs is a wondrous ‘Without You’ which has a church like quality to it, aided by the full sound of the keys and the sweet sounding vocal performance from Stahl. What a fantastic way to take the album from old songs and into new.
Those new songs, of which there are five, start with ‘Your Love Is Heaven To Me’. Now I might be mistaken and it might just be my hearing but the way the vocals work at the start of the track it sounds like Bonfire are tipping their hat to Meatloaf. It wouldn’t surprise me as throughout this dazzling album there are clear nods to classic rock tracks in some of the guitar parts. Tell me you don’t hear them when you listen carefully.
‘Piece Of My Heart’ is our next offering and sees that band step into full electric mode for the first time. This is a true rocker with Alexx Stahl giving his vocal range a proper run out and one of those anthemic, sing-a-long choruses that Bonfire write so well.
Youngbloods’ starts out with a monstrously plodding beat before turning into a real smouldering rocking number complete with some sizzling guitar parts from Hans Ziller and Frank Pane. The 23rd and penultimate track is ‘Our Hearts Don’t Feel The Same’, that starts out with a delightfully bluesy guitar intro before moving into a typically emotive Bonfire ballad.
Remember those big power ballads that rock bands seem to release every week that got hours and hours of MTV rotation, well this is one of those, it really grabs your heart strings and deserves to be on heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.
That leaves us with the final track, ‘Wolfmen’, and what a track it is. It is a scintillating way to bring this magnificent album to a close. If anybody was under the impression that Bonfire were a so called heritage band, relying on former glories, then this track and its predecessor should lay those thoughts to rest.
It clearly shows they are a band on top form and is a real highpoint on an album that has 23 other songs vying equally for that lofted position.
I don’t have much else to say about ‘Roots – Almost Unplugged’ other than to say I adore it and as our friendship has done for the last near 32 years, it will provide some wonderful moments that will sit long and hard in the memory bank as I meander along during the rest of my time on this planet.
If unlike me, you are new to Bonfire and this is your introduction to the band, then you picked one hell of a great place to start. When you have enjoyed this album, I suggest you start retracing the journey the band took to get to this point and buy some of those 30 plus albums these legendary German rockers have released since 1986.
CD1 01 Starin’ Eyes
CD1 02 American Nights
CD1 03 Let Me Be Your Water
CD1 04 The Price Of Loving You
CD1 05 Comin´ Home
CD1 06 Ready 4 Reaction
CD1 07 Give It A Try
CD1 08 Sleeping All Alone
CD1 09 Who´s Foolin´ Who
CD1 10 Why Is It Never Enough
CD2 01 Fantasy
CD2 02 When An Old Man Cries
CD2 03 Love Don´t Lie
CD2 04 Lonely Nights
CD2 05 Under Blue Skies
CD2 06 You Make Me Feel
CD2 07 No More
CD2 08 The Devil Made Me Do It
CD2 09 Without You
CD2 10 Your Love Is Heaven To Me
CD2 11 Piece Of My Heart
CD2 12 Youngbloods
CD2 13 Our Hearts Don´t Feel The Same
CD2 14 Wolfmen
The album, which came out on the 26th February 2021 is available in 4 formats, 2LP Red Vinyl, 2LP Purple Vinyl, 2CD and as a digital release. You can purchase it directly from https://shop.afm-records.de/bonfire/
Bonfire Line Up
Alexx Stahl – Vocals
Hans Ziller – Guitar
Frank Pané – Guitar
Ronnie Parkes – Bass
André Hilgers – Drums
Website – www.bonfire.de
Facebook – www.facebook.com/bonfireofficial/
Twitter – www.twitter.com/BonfireOfficial
Instagram – www.instagram.com/bonfire_official/