Frank Blackfire - Back On Fire - (8.5/10)
Published on December 24, 2015
The classic thrash metal sound of the mid to late 1980s, thanks to a host of still present revival outfits, is no mystery to the current generation. If anything, the present trend has seen more people aware of all the many variations that the style was capable of circa 1988 with a host of bands doing their best to recreate said time period, thanks in no small part due to the advent of the digital medium replacing the archaic practice of tape trading. Perhaps the lone surprise amid all of this hearkening back to the good old days is how few of the original prime movers of the style haven’t heeded the challenge of these younger bands and sought to fully embrace their more glorious pasts. One might chalk it up to such a vigorous and vital take on thrash metal being reserved for the young, but one would have to ignore the wildly impressive return from the dark abyss that is the iconic axe-wielder of classic late 80s Sodom Frank Blackfire, now back up to his old tricks from 26 years past, and consequently Back On Fire.
Not one to mess with a winning formula, Frank has stuck pretty close to his Sodom roots by keeping the arrangement of a power trio and putting an emphasis on the power part of the equation. Things take on something of a fun and slightly comical note with a chugging arrangement of the famed “Peter Gunn” theme, as if these mad Germans were going to take on the role of thrasher detectives. In a bizarre way, this title seems fitting as the rest of the album seeks to uncover the root of human depravity, almost as if becoming moral detectives of sorts and reporting their APB in something of an impassioned journalistic fashion. Much of the first half of the album generally conforms to the same model that brought home the glory on Persecution Mania and Agent Orange, dealing up some fast paced thrashing with a vocal onslaught that’s a bit more hardcore infused and shouting rather than the sepulchral groans and barks that typified the said album. The guitar sound has a bit of a punchy, mid-80s Metallica character to it, which plays well into both the neck-splitting and mid-paced breakdown sections that roll through late 80s Sodom homages like “Victims Of Society” and “Sound Thrashing”.
Naturally it should be noted that the passing couple of decades between Blackfire’s seminal work with Sodom and Kreator has had a certain impact on his songwriting, which becomes a bit more apparent on the latter half of this album. Though definitely on the faster side comparatively speaking, “Warmonger” comes off as a bit more riff happy and technical compared to his Sodom work, though it’s definitely palpable to his stint with Kreator in the early 90s, particularly considering the Metallica-influenced Coma Of Souls. Things take on a truly dramatic twists on the album’s two forays into thrash ballad territory, though the description applies a bit more consistently to the slow trudging “Valley Of Suiciders” than the occasionally quiet but generally faster “Beautiful World”, both drawing some heavy comparisons to the doom-laden and dense slowness of Slayer’s “South Of Heaven”, combined with an ambitious bass presence to compensate for the lack of a second guitarist, at times even moving into Steve Harris territory. For the most part Frank tends to keep all the moments of lead guitar flair on the tasteful side and allows the songs to grow and vary gradually, rather than loading each song up with chaotic shred fests, though there are some fairly impressive feats in that department in the earlier half of the album.
Despite maybe a slightly more modern character of sound that goes with modern digital recording techniques, this album definitely falls into the category of being a throwback, and a very welcome one at that. This is the sort of album that Slayer could have released had they thought in more ambitious terms rather than simply throwing together a bunch of short speeders with riff work that sounded rushed, incomplete, and unfocused. This is also the sort of album that Metallica could maybe put together if they stopped running from their own past and come to terms with the fact that most of what they’ve done in the studio since the end of the 80s has been an exercise in being a metal band without actually playing metal songs. This is an album with lyrics that shift back and forth between being red and green, but at a sonic level, it’s definitely bent towards the redder side of the equation and is a bit more aggressive than the typical efforts of many politically oriented bands of the late 80s States side. It’s pretty well stipulated that Frank is back on fire here, and the only complaint that could be thrown this album’s way is that this album is a little too well-rounded and doesn’t quite commit to being an all out kill-fest. Then again, just about every revival band out has been burning at full speed from beginning to end, so a mixed approach like this isn’t an unwelcome thing.