Firecracker is a project featuring Stefan Lindholm and Pontus Larsson of Vindictive and Tommy Korevik of Seventh Wonder. Before looking at the songs, it needs to be noted that this CD comprises work recorded prior to Lindholm, Larsson and Korevik forming or joining their respective bands. It’s even been rumoured in places on the net that some of this was previously circulating as a demo under the Vindictiv moniker and that the re-branding of it under the Firecracker name is merely a cash-in. Regardless of that, though, ‘Born of Fire’ with its hybrid of Swedish style hard rock and progressive metal influences contains some stand out moments.
The opening of ‘Blind Date’ offers one of my favourite intros on the album, with Lindholm announcing his presence by offering a flurry of notes. In contrast to the shreddy bits, his more melodic, vibrato-led work has a great tone (although sadly, throughout a proportion of this disc, it’s the faster and edgier styles he favours). Tommy Korevik’s vocals are very confident, a hybrid of Dream Theater’s James LaBrie at his most tuneful (on the softer parts) and any number of prog-metal vocalists on the louder parts. Despite not having a particularly original vocal approach, Korevik has a decent set of lungs and his style is perfectly suited to most of the material here. Not to be outdone by Lindholm, the mid-section of this track features a blistering keyboard solo by Pontus Larsson, who in turn, almost gets upstaged by Lindholm once again, upon making return for another fretboard hammering.
‘Second Self’ begins with a melodic metal intro with a classic sound, reminiscent of mid-eighties Iron Maiden, before leaning farther towards progressive metal once Korevik begins singing. There are some off-kilter rhythms during this number and Hasse Wuzzel’s drum work is the key here with its double bass parts. During ‘Gamekeeper’s Song’, though, some of the drums are so aggressively pneumatic, I’m not entirely convinced they haven’t been subject to some pre-programmed assistance or some post-production studio trickery. A pity, since some of the more aggressive drum parts of this song seem to detract from one of Korevik’s best performances – especially from a melodic viewpoint.
The first of two instrumental numbers, ‘Instru(metal)’, gives each of the musicians time to stretch out. If you’re looking for metal guitar work, Lindholm’s performance throughout this number is first rate (if a little wearing in places); Wuzzel’s drums take the pneumatic approach once again, but here they’re far less intrusive. Larsson’s keyboard work is an equal match for Lindholm’s fretboard theatrics and those who enjoy prog-metal keyboard solos should enjoy this, especially those who enjoy keyboard word at the more squealy, extreme end of the spectrum. The only downside is that bassist Frederik Forlkare sounds like he’s contributed some really decent work here; but sadly, his bass is so low in the mix it’s hard to pick out the intricacies of his playing, especially once Lindholm and Larsson get going.
‘Back Broken’ begins slowly with a chugging rhythm, before Linholm starts soloing frantically. This track seems to lose its way fairly quickly due to an odd time signature and a vocal melody which Korevik struggles to make scan properly. Despite this, his performance still remains decent. The interplay between Lindholm and Larsson is tight (as Vindictiv fans should expect), but it’s not quite enough to maintain interest over the song’s near six-minute playing time. ‘The Refrain’ begins with a strong melodic bent, as Korevik delivers an effortless performance. Unusually, Lindholm’s guitar work is far more restrained, complimenting Wazzel’s sporadic drum rhythms very well. Korevik’s voice occasionally lapses into theatrical grandeur, but even so, it’s a track which best demonstrates his range. By the time it comes to the guitar solo, Lindholm steps things up a gear (as expected), contributing edgy playing which is tempered nicely with more melodic moments.
Closing the album, ‘Speed Devil’ does exactly what is says on the tin. In a textbook example of Swedish metal (a la Yngwie Malmsteen), Lindholm and Larsson trade off guitar and keyboard solos respectively, seemingly as fast as they can manage while retaining a tune. Not being a musician myself, I find it harder to appreciate this on a technical level even though there’s clearly a truck-load of skill involved. If I’m going to listen to virtuoso instrumental rock stuff, I’d much rather spend time listening to Gary Hoey, Jan Cyrka or Eric Johnson – y’know, the chaps who approach things from a song-based angle, even if they’re playing instrumentally.
Despite most of the musicianship being top notch, I’ve always found similar levels of shredding hard to cope with in long doses (especially true when it comes to stuff like ‘Speed Devil’) and a few more obvious vocal hooks and choruses would have made this all the more appealing. That said (personal preferences aside), as an album, ‘Born of Fire’ achieves its goals. Forget the chaps from Vindictiv, though: it’s Tommy Korevik who is the big draw here (for me, at least) and fans of Seventh Wonder should give this a listen – especially if they’ve not heard any of this material previously.