This latest offering from Firebird has been in the can for the best part of a year and has already seen a successful release through the band’s Japanese label but for some unexplainable reason is only just seeing the light of day in the band’s home country. I can only imagine they must feel pretty constipated by now waiting to get this out with only a highly limited 7″ release in the meantime to keep us hanging.
Now 2009’s “Grand Union” album was a highlight for me so is this new release a match? Yes definitely. Whereas its predecessor was an immediate hit to the senses “Double Diamond” is a little more of a slow burner but seems to benefit as a result. My initial listen was filled with uncertainty but repeated listening shows that the tunes contained here have real classic quality and staying power.
Firebird have made some significant progression in their sound here. The blues base is still intact but beefed up with a harder edged more metallic sound. When they first appeared in 1999 the band’s sound was very much in keeping with the late 60’s/early 70’s style of blues based hard rock. Twelve years on and the bands seems to have followed a natural timeline which sees them land in approximately 1981 and the height of the NWOBHM. This is hardly surprising given Bill Steer’s new found position in the ranks of NWOBHM legends Angel Witch. Let’s not forget that many of the bands from the NWOBHM such as Tank, White Spirit, Witchfynde, Samson, Diamond Head, The Tygers of Pan Tang…etc were all being influenced by the hard rock bands of the 70’s as well as the harder tones of punk so the shift in style isn’t such a huge about face as it may sound. Firebird manage to retain the soulful tones they always had but in tunes such as “For Crying Out Loud”, “Soul Saviour” and “Bright Lights” there is a definite move towards more complex structures and more complex riffs as well as a harder edged guitar sound and Steer’s vocals bristle with more grit and bite than we’ve heard from him previously. In fact, Steer continues the progress he made as a vocalist on “Grand Union” to secure his role as a quality front man.
The blues is never far away, however. “Farewell” takes the mood down as one of the album’s “ballads” alongside towering closer “Pantomime” despite retaining enough brawn to keep the denim waistcoat wearing hordes happy. Elsewhere, as “Caledonia” added a Celtic vibe to “Grand Union” so here “Arabesque” takes us on an eastern trip to the Souks of Marrakech showing that the band aren’t locked into their Pentatonic mindset exclusively and displays something of a nod towards prime Dio era Rainbow. “Pound of Flesh” on the other hand is a tasty little cowbell driven groover of a track that could have crawled straight out of 1973.
As you might expect the performances are never less than faultless. Steer’s playing flows effortlessly showing more depth and range than previous Firebird albums as he allows some of his older, Carcass inspired neo classical touches to shine through. Ludwig Witt’s drumming is tighter than my wallet yet retains the swing and groove that give this album its organic nature. New boy Greyum May on the bass locks right in with Witt to create a rhythm section that feels as though it was born from the same womb. The production here, although still keeping that dry, “in the room” feel of previous albums also shows a wider sonic palette. Guitars and vocals are more arranged and layered to produce a more dense and complex sound but it is executed with taste and restraint to add highlight as opposed to an all out barrage of noise.
“Double Diamond” may demand a little more effort to appreciate than some of its predecessors, but like all great art the more you invest in talking the time to “get” it, the more you will ultimately get out of it. This is a darker, deeper album than we may be used to from Firebird but the payoff is all there to be found.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygal