Review | Bonfire – MMXXIII Re-recordings
Hans Ziller and his band Bonfire have established themselves as one of the best melodic acts of the last 4 decades. The band, founded by Ziller and his long-time friend and vocalist Claus Lessman as Cacumen in 1979 (!), went through countless line-up changes and sprouted the careers of renowned German musicians since. Especially their eighties classics `Don’t Touch the Light’, `Fire Works’ and `Point Blank’ shot them up in the ranks of melodic rock and metal, with the band roaming the stages.
Fast forward the decades it is only founder Hans Ziller upholding the Bonfire banner with Bonfire revamped constantly. Gradually adapting style, Bonfire has remained the gem of German rock, and with their current line-up reigniting the melodic fire, Ziller and his men radiate their classic poise with fans and rockers uniting for live celebration of their long list of classics.
His counterpart in heaviness is guitarist Frank Pané, whom together with bass player Ronnie Parkes kept the flame burning since 2015. The addition of drummer Fabio Alessandrini and new vocalist Dyan Mair in 2022, sparked Ziller to re-record the band’s most celebrated trio of albums under the banner of MMXXIII (2023). An ambitious idea taking shape with Bonfire injecting contemporary recording techniques with Dyan at the helm. The current line-up transcending the bland 80s sound and invigorates the songs with a fresh and heavier approach, energizing the songs. `Don’t Touch the Light’ sounds rejuvenated as where `Fire Works’ increased its powerhouse potential. `Point Blank’ is of another league now, sounding more electrifying than ever.
BONFIRE – Don’t Touch the Light MMXXIII Re-recording
Key feature of the debut Bonfire album was their exceptional qualities as performers taking shape during their Cacumen days. Its melodic interaction was superb and immediately revealed the band’s high-end qualities as performers. Blending styles of the past, Bonfire’s key features where strongly rooted overseas. With Bon Jovi and Dokken at the melodic helm, arena rock hit the European shores with bands like Vandenberg, Thunder, Europe, and many other claiming fame. Amidst this melodic mayhem, Bonfire claimed their status, blending the Dokken hooks with a fresh and unique style of recognizable AOR-ish melodies and nesting choruses. The vocal interaction was a key feature atop Lessmann’s smooth and soothing vocals. His range was matching the song’s tenure, as proven on their Bonfire debut. With Dyan at the helm, everything sounds more powerful, and `Don’t Touch the Light’ benefits from the new recording the most.
Opening ,,The Rising” immediately displays the widened instrumental frequencies and ,,Starin’ Eyes” displays its vivified melodics. More powerful, heavier on its riffs, and with Dyan’s extraordinary powerhouse range, Bonfire rejuvenates their classics. ,,Hot to Rock” easily battled the rolling thunder of heavy metal’s rise, while countless classics such as the album’s title track, the timeless ,,Longing for You”, the hook-laden ,,No More”, and the anthemic ,,L.A” with its tremendous riff-drive, make for instant magic. Key in all this melodic mayhem are the ponderous drum and bass, while Ziller and Pané prove their impeccable capabilities bringing out the best in each other’s offload of riffs, licks and melodies. The solos are impressive (the solo and duel as well as the reverbing pitched licks in ,,L.A.”) and the twin-sections and duels astonishing.
Ziller already stated Dyan to be a huge Bonfire fan easily adopting the 35 original tracks for these re-issues, but it is impressive how the Greek vocalist manages to inject his personality in these performances this easily. He roars his most brutal vocals on the hard rocking tracks, while also maintaining and guarding the classic vocal lines and original delivery. On the power-ballad ,,You Make Me Feel” he touches deep, with Ziller and Pané adding to the lustre with tasteful guitar playing. Never before the song emitted such radiance and emotion. These new recorded versions outdo the original by miles and it is good to hear their potential revealed for those willing to drop an ear.
BONFIRE – Fire Works MMXXIII Re-recording
Recognizing the band’s enormous potential, record-company BMG International brought in Michael Wagner to produce Bonfire’s `Fire Works’ album, as well as famous American songwriters Joe Lynn Turner and Jack Ponti to assist in the songwriting process of the album. Though the album’s majority of tracks are penned by the band’s main songwriters, `Fire Works’ gradually moved onto more American terrain all together. Given the nature of Bonfire’s overall sound, it moved predominantly into the direction of Dokken, an act also produced by Wagner. I personally always loved the album and its more spontaneous drumming by session drummer Ken Mary (Fifth Angel, House of Lords).
The tone of tracks is American oriented and with Turner and Ponti adding skills on ,,Sleeping All Alone” and the album’s banger ,,Sweet Obsession” only, the vast majority of songs displayed Bonfire’s music being on target for the high demands of the rock market in the eighties.
The production on par, the modernity brought in for the re-recording is the vim and vigor of the guitar duo and vocalist Dyan. It kicks and bites more, and the modern production is more transparent and radiant compared to the typical eighties’ slickness Wagner brought to the front, not dismissing the man’s sublime qualities. `Fire Works MMXXIII’ sounds more biting and bitchier, making the songs not rounding out as the typical run-of-the-mill melodic arena’ rockers, but rather more club oriented hard rock tracks packing a sincere punch.
,,Ready for the Action” kicks in the with its forceful driving riff and Dyan roaring heavily. The powerful drums and bass are laying down impressive groundworks for the song to roll you over on the spot. So much, pleasure and power radiating off the new recording, with the chorus embellishing the band’s wonderful vocal interaction, it lights the song up brightly. Even though Dyan’s vocals stray more from the original delivery, the roars and impressive pitches hit home easily, though I expect adepts of the classic recording having a harder time to embrace the new version. It’s a grower and a shower! Growers always been the CenterPoint of the album with hard hitting rockers like the melodic monsters ,,Cold Days”, ,,Champion” the live crackers ,,Sweet Obsession” and ,,American Nights”
More powerful are the jagged heavy tracks ,,Don’t Get Me Wrong” with its rousing chants, the colorful ,,Rock Me Now”, ,,Fantasy”, and ,,Angel in White” with its storming drum opening blending the melodic hooks and riffs. It is this blend of richness Ziller and Pané pitch up a level, exceeding the already memorable guitarwork so well captured by Wagner. Galvanizing the steel amidst the melody, both sound rawer and more pepped, fortifying the appeal of the material. Its intrinsic qualities are guarded and the melodies breathe and radiate. Pitching the solos and licks, stowing riffs and hooks, the guitar interaction and duels are impressively gaining momentum on these new `Fire Works’.
Again, Dyan raises the bar with vocal performances and pushes the envelope. In line with the majority of songs being spiced up with more power and drive, he brings the exact right power to the front where needed. Not only does his poise bring the radiant charisma of Lessmann, he also has a deeper growl and more bluesy tone that revives the material. Knowing the time-capsule appeal of the album, he tones down perfectly for the sublime vocal interaction on the songs well ear-popping bridges and choruses, as well as keeping the melodic momentum of the vocal melodies. Impressive all over. Like on ,,Don’t Touch the Light”, the singer touches hearts with his warming delivery of the ballad ,,Give it a Try”, one of the band’s most notable slow movers composed.
A well dropped melodic bomb, `Fireworks’ is still as mandatory for fans as it was in the 80s, full of intoxicating melodies and hooks, tremendous strut, and flawless compositions.
BONFIRE – Point Blank MMXXIII Re-recording
1988s `Point Blank’ marked a breaking point for the band. Ziller being fired by their management, with 10 tracks already penned by him and 3 recorded, the turning point was about bringing in more international famed songwriters and contributors such as Bob Halligan, Kelly Keeling, Desmond Child as well as Jack Ponti. The course was set; Bonfire had to break into the American market…
Unfortunately, they didn’t.
We will never know the reason, as `Point Blank’ was on par with its predecessor. The songs are high grade rock grenades, the ballad(s) are pristine, and the melodies and musical delivery is sometimes even mind-boggling wonderful. Everything was there to make it big, and the new re-recorded versions prove the timeless character of the tacks, as well as Hans Ziller’s slightly different view on the initial outcome. `Point Blank MMXXIII’ displays both other albums strengthened poise, as well as it displays a harder trajectory in terms of delivery.
No, Ziller doesn’t stray from the key ingredient, yet he overall brings more power to the plate on these re-recordings. ,,Bang Down the Door” still features the absolute nesting melodies, but leans heavier on the low end of the song with bass growling out menacing melodic licks and drums bordering progressive on the heavy breaks. The guitars are wilder in its color and pull forward with sincere power, contrasting with its original counterpart recording. Powerful!
Maintaining its slick appeal, songs like ,,Hard on Me”, with its Alice Cooper reminiscent melody also captured on the vocal interaction of the great ,,Tony’s Roulette”, rock hard with blistering guitar strut. The song nests on the spot and is one of the most memorable tunes on the album, benefitting from the new and much wider range of Dyan. ,,Price of Loving You” is one of their renowned live crackers as well, and the drum rolls and meandering solo in the opening are impacting on the lively feeling of the track. It gains momentum, shakes off the cliché-laden pretentions of the original.
When the foot goes down and the pedal hits the metal, `Point Blank’ reveals its pristine power. ,,You’re Back” sees fists flying up while keenly injecting its memorable bridge and chorus, ,,Gimme Some” and the wonderful anthemic ,,Say Goodbye” and ,,Know Right Now” all fly higher than before. Guarded is the original, but there’s more action packed in their discharge. Crunchier is also the new version of ,,Never Surrender” and the album’s rouser ,,(20th Century) Youth Patrol”, one of my all-time favourites. The song packs clichés but also tracks with memorable melodic drive and slicker than hell vocal lines, all injected with a heavier strut and bluesier vocal haul.
Discovering new terrain, Bonfire’s `Point Blank’ featured the exquisite bluesy tinged ,,Why is it Never Enough”, morphing into a melodic rouser. The American arena rocker ,,Look of Love” grows on you and the bluesy solo licks are as impressive as Dyan’s wonderful vocal delivery. He breathes life and power into the slick rocker, gives it more face than Lessmann managed to do. ,,Freedom is My Belief” sees the same extrovert vocal delivery and guitar drive leaning towards heavy melodic blues. There’s a vibe and groove gaining momentum.
Key feature is the wonderful ballad ,,Who’s Foolin’ Who”, which is more brightly radiating due to its riched-up instrumentation (flute). The low pumping bass makes it emit more power, eluding on the powered-up chorus with its great vocal blend, set in motion by the intensifying guitars picking up pace. Multi-layered, it now packs more power, with the vocals being key and singer Dyan belting out an impressive colorful job, wailing and pitching while roaring and singing more hoarse and rigid.
Closed in style, `Point Blank’ dives into the melodic master mass of their American counterparts on ,,Waste No Time” with a rejuvenated recording that leans strongly on the guitar turmoil and powerful groove, and Dyan doing justice to the original vocals but adding accolades.
BONFIRE – THE CONCLUSION
Bonfire proved their mark on melodic history over and over again, but mastered the craft on these first three recordings. The re-recordings do justice to the songs that really gain momentum with a more powerful (club-rooted) radiant production, and Ziller’s claim of this being the best line-up of Bonfire ever, might hold up.
The songs benefit from this radiant action-packed live approach breathing air into the denser eighties production. The guitars dominate more than ever and balance out the slick melodies and choruses perfectly… The groove is powerful and the throbbing low-end bass adds to the overall experience building towards Dyan’s wonderful (and wider) vocal delivery. More towering power, hoarser and bluesier edged, the songs benefit from this make over, without dubbing Lessmann’s performances futile. His original lines are well preserved by the new singer as he leaves the melodic delivery mainly untouched by needless different phrasing. No, it is clear Ryan likes the original.
What Ziller also seem to like is the original artwork, that is kept in place but adjusted towards the present time. The debut’s young kids on the front are replaced by two ominous gazing ladies, adding a spookier tone more in line with the current representation of the songs. `Fire Works’ sees more flames and fire on the art emphasizing the sparkling flames of its songs well. Absolutely wonderful is the new art of `Point Blank’: capturing the timeless appeal of the gates with a metallic overall feeling and fire raging on the sides, the ominous glow is tremendous.
With the albums being re-issued on vinyl also, in deluxe gatefold editions making the new art more colourfully represented, I certainly look forward to get my hands on these rejuvenated pieces of the melodic soundtrack of my teenager years.
For now, I dig up the old vinyls to run them through my speakers soon to make way for the new editions that blast a ton more….
Release date: 22 September 2023