originally posted on Wednesday, 31 July 2013
Toronto-based band Heavens Firemay not be a well enough known name in rock music, but they sure have as interesting of a back story as any of the many bands to have come before them. I personally think of Def Leppard’s well documented misfortunes when I think of the heaven and hell that the band has gone through over the past thirteen or so years. The story is well documented on the bands Website, so to shorten it slightly, after the release of their debut album in the year 2000 and what looked like a promising start having gained attention in Europe and Japan, the band’s drummer suffered a very untimely death. Not long after that, guitarist JT Harris was given months to live after being diagnosed with cancer. After defying those odds and surviving, JT’s father grew very ill and the band was once again put on hold.
Over ten years later, JT, bassist Andy Narsingh and new drummer Alexis Von Kraven finally decided to start up the band again, this time taking a different direction. The band originally started as a progressive rock outfit, JT himself having guitar skills comparable to the likes of Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. This time around, the band took those early roots and blended it in with more traditional sounding hard rock, making a very unique sound. The addition of vocalist Darren Smith, originally the drummer of Canadian melodic rock veterans Harem Scarem, helped the transition with his charismatic presence and powerful voice.
Having had the privilege of catching the band perform (and ultimately getting exposed to them in general) while opening for Harem Scarem’s reunion show, I witnessed firsthand what Heavens Fire is made of. Right away I found it difficult to perfectly categorize them; especially once Darren hit the stage (the band started the set with three songs from their debut which feature Andy on lead vocals). Darrenwas all over the stage and in the crowds face, sort of like a modern dark haired David Lee Roth, but the music behind his singing was so much more than just your typical hard rock. Due mostly in part to the guitar playing of JT, the music had showings of progression similar to the previously mentioned Dream Theater, with JT’s ability to shred but not let that ability define his guitar playing, keeping him from being anywhere near your generic modern day metal guitar player.
I left that show with the bands recently released new album Judgement Day. Hearing the band on album gave me an even different perception of the band after I noticed a sense of “power” metal influence in the sound of some of their songs. The opening track, Screamin’ starts off with an apocalyptic blend of guitars and keyboards, typical to how many “power” metal songs sound. The chorus of the song reminds me somewhat of power metal band Firewind, only rather than singing about dungeons and dragons, the lyrics touch a more personal realistic level, further stumping me to find a proper category for the band.
The second track, All For One, maintains the dark sound of Screamin’ but turns the pace up a bit. This song leads in to the first of the albums two power ballads, Just For Tonight. The song remains very dark to the ear, with soft sung verses and soothing guitar sounds, until the passionate hard hitting chorus. The second of these power ballads is Lost. This song is a whole lot more light hearted, both in words and music, compared to Just For Tonight. Topped with a powerful chorus, this song is a definite high point for the album.
Songs such as The Best I Can, Free Your Love, Big Stage and Waste of Life lean more toward the bands simple hard rock sound, getting rid of the Dream Theater influence and turning up more of a hair metal influence; but the early days of hair metal when you could still call them “metal”, not the later days after bands like Poison started making a joke of it. In particular I’m reminded ofDokken when listening to these songs, with the heavy and still rather dark sounding music in the background with a fun yet serious voice singing.Darren Smith and Don Dokken are two completely different singers though. On a side note, it should be pointed out how after over twenty years, Darren’s voice still sounds exactly the same from when he sang Sentimental Blvd; his lone lead vocal track with Harem Scarem back in 1993.
Daydream Believer and Blame You bring back a bit of the progressive power metal sound from the beginning of the album, especially the latter song. It is a slow paced track, but just as hard to categorize as all of the other tracks. The lyrics are still on a personal and realistic level, lacking the fantasy that so many other songs with similar sound would have contained.
The album ends with Awakened; the second of the albums two instrumentals (the first of the two being187, heard right after Lost). The entire album to this point has been a terrific display of JT Harris’s fantastic talent at playing the guitar. Each song has had a mixture of different influences as well as a fair bit of originality, but it is on Awakened that he chooses not to hold anything back. Though a slow ballad in terms of its pace, this doesn’t take away from JT’s ability to impress anyone who listens to it. To emphasize on a previous comment I made, most modern metal guitarists try too hard to impress, they just want to play fast, which for all intents and purposes is super impressive, but unoriginal. JT has the ability to play just like these guitarists, but chooses the more intelligent root. He’s searching for an identity beyond just being a fast guitar player. This song is as good as any to put on his personal best list.
After listening to the album multiple times, I’m still stumped to categorize it. But then again I realize I’ve made the point in previous articles that nowadays we categorize the life out of every song ever recorded (something I’m far more than guilty for). It is suffice to say that Heavens Fire is a hard rock/heavy metal band. There really is no need to beat it to death, but it is important to point out again the unique blends of different influences that make this album so different from most other hard rock/heavy metal albums to have ever been released.
“Screamin’” – It could have been between this track and All For One frankly. In all honesty the reason this was chosen over All For One was because I could provide a video link for it. They are both the highlights for the same reason; they both show the band at their best. They both blend the dark mystical styling of JTwhile mixing with the melodic superiority of Darren.Needless to say it sums up the album almost perfectly.
8 (Out of 10)
|All For One||4:17|
|Just For Tonight||3:59|
|Best I Can||4:31|
|Free Your Love||3:55|
|Waste of Life||4:27|