Though formed in the late 90’s, the Arizona-based metal band Born of Fire is blazing forward with their third full-length album entitled Dead Winter Sun. Members Victor Morell (guitar, keyboards), Bobby Chavez (guitar), Michael Wolff (bass), and Steve Dorssom (drums, percussion) forge this album along with new vocalist Gordon Tittsworth (Images of Eden, All Too Human, The Anabasis) on board. Having gained past notoriety for their covers of Dio and Iron Maiden, their style of power metal with an old school flair gives them an appeal to a wide audience. Their new album offers 10 tracks that paint a bleak but realistic picture of what the world can be like when left unchecked, while still holding onto hope.
The first track is the titular song, Dead Winter Sun (listen in the video linked below), which starts off with an ominous guitar introduction, with the line “free us from the dead of winter where the darkness consumes us…hear our call” is deeply spoken overhead. The song carries an oft-visited theme throughout the album about hopeless times and the struggle to fine hope on the other side of the difficulties, and this one in particular makes me think of the White Witch’s eternal winter in Narnia that seemed to have no end but there was eventual hope and reclaiming of the land from the evil wintry hold on the land. As the guitar and vocals with keyboards undergirding the beginning verses, the tone is set for the song. The rest of the band does not enter until just before the chorus, with a strong 4/4 beat and a catchy chorus and bridge. However, the tune does not lose its foreboding sense as the guitar interlude scales the song back again with a continuing portentous riff leading into the second half of the song that reprises the theme from the beginning and cycles back to the catchy and energetic chorus that leads to an abrupt and unfanciful finale.
When Hope Dies is a faster-paced song with a recurring theme of fading hope and wondering what there is left to hold onto and believe for the hope of the future. It begins hard-hitting from the get-go, and even with its serious theme, it is not as ominous in its sound as the previous track. This song is more aggressive in its approach, with melodic vocals and guitar solos, solid basswork holding down the foundation, and drums that maintain the quick pace of the song.
The third track, Last Goodbye, is a song that many would be able to relate to, remembering those moments of bidding that final farewell to a loved one, but with a hope of seeing them again in the afterlife. This song has some fine arpeggiated guitar work and a variety of styles, syncopated rhythms, and time signature changes that alternate between ballad-like moments that fit with the sentimental aspects of the song as well as heavier parts that keep the song moving and energetic. This song again starts off only with guitar and vocals, with a light bass entry before the definitive drum entry makes its arrival to kick the song into higher gear for a good while. It’s hard to classify this song as a straight rock ballad, since most of the song is solidly heavy, and rather has appropriate moments of restrained instrumentation that fits the message of the song.
Cast the Last Stone begins with an ominous thunderstorm in the background with a singular guitar arpeggiating a melancholic riff in the background while the vocals enter with a passionately delivered introductory verse before the full impact of the whole band enters to kick the song off into the second verse. This melodic pattern continues throughout much of the first half, except for the lengthy channel that contains a different melody and showcases the range of Tittsworth’s vocals, especially into the low range that carries a richness different from his upper octaves. About halfway through, the song resets with a reprise of the opening line, eventually leading to a blistering and extensive guitar solo before winding the song down with a variation of the chorus, leading to a fading out with recurring words from previous lyrics and the song title itself.
Speed of Dark is the only instrumental on the album, and is very orchestral in its approach, with percussion and strings. It sounds very much like a soundtrack from a suspense movie, and leads directly into the sixth track, Spiritual Warfare. This song begins with a strong guitar and rhythm presence with a solid beat as the nearly minute-long instrumental introduces the song. This song is driving but has a waltzing lilt to the beat underneath. The initial verses and chorus stay fairly true to this pattern but there is a shift once the bridge arrives with both spoken and sung lyrics, which lead into an interlude with a call-and-answer type response with high and low vocals accompanied by syncopated rhythms among all instruments. The song returns to some of the initial elements from the beginning of the song before ending the song and fading out with its repeating title. This song employs plenty of shifts in rhythm, approach, and technique that keep it interesting rather than a potential of being monotonous and redundant with too much reprisal of familiar themes.
Next, however, Hollow Soul begins differently from its predecessors, with a strong bass introduction, supported by the drums and lightly with guitar as a soundbyte is heard in the background from a man talking on about vitals and someone’s medical condition who could be close to death. The song, which is about filling one’s soul from a hollow existence, plays at a slower pace, and even with its melancholic feel, it has a strong 4/4 beat that is very bass-driven with punctuating guitars. There are also prominent keyboards as well as synth and guitar effects, especially at the opening and ending of the song, that give the song an intriguing ambience.
Starting with acoustic guitar and violin, Echoes of the Lost is joined by vocals and lower strings with a few percussion accents (chimes, rolling cymbals) and piano that continue until the rest of the band joins at the first chorus. This song is in a waltzy 3/4 time signature keep the song strolling along at a comfortable pace as the song ebbs and flows between heavier and lighter segments with the various instrumentations between the full band and more classical ensemble. The end of the song trails out with solo piano and vocals, and again evokes a sense of sadness.
In a Cold World, however, begins with a more aggressive tone with a crunchy guitar entry, which is soon joined by a soundbyte of Hitler speaking, setting the tone of the theme of the song. The bass and drums soon join the guitars, and establish a driving tempo. Though the song is not particularly fast like a thrash metal song, the beat and tone of the music definitely get one into the groove. The bridge is definitely interesting with the vocal interval jumping and pickup in guitar and drum intricacies that push the tempo. Later in the song, the tempo tends to slow with repeating guitar riffs and off-beat china cymbals for yet another style. This ninth track also includes more vocal growls than any other song, giving some variety as well as emphasis with certain lyrics. Then at the very end, it drops to an acoustic guitar only that plays the song out.
Tears, the last song on the album, starts off with a melancholy but beautiful acoustic guitar introduction. Vocals enter soon after for the first verse, and remain so with more layered guitar parts with occasional appearances by piano and strings to supplement the core of the song. During the choruses, the vocals are also layered for a fuller approach, but this song adds no more instrumentation for its short duration. However, even with the lack of the rhythm section, it presents quite poignantly and strongly on the merits of its melody and delivery giving its message of perseverance and hope.
Dead Winter Sun is fairly straightforward metal in its approach, with a likely wide appeal for many fans within the genre. However, Born of Fire’s style is open to change and they allow for a wider breadth of elements to appear in their music in order to help communicate their messages as well as to keep the album fresh and interesting. Their inclusion of other instrumentation helps to communicate the message and emotion that they intend to invoke with their songs. As instrumentalists, Dorssom’s drums and Wolff’s bass are solid in each song and occasionally have chances to shine, and the electric and acoustic guitar work by Morrell and Chavez are expressive and eclectic. The keyboards also manned by Morrell give a nice flavor to the music, and expand the songs into a new horizon. Tittsworth’s vocals are as open and powerful here, if not more, as on any of his previous work, and he especially shines in the low-mid range. His vocal style seems to fit Born of Fire’s mission well, and he seems to be a timely addition to the group. Dead Winter Sun is a solid album that does not allow itself to be musically pigeon-holed, yet at the same time is accessible enough to make itself easily appealing to fans of the heavy, melodic, and progressive metal genres, who should definitely give it some attention to add to their collection.