There was only one detail in Afire’s press release needed to draw me in. Upon learning that former Sentenced guitarist Sami Lopakka was involved, I knew I wanted to hear what they had to offer. Whilst the late, great Miika Tenkula wrote the bulk of the music for the defunct Finnish five piece, Lopakka still left his mark on the group’s output, with most of their lyrics scrawled from the nib of his pen. Fellow Finnish doomsters KYPCK have also produced some magnificent material under his stewardship, so it was really a no brainer when this album became available. Vocalist Suvi Hiltunen, bassist Harri Halonen and former Poisonblack members Antti Leiviskä and Tarmo Kaerva round out the line-up as they prepare to launch their debut On the Road from Nowhere.
As it turns out, all my raving about Lopakka is somewhat in vain, as Halonen and Hiltunen have done the bulk of the writing on the record. I’ve no doubt that there will probably have been some decorative touches from other members here and there (the main lick from “Rotten to the Core” is Sentenced through and through). Halonen’s mission is to create straightforward anthems built around big choruses and Hiltunen’s vocal lines. This ideal is easier on paper than it is in practice, and whilst early signs for On the Road from Nowhere are good, the record eventually wilts under the inevitable weight of monotony.
The album makes a bright start with the catchy, upbeat rocker “The One to Take the Fall” and the more reserved “Not Coming Home”, the latter housing some nice melodic textures from Lopakka and Leiviskä. Lead single “Let Me Be the One” is a gloomier affair with a more incisive groove to the main riff, whilst the more playful melodic sensibilities of “Tired of Being Broken” gives the mournful aura a sense of tranquillity. “Veiling the Tears” provides a bit of spark to the B-side, but by this point it’s evident the album is already running on fumes. It’s a very one dimensional record, with little variation from song to song. Things are largely simple and mid paced, with Hiltunen sticking to the same range throughout. She does well, granted, and belts out some strong vocal melodies, but when you’re spinning the same wheel for ten consecutive songs, it wears thin. There’s also a distinct lack of urgency on the album. The band sound like they’ve got another few gears they could work through, but instead they opt for the laidback approach. This can be advantageous if you’re playing with a loose swagger, but that’s not the case with Afire. They’re pretty tight with their performances, but this inadvertently leaves the album sounding anaemic.
I went into this record with plenty of optimism, but I can’t brand it anything but a let down. There’s a lot of promise shown early on, and some of the guitar work is nice, but it merely adds gloss to a bland, uninspired affair. I wouldn’t write off Afire completely, but if they do release more material in the future, it will have to be far better than this.
Highlights: “The One to Take the Fall”, “Tired of Being Broken”
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