Fire!-The Hands.

Label: Rune Grammofon.

When the Swedish power trio Fire! was founded ten years ago in 2008, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer and percussionist Andreas Werliin were determined to bring a new approach to improvised music which they were all passionate about. They also knew that their new band Fire! would allow them to rekindle and sharpen their instrumental skills, and take them out of what they saw as their respective comfort zones. To some extent, the three members of Fire! were also looking for a new musical challenge, and something that provided an alternative to the various projects that they were involved with in 2008. Little did the members of Fire! realise just how successful their new project would be over next ten years.

Fast forward ten years, and Fire! which started as a side project for Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin has snowballed, and there’s now two bands under the Fire! banner. This includes the twenty-seven piece Fire! Orchestra who released their debut album Enter in January 2014. Just over two years later, in May 2016, the Fire! Orchestra released their critically acclaimed fourth album She Sleeps, She Sleeps. However, they’re still two albums behind the band that started the ball rolling, Fire!.

Recently Fire! released their much-anticipated sixth album The Hands on the Rune Grammofon label. The Hands is another ambitious and innovative album, from one of Scandinavia’s top power trios, who continue on a mission that began in 2008.

For far too long, jazz and especially free jazz has been perceived by many record buyers and even some critics as “difficult” music. It’s regarded as beyond the comprehension of the ordinary record buyer who has grown up listening to pop and rock. That however, is far from the case, and Fire! and Fire! Orchestra have made it their mission to prove those that jazz and especially free jazz, isn’t beyond the comprehension of record buyers. 

After all, jazz has been an important part of Fire!’s genre-melting sound for the past ten years. Fire! are now regarded as one of Swedish music’s success stories, is a musical democracy which features three equally talented players, who each play an important part in the trio’s tight genre-melting sound. This includes elements of free jazz, jazz, noise, psychedelia and rock. However, Fire! has also been inspired by power trios like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience  as well as the hypnotic quality of Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album. All this, has obviously influenced Fire! when they came to record the seven tracks that became The Hands. It’s a captivating and mostly an uncompromising album where the music is dark, heavy and has a ferocity and intensity. Fire! also show exactly what a power trio can do, as they continue in their mission to introduce jazz and free jazz to a wider audience, and bring a new and fresh approach to improvised music. 

The latest chapter in the Fire! story began on the ‘10th’ of May 2017 when Fire! arrived at Bruket, Sickla, which was where they would spend the next week recording the seven tracks on The Hands. Mats Gustafsson brought with him his bass and tenor saxophones and the electronics that were part of Fire!’s musical arsenal. Meanwhile, Johan Berthling unpacked his double and electric basses, while Andreas Werliin setup his drum kit and an array of percussion. He would also be responsible for supplying the feedback on The Hands. When work began, Fire! wasted no time, and just like on their three previous albums recorded the album quickly. By the ‘17th’ of May 2017 The Hands, which was produced by Andreas Werliin and Fire! was complete.

Withe the album complete, the next step was for Andreas Werliin mix The Hands in Putarna, Tossene. This left just the mastering, and Lupo mastered the album at Calyx Mastering, in Berlin, mastered The Hands. Only then was Fire!’s sixth album ready for release 

Eight months after Fire! completed recording their much-anticipated sixth album The Hands, it was released in January 2018 by Rune Grammofon. The Hands was the latest album of ambitious, innovative and genre-melting music from one of Scandinavia’s top power trios Fire!

The Hands opens with the title-track where industrial sounds give way to the thunderous, roaring rhythm section. Johan Berthling’s bass adds a dark menacing sound that seems to draw inspiration from early Black Sabbath. By then, industrial sounds have been added before a wailing, soul-baring free jazz saxophone is unleashed. Meanwhile, the rhythm section lock into a tight groove, and became one as they create a dark, menacing and mesmeric backdrop. Never does drummer Andreas Werliin miss a beat, as the snarling dragon that is Fire!’s rhythm section drive the anthemic arrangement along. Latterly, the industrial sounds return before feedback is unleashed and Andreas Werliin tames the tiger, as it becomes part of this genre-melting soundscape.

As Andreas Werliin pounds his drums slowly, distant dialogue can be heard before the dark menacing bass prowls across the arrangement. Soon, a braying saxophone soars high above the rhythm section which have been pulled back in the mix. Mats Gustafsson’s saxophone growls, brays and snarls as it takes centre-stage, and plays with power, passion and an inventiveness. Still, the rhythm section create a dark, dramatic and menacing backdrop. Later, just the quivering saxophone remains before dissipating, leaving just the memory of Fire! at their inventive and innovative best on they create a dramatic and cinematic soundscape.

The tenor saxophone growls and drones on Touches Me With The Tips Of Wonder as cymbals hiss and crash and Johan Berthling lays down a fleet-fingered but subtle backdrop. This allows Mats Gustafsson’s ruminative saxophone to create a late-night smokey sound. It’s as if Fire! have been asked to play late night in a Stockholm jazz club, and are channeling the spirit of John Coltrane. However, later Fire! throw a curveball as dialogue replaces the saxophone and the three musical mavericks continue in the mission to reinvent improvised music.

Andreas Werliin plays his drums with power and speed on Washing Your Heart In Filth before Johan Berthling adds another fleet-fingered baseline before Mats Gustafsson’s braying, screeching saxophone enters. It’s played with power and passion before reaching  crescendo. All the time, drums and percussion join the bass in powering the arrangement along. By then, the saxophone is played with a tenderness and becomes melodic and thoughtful. This shows another side of Fire! Still, the rhythm power the arrangement until the track reaches a memorable ending,

A dark rhythm bass join with urgent drums as Up and Down unfolds, and Fire! draw inspiration from the classic power trios and hard rock bands of the late-sixties and early seventies. Soon, Mats Gustafsson steps forward and unleashes an impassioned solo that veers between soulful to powerful and urgent. This is similar to drummer Andreas Werliin’s performance as he pounds his drums while Johan Berthling’s bass adds a dark, dramatic and ominous backdrop. With thirty-seconds left, drama and dialogue are combined as Fire! as the track reaches a crescendo.

Slowly and deliberately Johan Berthling’s dark bass broody plays and is joined by drums that are played with care and precision on To Shave The Leaves. In Red. In Black. In doing so, Andreas Werliin adds to the drama, as Mats Gustafsson unleashes one of his best solos. It’s played with power and control, as the growling, braying and rasping saxophone soars high above the rhythm section. They’re encouraging Mats Gustafsson every step of the way, as he an almost flawless performance unfolds.  Still the bass is dark and menacing and joins with the drums to create a moody backdrop for Mats Gustafsson’s saxophone. Later, the rhythm section enjoy their moment in the sun, while eerie, haunting dialogue swirls in the distance. It disappears when the saxophone returns, as this near ten-minute broody, moody and dramatic Magnus Opus draws to a close. 

The Hands closes with I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence. It’s a very different sounding track with Mats Gustafsson’s wistful ruminative saxophone being accompanied by a standup bass and subtle drums. Fire! seem to have been transformed into a vintage jazz trio,and embrace the role. That is until bubbling sounds are added to the arrangement. Still, a beautiful, ruminative track that encourages reflection unfolds and closes the album on a high. 

Less than a year after the release of their critically acclaimed fifth album She Sleeps, She Sleeps, hard rocking power trio Fire! return with their much-anticipated genre-melting sixth album The Hands. It finds Fire! continuing to combine elements of free jazz, jazz, noise, psychedelia and rock. To this, they add avant-garde, electronica, experimental and industrial music, while drawing inspiration from classic power trios like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, as well as the hypnotic quality of Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album. This results in music that is dark, heavy and has a ferocity, intensity and sometimes, takes on a menacing sound. Other times, the music becomes ruminative and allows for reflection as Fire! show another side to their music. 

As power trios go, Fire! is a hugely talented and versatile band who continue in their mission to introduce jazz and free jazz to a wider audience. That is only part of what Fire! have been trying to achieve for the past ten years. Fire! continue in their mission to bring a new and fresh approach to improvised music on The Hands, which was recently released by Rune Grammofon, and is without doubt, the finest album of their career. The Hands is also one the most accessible and eclectic albums of Fire!’s career, with anthems rubbing shoulders to reflective, memorable and melodic music and even a musical Magnus Opus for the Swedish mavericks who nowadays, are one of Scandinavia’s finest power trios.

Fire!-The Hands.

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