posted on 7/2009 By:
In the last three decades, Firebird guitarist / vocalist / mastermind Bill Steer has been a part of two bands that forever changed the face of extreme music.
Firebird isn't one of them.
Not that Firebird isn't a great band, but simply that, whereas Steer's earlier outfits Napalm Death and Carcass spawned hundreds of imitators, Firebird itself is an imitation. This news is old, but for the benefit of anyone who missed out on the last decade or so, aside from the recent Carcass reunion, Steer has left extremity behind in favor of classic rock. Thankfully, what Steer does, Steer does well, and so Firebird stands tall and proud in the ranks of 70s-guitar-rock-redux bands, no matter how decidedly retro-minded their aesthetic may be.
Despite the tendency to label Firebird as doom or stoner metal, I would argue against both. There's neither "doom" nor "metal" here—no Sabbath-worship slow-'n'-gloomy riffing, no downer atmospherics, no amped-up Motorhead-quoting rawk-ness. Grand Union is simply stoner rock, with an emphasis on the latter word, and make no mistake: Firebird does, in fact, rock. They rock like Humble Pie rocks, like Cream rocks, like Deep Purple rocks, which is to say they rock hard and rock solid. These tunes are blues-based in structure and provide ample opportunity for the man who once brought you "Genital Grinder" to showcase his mastery of the pentatonic scale. The riffage evokes all three of those bands I mentioned above, as well as Robin Trower, Free, Golden Earring... (That intro to album opener "Blue Flame" is straight out "Radar Love" love.) The revved-up R&B of "Release Me" sounds like Purple covering some forgotten Otis Redding tune, replete with a killer twisting chorus riff beneath a Jon Lord-ian Hammond organ. On "Worried Mind," a cover of British blues icon Duster Bennett, Steer also gets to show off his harmonica skills. The rocked-up version of "Fool For You" manages the damn-near impossible by injecting a song originally written by James "The World’s Boringest Man" Taylor with some energy and balls. And hell, for good measure and to further my comparisons, Firebird also adds a cover of Humble Pie’s "Four Day Creep" that equals that band’s studio version in sweat-soaked intensity. (The Pie’s live version of "Four Day Creep," as heard on the masterful Rockin’ The Fillmore, destroys both their own studio version and Firebird’s. Such is life.) The album’s only weak track is "Lonely Road," which rides a riff straight out of the Collective Soul guidebook straight into 90s-rock-radio blandness.
The remainder of the band is both loose and tight, sloppy in that perfect rock 'n' roll manner, with special kudos going out to drummer Ludwig Witt, who conveniently splits his time between Firebird and Spiritual Beggars, the stoner-rock band of other-former-Carcass-guitarist Michael Amott. (To my knowledge, Ludwig and I are not related.) Steer’s voice is far better suited to classic rock than his growling and snarling in Carcass would’ve ever let on. Bill’s by no means as commanding a presence behind the mic as JB from Spiritual Beggars (also of the awesome Grand Magus), but he gets the job done with appropriate grit and skill, leaning towards a sound that reminds me of Ian Gillan, although without Gillan’s range and propensity for perfect piercing shrieks.
Firebird isn’t rewriting the book on anything. They just rock, and they rock hard, and appropriately, Grand Union also rocks and rocks hard. It’s just that simple.
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