Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Barnabas - Feel The Fire
   
Musical Style: Heavy Metal Produced By: Tom Tucker & Barnabas
Record Label: Light / Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1984 / 2017 Artist Website: Barnabas
Tracks: 8 Rating: 85%
Running Time: 38:07

Barnabas - Feel The Fire - Retroactive re-issue

At the intersection of ‘straightforward heavy metal realized in a crazy good all world guitarist’ and ‘intricate progressive rock formulated by a technically proficient bassist’ reside Barnabas and its 1984 Light Records fourth full-length album, Feel The Fire.  Musically, it could not be more removed from the groups 1980 Tunesmith Records debut Hear The Light, which combined hard rock with punk, metal, blues and folk rock elements in introducing the trio of founding musicians to appear on all five of its releases: front lady Nancy Jo Mann, timekeeper Kris Klingensmith and said ‘technically proficient bassist’ Gary Mann.  It was Gary Mann who led the charge towards Barnabas embracing a progressive based sound, as revealed in its vastly underrated and much more consistent 1982 Tunesmith sophomore outing Find Your Heart A Home.

A switch to Light Records in 1983 for third album Approaching Light Speed saw Barnabas hitting its stride, with newcomer Brian Belew, said ‘crazy good all world guitarist’, responsible for pushing the groups sound into full on metal territory.  When combined with Gary Mann’s progressive undercurrents, Approaching Light Speed adds up to what many consider the finest Barnabas full length, including yours truly (noting the 90% Angelic Warlord review).  What distinguishes the album is how it found Barnabas on the same page musically, in that not only did Belew’s compositions hit with the impetus of a sledgehammer, but those composed by Gary Mann with their more progressive edges swung with force as well.

On Feel The Fire, Barnabas potentially backs from the continuity to Approaching Light Speed by diverging and going in separate musical directions at once.  Consider, for instance, how the compositions that attribute to Belew continue to uphold the same hi-octane metal propensities in giving prominence to assuming rhythm guitars and his signature hammer on driven soloing abilities.  Gary Mann penned pieces contrastingly recede from the heavier mindset by mirroring a progressive rock slant manifested in tempered rhythm guitars that do not make the same elevated statement in comparison.  Intent, of course, is objective assessment from how Feel The Fire proves no less musically relevant in bringing its own distinctive flair. 

As is often the case with Christian hard music albums from the first half of the eighties, Feel The Fire went out of print before it could be released on CD.  Hence, how I welcomed the 2004 CD re-issue on Retroactive Records, which was a ‘two for one’ in also including final Barnabas album Little Foxes from 1985.  Enter the second re-issue to Feel The Fire from the fall of 2017 (also Retroactive) with improved re-mastering, bringing the album up to modern standards, and packaging, featuring an immaculate scan to the cover art and a finely detailed mini booklet exclusive to lyrics, liner notes, write ups and vintage band photos. 

First three Feel The Fire tracks pick up where Approaching Light Speed leaves off in forming a ‘suite’ of sorts that in my opinion captures some of the most creative recorded moments in Christian metal history.  “Prelude”, first of the three, is a haunting instrumental in which chilling keyboards, drum rolls and howling wind at the start segue to the catchy guitar rhythms that carry its remaining distance.  Second piece, “The Dream”, comes across every bit moody but with both guitars and tempo diminished in serving to set the pensive state for the masterpiece to follow, “Breathless Wonderment”.

Perhaps the finest metal song based around the crucifixion of Christ - or at the very least challenges Bloodgood’s magnum opus “Crucify” (off Detonation from 1987) - “Breathless Wonderment” proves aptly entitled with its joining of heartrending emotion, majestic signatures and predisposition for the inspired.  It separates itself as a work in which I never tire of hearing in that despite the passing of over 30 years, it still sends shivers down my spine!

The song opens wistfully to quietly played guitars with airy keyboards in the backdrop, preserving the placid inclining as it gradually drifts through its first verse until energy picks up exponentially as metal-laced guitars take over for the momentous second.  Refrain that follows resonates an all out epic if not sublime splendor:

Hosanna, hosanna
Breathless wonderment
The perfect sacrament

Nancy Jo proceeds to exhibit the full range to her fervent voice during the bridge that ensues:

From the dreadful crags of Zion, and the lowly Bethlehem
The mighty heart of God is pierced  as nail pierces hand
The Spirit broods in silence as He did when time was young
The Father turns away from His beloved, tortured Son

As things transition to an extended instrumental break, Belew showcases his abundant soloing abilities, with his playing slow at first only to gradually grow and build until he lets loose with the type of intense hammer on driven solo to literally leave you out of breath.

It is on fourth cut “Hearts” in which those divergences begin to appear.  Penned by Gary Mann, the song takes a seven-minute progressive form while, similar to his ballad “If Love Brings Love” (off Approaching Light Speed), serves up ample doses of melody.  Problem, however, is that the song is drenched in keyboards its entire length with no guitar presence whatsoever.

I have mixed feelings.  On one hand, I do not wish to curtail a bands creativity or willingness to stretch its musical boundaries and think outside the box- keeping in mind “Hearts” IS a good song.  On the other, I cannot help but think “Hearts” would have translated better if a rhythm guitar track had been added to better balance keyboards or at the very least featured a guitar solo- keeping in mind Barnabas DID include a world class guitarist as part of its lineup.  I also understand that bands from the eighties experimented with keyboards, but you also do not wish to do so to a fault, at least in light of how Van Halen had enough sense to add a guitar solo to its keyboards based hit “Jump”.

Albums flame throwing Belew penned title track opens side two.  What we have is a full on metal onslaught - actually, quite satisfyingly so in the wake of “Hearts” - that hearkens back to the best moments off Approaching Light Speed.  Belew, as one might imagine, is at the top of his game, unloading a boat load of stewing riffs, provoked harmonies and acrimonious soloing as he vents frustration at being left out of the “Hearts” recording sessions (at least that is the impression left with this reviewer).  Interestingly, Nancy Jo lends a touch of soul to her delivery.

Speaking of diverges, quite a left turn is made to the tempered progressiveness to Gary Mann’s “Northern Lights”.  Keyboards play a more prevalent role with guitars moving to the back end - at least in comparison to “Feel The Fire” - as things take a turn towards the mid-tempo but not for the worst in that as far as progressive music goes “Northern Lights” more than holds its own.  Equally notable is the manner in which low end is anchored by Klingensmith’s implacable timekeeping.

Speaking of left turns, album could not take a more pronounced one as Belew returns with an all out metal vengeance with his cut “Follow You Up”.  Albums second best track in my opinion, “Follow You Up” mirrors the furious tempo and energy of “Feel The Fire” as it starts to a blistering guitar run and does not let up its length.  Verses, correspondingly, coerce vehemently with equal parts class and fury, while manly backing vocals adorn the every bit rabid refrain.  Instrumentally, Belew solos so fast you can barely discern individual notes- never heard anything like it before or since.

Album ends on a progressive note to final Gary Mann cut in the classy “Suite For The Soul Of Our Enemies (Part 1 - Hammer & Sickle)”.  Not unlike “Northern Lights”, “Suite…” finds keyboards maneuvering to a place of greater prominence, while tempo decelerates to a melancholic mid-paced form in which understated melody works its way to the surface.  A catchy lead guitar run carries the song to its fitting close.

The Feel The Fire production was fine for its time - actually, best of the five Barnabas albums - but shows signs of age in light of today’s standards.  Retroactive re-mastering, however, rectifies this with an overall improved sound that bolsters low end and allows background details in the form of bass and keyboards to stand out with added clarity.  I cannot help but feel the album better reaches its potential as a result.

Kris Klingensmith maintains his penchant for composing inventive lyrics.  Whereas I do not deem myself worthy to interpret his prose, following are my best efforts.  Similar to Approaching Light Speed track, “Never Felt Better”, Barnabas answers its critics on “Follow You Up”:

Judge not, lest you be judged yourself
Curse not, you may be cursed as well
If the music doesn't move you, then leave it alone
You'll understand when we all get home

And when you stand before the Father's throne
Robed in glory, you won't be alone
Rock and roll is just a job we do
When its time to go, we'll be right behind you

“Suite For The Soul Of Our Enemies (Part 1 - Hammer & Sickle)” was written at the height of the Cold War:

Stalin, Trotsky, Marx and Lenin
Scorned the blessed hope from heaven
Pompous men with lofty schemes
They gnash their teeth with futile screams
But now their godless legacy
Has festered long across the sea
Implanted in the tender youth
They come to know the lie as truth

So Holy Father hear my cry
For untold millions doomed to die
Without You, when the rockets roar
Hurling them through Satan's door

“Northern Lights” focuses on failure to see the ramifications of our decisions:

With staggering shortsightedness our golden calves are raised
Ignoring former days
Gambling with our heritage in this self-seeking age
The endless quest for freedom, much like the northern lights
So beautiful and bright
But far beyond the mortal's grasp
As witnessed by our plight

Racing like lemmings to the brink of holocaust
With scant concern for cost
We fall before the god of pleasure
Jeopardizing without measure
The rarest gem of everlasting life

“Hearts” concerns an individual finding their way in life:

Momentary panic rising in the throat
Never turning back now, never losing hope
Those who wait in solitude must learn to persevere
Hell has no device against the hearts that feel no fear

No storm lasts forever, darkness cannot last
The iron bars of evil are shattering like glass
The presence of a shadow only means the light is near
Hell has no device against the hearts that feel no fear

Again, by suggesting that on Feel The Fire Barnabas might be ‘diverging’ or ‘going in separate musical directions at once’ I am not coming across derogatory but rather making an unbiased assessment instead.  True indicator of the albums value is the 85% score, which due to all keyboard based track “Hearts” rates a notch below the 90% graded Approaching Light Speed (rework “Hearts” by throwing in some guitars and Feel The Fire otherwise is more the equal of Approaching Light Speed when factoring its remaining material).  When placed alongside, the two albums find Barnabas reaching its prime form that in lending equal parts metal and the progressive was way ahead of its time when factoring the mid-eighties Christian hard music scene in which it saw release.  Yet, both remain every bit musically relevant that if released today - and I made a similar point in my Approaching Light Speed review - pundits would potentially be grouping Barnabas with the power/progressive metal crowd.

Enter the Retroactive re-issue to Feel The Fire, which takes things to the next level in terms of re-mastering and packaging.  If a fan of Barnabas and looking to purchase Feel The Fire and Approaching Light Speed in their consummate form - I consider the two ‘companion’ albums in that you cannot have one without the other - or a fan of any type of hard music combining aspects of metal and the progressive, then make the Retroactive re-releases a necessary purchase.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Prelude” (2:21), “The Dream” (2:36), “Breathless Wonderment” (6:45), “Hearts” (6:54), “Feel The Fire” (5:15), “Northern Lights” (3:44), “Follow You Up” (5:06), “Suite For The Souls Of Our Enemies Part One: Hammer And Sickle” (4:58)

Musicians
Nancy Jo Mann - Lead Vocals
Brian Belew - Guitars
Gary Mann - Bass & Keyboards
Kris Klingensmith - Drums & Percussion

 

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