When first I spun the self titled debut album by Spirits of Fire, I had exactly zero ideas what the band was or who they were. My first aware thought, after hearing a few minutes of opening track Light Speed Marching was “hm, that sounds like Tress McNeille.. I mean, Ripper Owens”. Delve further in and it’s not just this by now fairly ubiquitous front man; the crisp, clear and oddly sweet sounding guitars are care of none other than Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra). Bass is handled by none other than my favorite (and Jon Schaffer’s least favorite) Iced Earth bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Charred Walls of the Damned, Testament), and the heavy drummage comes from Mark Zonder (Dramatica, Warlord).
This self titled debut isn’t exactly a world shattering heavy metal revolution, nor is there reason to expect anything super innovative. However, with the talent behind it in the personnel there’s rightly plenty of fire to expect in most every part of the album. DiGiorgio is on the fretless bass and his work on here is a thing of beauty. The bass lines are clever, driving and the distinct sound pumps the music up with blistering fire, as he works alongside Caffery’s thrifty guitar. Now, Ripper is almost everywhere these days but aside from the latest Charred Walls of the Damned album lots of his appearances have felt phoned in and shallow, with little of the gravitas which he lent the Iced Earth and Beyond Fear efforts he fronted. Not so with Spirits of Fire; already from the first moment his tone is weighty and heavy, worthy of the status which he now commands - showing clearly he still has what made him worthy to replace the Metal God way back in 1996.
One of the problems with the album however is that is way too long. Even without the bonus track the runtime already stretches over an hour. So while the album starts off strong and heavy, delving into Manowar like fleshy power metal to traditional styled heavy metal and even leaning on some thrashiness in the title track, with plenty of diversity and cool moments - Caffery’s leads and solos in the title track are otherworldly - things kind of come down as the album goes on. Filler songs (Never to Return), overlong drabs (The Path) and slow pieces that aren’t as enjoyable as the onset. While there are enjoyable moments even later in the album, the initial fire isn’t recaptured. They do however close things off (excluding the pretty useless bonus song - an acoustic version of It’s Everywhere) on the right note, with the heartfelt and Savatage-y Alone in the Darkness which shows how greatly they can blend in balladry into the otherwise heavy music. Cut away some 15-18 minutes of the worst offenders, and Spirits of Fire might have released the debut heavy metal album of the year. As it is though, it stands as a good heavy metal effort with some stellar moments.
Standout tracks: Light Speed Marching, All Comes Together, Alone in the Darkness