May 19, 2015 Fireflight – Innova (Album Review)
Originating in Central Florida, the band Fireflight has been paving their own way for over fifteen years now. First put together by guitarist Glenn Drennen and bassist Wendy Drennen after they were married, a nucleus that would help them rise to success included guitarist Justin Cox, drummer Phee Shorb, and vocalist Dawn Michele. Combining a sound of Hard and Alternative Rock, Fireflight’s label debut in 2006, titled The Healing of Harms, was the first of four albums which reached peak positions on Rock charts. Nominated three consecutive years in the GMA Dove Awards and in 2011 for a Grammy, Fireflight has left an impressive mark on the Rock world. Like any band, they have been faced with challenges along the way. Whether it be the stress of writing and recording material they were completely satisfied with, or the departure of Shorb in 2011, and Cox to begin a new chapter in their lives. Moving forward the band brought in drummer Adam McMillion in 2011 and in 2014 Fireflight launched back into the world of musical independence with no record label to answer to. Rejuvenated and up for the challenge, the band have returned with their first studio album in three years with the recently released Innova. Launching a Pledgemusic campaign to raise money for the new album, the band take a bold step in a different direction by turning down the distortion pedals and experimenting with some new styles. Working with a production team of Geoff Duncan, Joshua Silverberg, Rusty Varenkamp, and Kipp Williams, Innova is twelve cuts of new music which is bound to have fans overwhelmed with curiosity.
Opening the new album, Fireflight immediately let the audience know this is something vastly different than anything they have done before with “Keep Fighting.” With Michele’s sweet voice, she coveys a message of defiance, but instead of the typical heavy guitars as the backbone, a new textured mix of ambient melodic guitars, overdubbed backing vocals, and electronic elements dress the track. Surprising yet compelling, the song is only the beginning of what Fireflight has in store as they follow with the danceable “Lightning.” Again tapping into a spacious sound filled with thick electronics, echoing guitars,and steady drum beat, Michele’s powerful vocal performance pulls it all together. Harking back to almost a late ’80s to early ’90s Dance Rock sound, “I’ve Got The Power” brings a club-like atmosphere, but instead of interchangeable generic lyrical content, Fireflight interject their positive and empowering message of self confidence. With Michele singing the anthem-like chorus, this track would take anyone feeling down on their luck and give them inner hope.
Tapping into a sound fans of Fireflight may be more familiar with, a clear piano melody leads the way on “Here and Now” as a slower tempo takes over. Complemented by amazing placement of subtle guitar echoing in the background, the highly emotional vocal performance of Michele is nothing less than spectacular as she belts out high notes with ease. The track “Safety” is begun with a quieter singing approach by Michele as the guitar effects of Glenn overwhelm the song with such intricate sound, before calling on guest vocals from Anberlin’s Stephen Christian. Giving the track the opposing male vocal, the two shine bright together, feeding off their own energy. Featuring some stylish drumming of McMillion, the song is a winner from beginning to end. Channeling a sound similar to that of The Birthday Massacre, The heavy guitars of “Resuscitate” are carefully placed around a wall of synthesizers and breathy vocals of Michele. Filled with the perfect amount of vocal compression, Michele’s voice is close, personal, and most of all, human.
Bringing on a mix of drums by McMillion and bass by Wendy, the sensual vocal approach of Michele takes center stage on “The Fallout.” Again relying heavily on layered guitars and electronics, the overall vibe of the song could be compared to one of Madonna’s best from the classic 1986 Papa Don’t Preach album. Marrying the electronics with acoustic guitar, “Easy to Break” is a fine Pop song with thoughtful lyrics of unconditional love. Brought together by a catchy piano melody, this is yet another winning experiment on behalf of the band. Conveying positive spirituality, “We are Alive” is another dance-like song with a message of the joy of being alive. With more well-crafted overdubbing of Michele’s voice, it is majestic to hear the different facets of her voice come together. Reminiscent of a New Wave sound mixed with more ’90s Alternative Pop, “Out of My Head” is a roller-coaster of head bopping beats and dream-like tones lanced throughout. Sounding like a track perhaps England’s Everything but the Girl may have recorded, it is a delightful listen with a delicate balance. Concluding the Dance type songs, “This is Our Time” see’s Michele singing passionately about the most of life, taking nothing for granted, and knowing what is most important. With more impeccable guitar work by Glenn, the final riff will tingle in one’s ear hours after listening. This leads to the final offering of Innova with the piece “Light Inside,” which could easily be one of the best songs Fireflight has ever written. With clarified piano, acoustic guitars, and resonating drums, the words of Michele are enough to make anyone pause in awe. Conveying the importance of being happy with one’s self, opposed to chasing after fame, the song emphasizes that we are all special in our own way.
While some may say Innova is a risky venture for Fireflight, others may find the new direction to be a invigorating breath of fresh air. Too often, bands fear breaking out of their comfort zone to appease fans and record labels, but Fireflight have decided to spread their wings and follow their hearts. This is not an average record by any means, in fact, it is a very exceptional collection of songs which were carefully composed and recorded. Those looking for the guitars, they are here, just in a vastly different way than before on a Fireflight album. Kudos to the band for daring to be different, and the result is a gem with Innova. CrypticRock gives this album 5 out of 5 stars.