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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Fire! - Testament (Rune Grammofon, 2024)

By Martin Schray

On the one hand, Fire! (as always Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin) are absolutely predictable. That’s not meant in a negative way at all, it’s a bit like drinking a spectacular wine you know, but you haven’t had it for three years - and now you’re looking forward to tasting it again. Anticipation is the greatest joy, we all know that. Also, because on the other hand, Fire! albums are never the same.

On Testament, their eighth album, the trio concentrates on the essentials for the first time: saxophone, bass, drums. No flutes (which Gustafsson has recently discovered for himself in his other projects), no electronics (actually an integral part of Fire!), no guests and no other bric-a-brac. The album was recorded live in the studio on analog tape at Steve Albini’s studio (of Nirvana/Shellac/Stooges etc. fame) with the master himself at the controls. It’s a bit as if what belongs together has come together here.

Fire! have always been about finding the essence by getting to the core of the music. On Testament, it becomes clearer than ever before how strongly the trio literally refers back to the roots of ancient jazz and blues structures. Field hollers, call-and-response, an interplay - in this case of three instruments - that have a kind of conversation with each other and thus create a certain density and tension. This is particularly evident in the opener “Work Songs For A Scattered Past“ (but also in the following three pieces). Johan Berthling’s bass is the basis, Werliin's drums support him more stoically than usual, and Gustafsson lets his dark lines buzz over this base. Intensity, tempo and sound are then varied, Gustafsson pivots on Berthling’s bass motif to give Werliin room for excursions. In its simplicity, this is simply great art and almost tears your heart out.

This approach is further refined in the second piece, even more minimalist, three notes on the bass, the drums almost like a metronome. Gustafsson plays long, lonely lines, interspersed with an interlude of short outbursts that seem as if a guest musician has snuck in. A highlight of the album is “Running Bison. Breathing Entity. Sleeping Reality“. The bass is as light as a feather, the drums almost free of tom, bass drum or snare, even the saxophone floats free of suffering or longing. It’s the continuation of Fire!’s masterpiece She Sleeps She Sleeps, especially when the obligatory outburst comes in the middle of the track and the bass then returns with even more verve. You might even want to jump from your sofa and dance - just to realize that the last track, “One Testament. One Aim. One More To Go. Again“, is different. All three instruments spin freely, there is no longer a gravitational center, it seems as if one is drifting completely free through the orbit. The piece is a throwback to the band’s other mainstay, namely krautrock/progrock - and here Can in particular (coincidentally, the review was written the day after Damo Suzuki’s death). Like Can, Fire!’s music also oscillates between demonstrative boredom and ecstatic outbursts, you think you know what’s going to happen - just to find out that your expectations won’t be fulfilled.

It’s only February, but are we talking about an album of the year? Hell yeah. 100%.

Testament is available as an LP (in a limited edition on clear vinyl), as a CD and as a download.


JG said...

Thank you Martin for this very nice review of an other really great album of Fire ! The fact that if was recorded by Steve Albini is really relevant because when you listen to Fire! in this skinned form it also recalls the style of Shellac, the Steve Albini's rock trio...

Anonymous said...

God this is great—it is blowing my mind as I listen. Definitely an album of the year.

Martin Schray said...

I'm with you, JG. It really reminds of Shellac.

Don Phipps said...

Holy moly - what an intense and vibrant listening experience. Thanks Martin for the heads up!