Were you one of those kids raised on Rocky movies? If you were, you soaked up those bombastic training montage scenes that were so essential to the Stallone flicks. You cheered as he ran along the beach, screamed as he climbed snowy mountains, shouted when he lifted 2 ton heavy things and whistled as he chased poultry around sketchy back alleys. Part of the thrill of those scenes was the relentlessly upbeat, hilarious cheesy soundtrack populated by the likes of 80s radio icons, Survivor1. Now, don’t feign ignorance as to who they are. You felt their Burning Heart and you, like me, had the Eye of the Tiger and wore it with pride. Now imagine Survivor kept turning out those “me against the world” motivational rockers just for you. Meet Brother Firetribe, because that’s exactly what this wacky super group of Finns have been doing for some unknown reason. Composed of members of Leverage and Nightwish, they’ve found themselves quite a strange hobby, with Sunbound being their fourth oddball throwback to the 80s and just as intentionally silly and dated as the others. They refer to their music as “tennis heavy,” and I suppose that’s as valid as Survivor-core. By any name it’s just as much a parody aimed at the ultimate in niche markets2.
The funniest part is, they write some really fun songs that are more Survivor than the actual Survivor ever was. I’m not sure what kind of dubious achievement that is, but there ya go. On every album they’ve had a handful of righteous rockers that I liked despite my ardent desire not to. I’ve played their stuff for friends and always got an immediate “Why are you listening to Survivor, and hey, I don’t know this one but I like it!” Get ready folks, because the kings of 80s fromage are back for more homage.
The freakshow kicks off well with the catchy synth rock of “Help is On the Way.” Early on the average listener will go through several stages including; disbelief, grudging acceptance, grudging liking, fear of exposure, and finally, ridicule from friends, family and well wishers. You can tell yourself they’re no different than Night Flight Orchestra or Audrey Horne, but deep down, you know you’re lying. The love peppered with self loathing will continue with the nigh irresistible “Indelible Heroes” where the band gives thanks to metal bands like Motorhead, while sounding like a band Lemmy would kick the living shit out before stealing their groupies. Irony is a wicked biscuit sometimes.
“Taste of the Champion” is both another guilty pleasure and one of the worst ESL misfires of all time, and if you can make it all the way through without picturing beloved Rocky characters in compromising situations, more power to you. The stickiest flypaper is “Last Forever,” which will absolutely infuriate you with how catchy and completely stupid the chorus is. “Give Me Tonight” is their answer to Night Flight Orchestra‘s “Living for the Nighttime” and roughly as insipid, but fun as fook. “Shock” injects a bit of Peter Gabriel into the arena pop for an intriguing edge, and “Heart of the Matter” could almost be a Richard Marx hit (Hazard this, Marx!).
Not every song would have a sleazy 80s AOR executive hearing singles and seeing dollars, as “Restless Heart” promises a huge chorus that never arrives, and closer “Phantasmagoria” isn’t as catchy as should be. Still, most of this stuff does exactly what it’s intended to do and several cuts would have been minor hits back in the day.
A band can sound as much like Survivor as they want, but without a big set of pipes on the mic, the 80s aren’t coming back. Pekka Heino (Leverage) is that set of pipes. He sounds uncannily like Jimi Jamison (Survivor, duh), and has that overwrought, over-dramatic style of radio rock singing down a little too well for comfort. He delivers the choruses with panache, aplomb and a cosmic butt-ton of cheese, and that’s why these stupid songs work, damn them! Pekka is supported by the minimalist riffs of Emppu Vuorinen (Nightwish, Altaria) and the overweening, suffocating keyboards of Tomppa Nikulainen. If you came here from throat cutting riffs, you made a wrong turn somewhere, as both the guitar and keys are steeped in cotton candy and sugar plumage. It’s radio rock from a bygone era and they nail it, but at what cost, man?!
Four albums of this stuff and what a long strange Journey its been. Why do they do it? I don’t know. I do know they have a very particular set of skills. Skills they’ve acquired over a long career of Survivor worship. Skills that make them a nightmare for people like us. If you buy the album, that will be the end of it. They will not look for you, they will not tell Paul Baloff you’re a poser. If you don’t, they will look for you, they will find you, and they will rock you (gently).