Seeing the number of debuts and sophomore albums in our promo bin can be a little depressing. It seems to suggest most bands don’t last beyond the early stages. Maybe these young bands are ripped apart over squabbles about the musical direction, or bickering over how to divide the piles of money and groupies, or simply life happening and leaving no room for 9 months of touring per year. Not so for The Quill, a Swedish ‘heavy rock’ group that has been active since 1990 and now have Born From Fire, their 8th album, loaded into the trebuchet. This platter demonstrates that experience matters, especially in the weathered realms of dad metal. Because if there’s one thing dads can always make a claim to, it’s experience.
That experience drips from the very pores of Born From Fire. Leading man Magnus Ekwall, who participated on Ayreon‘s The Human Equation, has a strong voice with grungy Chris Cornell undertones. The instrumentation is consistently tight, shooting off arrays of classic rock riffs with the backing of energetic drumming and crisp, fluid bass, amalgamating in a sound closely related to Spiritual Beggars (indeed, bassist Roger Nilsson had a brief stint with the Beggars during the JB era.) “Stone Believer” blasts out of the door with anthemic verve, but the real fun starts with the high-speed rock ‘n roll shuffle of “Snake Magic Woman,” of which Wolfmother could learn a thing or two. The core of the album is the almost 9 minute epic “Set Free Black Crow,” which succeeds on the strength of its solo sections and remarkably tidy writing. “Spirit and the Spark” has a catchy laid back groove, and both “Skull & Bones” and “Electrical Sons” are downright explosive. The Quill rises and falls on the quality of the riffs and infectious melodies, and for the majority of the album, the band is on the rise.
The band’s biggest problem, however, is self-editing. Born From Fire runs about 20 minutes too long at over an hour, and that’s not just our infamous 45 Minute Rule speaking. Several weaker tracks should have been excised, such as the overlong “Unchain Yourself” or the closer “Metamorphosis,” which is basically just Magnus mumbling through an old radio. Worse still is the plodding, repetitive “Keep It Together,” which manages to sound longer than “Set Free Black Crow” despite being almost 3 minutes shorter. Other tracks would have warranted a diet as well. “Ghosthorse” has a dull bridge that goes on for far too long, and the ‘just one more chorus’ issue weighs down many tracks; not by a lot, but it adds up across the album. Tidying up these issues would have yielded a stronger, snappier album that would be more rewarding with repeated spins.
The production is the soothing balm on these irritations, however. Born From Fire sounds beautiful and warm. The DR12 master sounds natural and organic, particularly on the drums and bass. Not often do the drums sound like you’re standing next to them. The mix is balanced well and enough room is reserved for the bass to make an impression.
Aside from the music, I can’t sign off on this review without mentioning that gorgeous cover art. Painted by Sebastian Jerke, there’s a ton of details referring to song names and lyrics throughout, in a beautiful vortex of color that’s basically begging to be a tattoo. Between the production quality and the artwork, it shows the band is dedicated to delivering a full package that delivers on all fronts, beyond the songcraft alone.
Altogether, Born From Fire is a very solid disc that only holds itself back from greatness by overstretching. Weeding out the weak cuts would have gotten these guys a lot further. But the amount of great work done here cannot be understated; between the great vocals and riffs, the catchy melodies, the excellent production and the beautiful packaging, The Quill show their experience and their knowledge of the craft. Fans of the dad metal movement should not skip out on this one.