Solar Flare – Solar Flare Review

I have vivid memories of long spring break road trips with my family down to Texas or Florida all the way from upper Michigan. Those car trips lasted seemingly forever. My brother and I did our best to keep ourselves occupied with books and snacks, but the latest Harry Potter edition and gas station bag of Combos (the pizza flavor, of course) only lasted us so long. Sitting in Atlanta traffic in blistering, hot sun is not one of my fondest memories. Rolling down the windows and turning up the volume of the music playing in the car did help make the trips more bearable, however. My parents would play everything from the catchy pop of OMC’s “How Bizarre” to the bleeps and bloops of Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup. As a result—man, do I appreciate a good driving playlist. Up until just a handful of days ago when I finally caved and bought my very first car, I didn’t have much of a need for having a list of stellar driving songs on hand. All that is changed now, and I’m on the lookout to start crafting playlists for the road. When I dug up Solar Flare’s promo and gave it a once-over, I suspected the Cincinnati band’s debut album might have the makings of a satisfying, pick-me-up album for playing in the car.

Solar Flare, a five-man crew, has been a part of the Ohio metal scene for six years now, playing a blend of one part 80’s power metal and one part NWoBHM. Frontman Ethan Jackson, a classically trained vocalist, demonstrates impressive vocal range in the higher registers from the get-go. Ethan’s old-school vocals attempt to live up to those of Bruce Dickinson’s and are easily the star on Solar Flare’s self-titled debut. Perhaps the fact that Holdeneye, that overrating coworker of mine you all know and love, unassigned himself from reviewing this album after penciling his name in should’ve been a warning sign. Largely caused by the tinny and echoey recording quality, opening track “Medieval” had me wincing in the first seconds. This wasn’t just some opening note mishap. The start of the next two tracks, “Under the Sun” and “Born to Burn,” gave me the same exact reaction.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m usually not one to scoff at DIY or bedroom music projects. I understand that Solar Flare isn’t trying to impress listeners with flashy production or a professional mixing job. Instead Solar Flare’s strengths lie in their likable songwriting and genuine excitement around playing metal. It pains me that with a wee bit more effort in the studio, their record might not sound like it was recorded in someone’s stuffy garage with an ancient iPhone. Solar Flare may have one of the loosest interpretations of what a recording should sound like that I have ever heard. On more than one occasion, the two guitarists sounded out of sync, and the drummer sounded as though he was struggling to regain control of the lost tempo  (“Nous Sommes”, “Under the Sun”).

After having the pleasure of listening to and getting used to the tightness, meticulousness, and more balanced mixing of other band’s sounds in the power metal space such as Heavenly’s “The Dark Memories,” listening to the muffled opening measures of “Born to Burn” is nothing short of painful. The piercing snare drum on “Nous Sommes” is disgustingly reminiscent of the infamous snare of Metallica’s St. Anger. Despite Solar Flare’s glaring flaws, the band’s songwriting is engaging, fun, and interspersed with a smattering of interesting sounds and textures. As the name suggests, “Pharaoh” plays up an Egyptian vibe not complete without the added layer of gong. “Taken to the Other Side” makes an attempt at an atmospheric introduction. “World in My Head” is deliciously chuggy, but, again, the lack of synchronicity between the guitarists and drummer had me cringing.

Solar Flare is an aggravating listen. It’s energetic, feel-good music, but those qualities fail to compensate for the record’s aforementioned flaws. I imagine Solar Flare’s excessively loose attitude when it comes to playing their instruments translates better in a live setting than on a record that people expect to be edited and polished. I’m a fan of Solar Flare’s enthusiasm, spirit, and even their name (yay science!), but I sadly cannot endorse listening to their debut album. Maybe, just maybe, next time I’m running essential errands and am at a loss for a solid driving tune, I’ll roll down the windows in my car and throw on “Taken to the Other Side.”

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 23rd, 2020

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