Album review: TROY REDFERN – …The Fire Cosmic!

Troy Redfern - The Fire Cosmic

RED7 Records  [Release date 06.08.21]

‘…The Fire Cosmic!’ is the album Troy has always wanted to make. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s proud, it rocks hard and he achieves his goal of making a big impact. His imperious power trio is framed by a huge production with an additional lacquer courtesy of being mastered at Abbey Road.

To fully understand the conceptual album title,  it’s helpful to identify the forces at work behind an artist whose licks, array of tones, gutsy phrasing and even his use of song titles are part of an astrological force field, as evidenced by the passion and power to be found in the opening ‘Scorpio’.

He’s born to tap into primordial energies that are the origin of every universal concept. He’s a musical conduit for creative force manipulation, as he lets everything flow through his music and explode on to a huge audio canvas that is set to echo round the universe.

Alice Bailey’s 1967 ‘A Treatise On Cosmic Fire’ further explains that: “The one life manifests through all forms within the universe as fiery energy; and the three main streams of cosmic energy.”

And so to Troy Redfern, who reverses the concept for his album title ‘…The Fire Cosmic!’, on which he appears to broach the various fires: ” electric, spirit, solar, mind, friction” and always the “internal fire.”

You could of course dismiss the above as mere semantics, but from the ripping opener ‘Scorpio’ to the anthemic finish of ‘Stone’ he takes us on an musical journey on which he straddles all aspects of his emotional, musical and cosmic spectrum, in which his musical consciousness is the same perfect meeting of spirit and matter that John McLaughlin used to allude to.

How else can you explain the explosion of the guitar as an extension of the self on an album that bears its soul without a safety net?

Flanked by his core power trio of drummer Darby Todd and Dave Marks – the latter doubles on bass and keys – he explores his own psychological being with a musical arc that stretches from down-home antecedents to a mix of grunge, metal and hard rock with a bluesy undertow, and even a hint of gospel.

So cometh the hour, cometh the man.  Redfern steps up to the plate in the idyllic Rockfield studio environment in Monmouth. He taps into the ghosts of the past that inspire him to fill his canvas to the brim with explosive licks, enveloping drones, booming choruses, angst ridden lyrics and a comic book superhero art work.

It’s a massive sounding album on which 80% of the material sounds as if was recorded in the red, and only occasionally pauses for breath to prise out a fleeting melody in 10 songs that populate a bombastic album with a rootsy heart

There are no half measures here. From the moment he lights the fuse with some brief fazed, faux psychedelia and opening surf rock riffling of ‘Scorpio’ he forges a post-Zeppelin into grunge template. He tops that with razor edged vocals and a booming chorus that drips with intensity and rattle neighbourhood with sheer sonic density.

Everything about this album is big, from the unrelenting drums to the resonant guitar tones. It’s all framed by an epic wall of sound that cushions Redfern’s flinty style in a heavy Phil Spector style veneer.

It all serves to give his songs real presence and the best choruses a memorable indent. And when he rocks hard, he’s safe in the knowledge that he has the right power trio and production team to make his dreams come true.

If there’s downside, it’s simply that he teeters on the brink of a powerhouse overload. Even Led Zeppelin knew when to ditch the big artillery. Weirdly enough this is more evident on one of the more restrained tracks such as the filmic ‘Ghosts’ which arguably could have done with lighter brush strokes to illuminate both his intricate Dobro playing and the lyrical imagery.

No matter, the song is melodic triumph, being  one of the most accessible tracks on the album and certainly with the best narrative.

Redfern has long occupied that grey area between being an acoustic blues guitarist with a sense of musical history, and the polar opposite of revelling in the shredders paradise, where his scorching fretwork matches all comers.

‘…The Fire Cosmic!’ is a melange of booming riffs, pounding rhythms, and incendiary guitar bursts that are an extension of his own intensity.

If there is a weakness it’s that the lyrics mirror the same crash and burn feel as his fiery riffling.  ‘Lay That Love Down’ for example, uses some recycled clichés and can never escape Darby’s relentless heavy pounding on a song that labours until a piecing slide break.

It’s one of the few occasional when the album has to work that bit harder to reset its course and maintain the otherwise inherent flow.

No such problem though on the opening ‘Scorpio’ which gets the album off to a booming start.

‘Waiting For Your Love’ blows away any remaining cobwebs with a huge riff driven boogie, while his husky vocal rasp is well suited to his raging heart theme. It’s a track on which you can feel the band pushing every last air molecule round the studio on a barn burner of a track.

Darby Todd is in his element and Dave Marks locks into the groove with a growling rumble, as Troy adds a trebly slide. Hard hitting rock and rocking blues doesn’t come any better than this.

Both ‘One Way Ticket’ and ‘On Fire’ are a little more predictable. The former is a burning slide-led piece on which Troy explores another angst ridden theme: “I’ve got this burning fever in my head, it’s weighing down on my heart like a ton of lead.”

It smoulders with intent and finally resolves itself on the kind of catchy hook beloved by big hair bands.

‘On Fire’ plays to the shredding strengths of special guest Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, on a big drone-into-shred piece that sounds a touch dated, but it rocks like a kicking mule.

In sharp contact, ‘Love & War’ is  a more considered tubular sounding groove, which in spite of Troy’s aggressive vocal attack finds space to breathe with a pulsing bass and stream of consciousness style vocals: “Baptized in your darkest lie you left me crawling on the floor.”

He builds a palpable tension which he resolves with a coruscating solo, offset by Paul Winstanley’s wall of sound which gives the track real presence.

He finally strips things down to the bone on ‘Saving Grace’, on which the weepy slide and harmony vocals bring some welcome contrast.

By the time of ‘Sanctify’, he’s in danger of re-stating his earlier bluster right down to the familiar pounding riff, while the notion of ‘sanctifying my soul’, is surely something he was trying to do on previous efforts.

It’s a hard rocking track, though his piecing slide is almost lost in the muddiest mix on the album which gives it a claustrophobic feeling and almost stifles Redfern’s natural exuberance.

He saves some of his best for last on the beautifully crafted Dobro solo intro of ‘Stone’, which suggest a meditative calm after the storm.

Yet how wrong can you be? It initially benefits from double tracked vocals, before rising again with as a choral filled, guitar drenched anthemic finale.  It flows into a final solo that is subtly mixed into in an enveloping chorus.

It’s the perfect end to an impressive album that will satisfy rock and guitar fans alike. Sure there’s a whiff of retro grunge, hair metal and shred influences but Troy Redfern has paid his dues and he’s now coming to collect.

He should be amply rewarded. ****½

Review Pete Feenstra

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