Genre: Power/Thrash Metal | Label: Self Released
Location: St John’s, NL| Listen: YouTube
St. John’s, Newfoundland is an isolated island city in eastern Canada that’s more known for its folk music (and distinct regional accent, for what it’s worth) than heavy metal. Yet, Fireign’s “Valley of Unrest” was the first metal album by a Canadian band to grace my ears, and I live all the way in the western prairies. As fate would have it, I knew some Newfies who were friends of these guys, and since I was a young teen getting into thrash metal, they couldn’t help but shove this down my throat. Although I don’t listen to this as much anymore, I still enjoy revisiting it from time to time, as many of the lead melodies are still engraved in my mind.
I feel like every young metal head starts a band that tries to do a marriage of Metallica and Iron Maiden, and that’s a good generalization of what’s going on with Fireign’s debut full length from 2002. Looking at the photo of these guys, they’re clearly no older than 21, but surprisingly, the songs presented here show a lot of musical depth and maturity for guys just trying to combine thrash riffs with power metal melodies. “Killer in the Night” establishes the album with a pretty hooky lead melody over top a simple galloped 4 chord progression. This is a formula that is present throughout the album, with some basic song structures to contain these ideas. Although this sounds fairly unremarkable, the fact that I’m still remembering these melodic hooks almost two decades later is a testament to their staying power. The next two songs really milk this approach, but have enough hooks with the vocals that they’ve got their own identity. The lyrics are kind of cheesy, and they’re done in a raspy black metal style, but it works.
“Deadtime,” after its intro, is the thrashiest tune on this record, and gets into some real riffage beyond the chord progressions. “Iron Stake” takes a similar approach with more emphasis on thrash riffs, and includes a solo that would make Kirk Hammett’s eyes pop. The highlight of this record perhaps lies in the title track, as it is the longest track on the record, and we really get to hear the full abilities of lead guitarist Trevor Leonard. His sense of melody and composition within his solos are brilliant, and really gives this album the majority of its character. He gets into plenty of interesting motifs here, and there’s even a second lead guitar layered in behind, playing harmonies or even filling in the spaces between. The clean guitar outro track, “What Lies Within Us” further demonstrates Leonard’s brilliant playing, creating mood and atmosphere on its own.
Despite their young age, Fireign were wise enough to get this recorded professionally, everything standing out pretty well in the mix. The drums have a nice amount of reverb on the snare, and when things get thrashing, they can really be felt. Everything is well balanced, and the lead guitars sound great, which is crucial since they play such a major part throughout the songs.
Reviewing this album has made me question if I’d like it if I was introduced to it today as opposed to 18 years ago. Like I said, this is a pretty basic album in terms of where it’s coming from, and there are some moments that kind of drag, like the snare roll section in “Soldiers of War.” The cheesy lyrics could very well turn me off, and maybe I’d wish it was a little riffier if I wasn’t already into this. But dammit, this was impactful to hear in my youth when I was convinced there was nothing better than the big four thrash bands and I didn’t know how cheesy power metal was outside of the first Blind Guardian record. There are plenty of other Canadian bands I’d recommend over Fireign, but “Valley of Unrest” is still a great record as far as I’m concerned.