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Fire! Orchestra
Arrival Euan Andrews , June 7th, 2019 09:59

The new album by Fire! Orchestra brings vocals to the fore, interspersed with electrical flurries of horns and keys, finds Euan Andrews

Since its inception in 2012, Fire! Orchestra has released a string of records accompanied by titles which resemble declarations of intent and processes of becoming: Exit!, Enter, Ritual and now Arrival. These words have clearly not been assigned arbitrarily to the music contained within their remits. Those first two albums had a sense of trying to push, through sheer force and tempestuous will, toward heightened realms in which the passage or journey was the most important factor while 2016's Ritual overreached itself bursting at the seams with cacophonous longed-for spiritual fervour it could never quite attain.

This procession of recordings has also seen Fire! Orchestra gradually streamline its membership ranks from Exit!'s 28 musicians down to Arrival's slightly more malleable 14. It's a downscaling reflected in this latest record's more nuanced approach to song form and performance, both individually and ensemble-based, within a carefully structured and interconnected double-album length piece of music. Whereas previously Fire! Orchestra's use of voice and words seemed to be just another embellishment mixed into tumultuous crescendos of free-playing and compositional escalations, Arrival places vocalists Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg almost centre-stage. These are seven songs; splintered and occasionally fracturing into extended rumbling instrumental stanzas but most definitely songs.

As such, Arrival represents a definite marker between the Orchestra and the core Fire! trio of Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin. Fire!'s recent albums have also involved a stripping-bare of their sound to its essential core and that same reduction applied to the Orchestra has resulted in two very distinct musical units.

Opener '(I Am A) Horizon' begins with plucked and bowed strings and a distant melody picked out with breathy bass notes. There is a sense of vertigo and of hovering outside portals before a delicate keyboard pattern emerges setting up a theme and place. Wallentin and Jernberg sing at once; one voice direct and strident while the other higher as if extolling or pleading with graces. A cover of Robbie Basho's 'Blue Crystal Fire' is a smouldering gem to clasp close in the darkness while 'Silver Trees' envisages a new world as though seen for the first time and recognised as home. The musicians counter these voices with sharp electrical flurries from horns, keys and rhythm sections and oceanic drift courtesy of the Orchestra's new string quartet.

The final track, a cover of Chic's 'At Last I Am Free', is the perfect encapsulation and conclusion; the desperate longing of “I'm lonely, please listen to what I say, I can't go on living life this way” rises up into a tearstruck hymn of hope. To wish to arrive is to dream of aspiration. An arrival is an understanding of inner truths, an epiphany to be reached and the yearning to at last be free. For a while the journey is ended but with unknowns up ahead.

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