For all the bands in hard rock and metal circles current immersed in dissecting the current political state of the US, it’s safe to say that Fire From The Gods have probably made the biggest impression on a sonic level. Their inclusion within that scene can’t really be debated, but pulling from rap-metal, metalcore and even hints of reggae have made them notably more identifiable, to the point where their 2017 debut Narrative picked up a rather impressive amount of traction off the back of it. It largely deserved it as well, arriving as an album that had a bit more to say than the typical work of its ilk, but didn’t eschew its populist scope because of it, thus leading to this sophomore album being rather highly anticipated in some circles. Of course, the brand of hard rock that Fire From The Gods find themselves nestled in has a nasty habit of running its course pretty quickly, especially lyrically, but there’s at least hope given past evidence that American Sun can keep the band’s edge above the competition.
And overall, it definitely does, but it’s worth noting that it still is just an edge as opposed to creating any more significant gulf. There’s definitely more passion and engagement with Fire From The Gods’ brand of political scathing when compared to some of their peers, but at the same time, the fact that American Sun remains as broad as it does can do a serious number on its overall weight. In terms of size and scope combined with the sort of wide-ranging calls for change and revolution, it’s easy to get the impression that Fire From The Gods have definitely hit their mark, but for anything with more poignancy or that attempts to go deeper into the more discomforting minutiae of these particular situations, that’s not really what this album is going for. It’s designed to tap into that widescreen mindset above anything else, and even if American Sun undoubtedly does it well, there is a bit of hollowness there that can be difficult to ignore.
As such, it’s probably worth discussing the lyrics first, and how the general feel of this album comes as a result of how greater detail generally feels sidelined to hit those anthemic spaces that’ll propel Fire From The Gods inevitably further. That might sound overly chastising, but it’s not like there isn’t truth within it, as tracks like Fight The World and Make You Feel It almost exclusively prioritise an emotiveness from big, steamrolling hooks over more cutting insight that could ultimately do more. That in itself doesn’t have to be a detracting factor, especially early on with Truth To The Weak (Not Built To Collapse) and Right Now that are genuinely enormous, but it’s a shame that the intent doesn’t necessarily translate to the execution, and that can leave a good deal of American Sun feeling a bit empty, or at least not as visceral as it potentially could or should. The title track is probably the clearest exception as a decent look at the distrust shown towards immigrants despite their attempts to assimilate and work within society, but on the whole, American Sun can feel slightly light on real hard-hitting content, and that can prove an issue for a band like this who present that as such a driving force.
Then again, it’s hard to say that, in terms of hitting those sweeping notes with the regularity that they do, American Sun does deliver on its desire to sound huge and make a bludgeoning impact while doing so. AJ Channer is probably the key asset here, with a vocal fluidity that’s comfortable in both rapping (which, in a rarity for a rap-rock album, isn’t too bad technically) and singing for those gigantic power moments like on Right Now, as well as dipping into a Caribbean patois on They Don’t Like It which can admittedly feel a bit clunky over the metal instrumentation (same with the snippets of horns and reggae waviness woven into the title track), but it’s certainly distinct. What’s more, Fire From The Gods’ knack for a riff and a groove stands as a general high point throughout, with a track like Victory flipping the usual clean metalcore base pallet for something much better suited to this sort of rolling, hip-hop-flavoured number, and All My Heroes Are Dead bringing its nu-metal chugs up to date with a slight trap seasoning to thin it all out a bit. Given how much of this album is rooted in a branch of nu-metal that hasn’t aged all too well (it’s rather telling that the only guest appearance here is P.O.D’s Sonny Sandoval), the fact that Fire From The Gods have put in as much of a conscious effort to update it as they have shows an impressive level of creativity, and that can be appreciated and in some cases, paper over a few of this album’s more glaring shortcomings.
And really, it’s not like American Sun is all that bad or has too many glaring faults; it’s just that it could afford to go further with what it wants to do to fully get Fire From The Gods to a level of greatness they’re more than capable of hitting. They’ve got the tools already with a sound that’s got variety and a vocalist with bags of talent, but as of now, the writing needs to be stepped up to match that and focused in on where it can cut the deepest, rather than hit a wide area but do comparatively little damage from it. Where a band like Fever 333 can call on such a tangible sense of rage to make this sort of thing work, Fire From The Gods don’t quite have that, and it can leave American Sun feeling a bit emptier than would be preferable. Still, they’ve got some good ideas that they’re using well overall, and with more of an overhaul, the chances that Fire From The Gods could become something special are most certainly there.
For fans of: P.O.D, Skindred, Fever 333
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘American Sun’ by Fire From The Gods is out now on Eleven Seven Music.