Eight years is a long time between albums, especially for a band that is less than established, but that’s how long it took Bonrud to follow up their self-titled record from 2004. While it is unlikely Paul Bonrud and his chosen band spent all of the intervening years working on this sophomore release, the end result does not sound like it was rushed.
In those passing years, Bonrud changed labels from Frontiers Records to Escape Music and prior vocalist David Hendricks stepped aside for Rick Forsgren (previously of Conditioned Response), but essentially the band’s core sound of big and beefy melodic rock remains unchanged. ‘Save Tomorrow’s twelve songs may not bring anything new to the melodic rock/AOR genre, but the songs are well crafted for their type and given plenty of life by noted Fleetwood Mac/Journey/Whitesnake/REO Speedwagon producer Keith Olson.
On the title cut, Bonrud go straight for a classic AOR sound. The staccato rhythm guitars and driving quality echoes the 80s greats, with a particular nod to Journey in the way the vocal rises during its chorus and the lead guitars beaver away throughout. It’s strictly by-numbers, but Mr Bonrud’s technical abilities are such that this tune holds its own. A similar influence is at the heart of ‘I’d Do Anything’, a harmony-driven workout which echoes the kind of albums on which Olson made his mark in the past. The vocals are powerful – enjoyable too, provided you can grasp Forsgren’s John Schlitt-esque top end wail – while, once again, Bonrud’s lead guitar work during the outro tips the hat to Neal Schon. Interestingly, it’s not actually until that outro he plays anything too distinctive, preferring instead to let Forsgren’s voice and an old fashioned slab of keyboards carry the song.
Exercising the band’s harder chops, ‘Bullet In The Back’ really delivers the goods. The riff is chunky and Paul Bonrud’s sweeping lead guitar lines top said riff nicely. While Forsgren’s vocal delivery is a little full on, he’s complimented by a thunderous bassline, which favours meaty simplicity over anything complex. While not technically flashy, Olson’s production really brings it out – so much so you can hear the strings rattling on occasion. A noticeably weaker cut, ‘Blinded’ mixes sharp lead guitar work with a mid-paced riff which occasionally sounds like it might break into something more interesting but never really does. Despite Bonrud’s best efforts in the lead guitar department, this tune is a little ploddy all round.
While it’s somewhat of a coup to have First Signal/Takara keyboard player Eric Ragno guest on a couple of tracks, he isn’t given the opportunity to make the most of his talents. On ‘We Collide’ in particular, after about two seconds of synthy keyboards, there aren’t that many audible keyboards to speak of. No sooner is it out of the starting blocks, the music smashes into a piece of hard rock/melodic metal with a huge presence, with barely any room for keyboard flourishes. One of Bonrud’s toughest tunes, even with the addition of harmonies, most of the vocals are more of the Tony Mills/Geoff Tate mould than straight up AOR. As with most of the album’s best moments, it is Paul Bonrud who is the real star: during his couple of lead breaks, he shreds enough for this tune to be considered metallic, but his playing has just enough finesse to remain melodic. It would have been a definite plus to hear more of Ragno, though.
Although ‘Save Tomorrow’ features strong material almost throughout, the band closes the disc with one of its strongest tracks. ‘End of Days’ combines crisp rhythm guitars with a blanket of keys during the intro, before quickly finding its feet as a punchy mid-paced rocker. Forsgren’s curling vocal combined with the keyboards and a pompier tone hints at influences from classic (‘Mindcrime’ era) Queenryche. Again, it’s the kind of thing that won’t be new to any melodic rock buffs, but a good performance, solid song writing and sharp production from a legend in his field makes a winning combination.
Fans of the slightly harder end of the AOR spectrum will enjoy ‘Save Tomorrow’. Despite Forsgren’s tendency to over-sing on occasion, the production is fine and each of the performances are often more than solid. Although recorded at various different sessions – with different guest keyboard players and bassists – it has a surprisingly consistent feel too.
It’s a minor point, but it seems that Bonrud’s weakest element is their choice of band name: In the summer of 2012, Real Gone poked gentle fun at Wigelius for having a vanity moniker – but at least we never had any trouble remembering it! For some reason, “Bonrud” took a long time to stick… Prior to writing this review, they got called Bodman, Bodrun, Bodrum and often Bodnar… Only two syllables and yet it just would not sink in. Since the band has two Pauls at its core and Paul #1 insists on naming project after himself, may we suggest “PAUL!” [exclamation mark optional] next time?