SUNBOMB – Light Up The Sky

Although the name Sunbomb might not be a massively familiar one on the rock scene in 2024, the band features a few familiar faces. Making up the core of the band, LA Guns guitarist Tracii Guns is joined by his old bandmate Adam Hamilton on drums, and taking on vocal duties, you’ll find legendary Stryper man Michael Sweet. This new band aren’t contemporary sounding, nor are they especially subtle, but Sunbomb were never likely to be either. According to Tracii, the main aim was to make the kind of metal album he “would have made at [the age of] seventeen”, back in 1983.

It’s fair to say that has been achieved here. The full throttle riffing that powers numbers like ‘Steel Heads’ and ‘Scream Out Loud’ offer very strong call backs to material from Judas Priest and Accept, and in doing so, give Sweet a massive platform for an even bigger vocal performance, and the heaviness of ‘In Grace We’ll Find Our Name’ gives the album a loving tribute to the likes of Black Sabbath, representing the other end of the “classic metal” spectrum. As you might expect, Sweet sounds strongest on the brasher numbers that cater to a very 80s crowd, as he’s almost incapable of scaling things back. This, obviously, makes him a rather odd fit with the doomier tracks, since anything Sabbath-esque deserves something with a little more darkness, but it’s fair to say that the Stryper man never gives less than one hundred percent, regardless of what Tracii demands of his talents.

What makes Sunbomb really work, though, is the guitar work. It’s very much the Tracii Guns show. He fills this record with the kind of incendiary riffs that would rarely find a home with his L.A. Guns day job, but more importantly, he shows an ability to slide between various different metal styles with absolute ease. He shares a pleasingly huge tone on the title cut, where his massive ringing sounds help drive a very dark sounding waltz, whilst Michael wails as if his life depends on it, and this creates a very natural, melodic metal hybrid that conjures the darkness of old Dio albums spliced with a few extra theatrics for good measure. Even better, he powers ‘Rewind’ with a bunch of chopping sounds on a great verse before blending an old school heavy metal tone with a confident glam rock-esque swagger on the chorus. If that weren’t enough to afford this the status of stand out track, a massive solo that fuses a bluesy tone with a metallic edge, and a more melodic approach on the coda show off how Guns understands that melody and heaviness need not be exclusive concepts. Another “classic metal” workout, ‘Beyond The Odds’ shares a perfect blend of hard, jagged riffs, speed driven rhythms, and finds Sweet attacking the lyric with a hell for leather enthusiasm. Naturally, it sounds like something you’ve heard a hundred times before, but the sheer love for the material makes it hold up very effectively.

For a well balanced example of the Sunbomb sound, ‘Reclaim The Light’ is another standout, since it draws heavily from the Dio canon, showing off another massive riff from Guns, and gives Sweet the musical equivalent of a scenery chewer. With a middle eight that ventures into even heavier climes – offering a nod to the grungier sounds of ‘Shadowlife’ era Dokken – and an even bigger lead break where multi tracked guitars share Maiden-esque energies and eastern melodies, it’s the kind of number that offers a broad spectrum of metal fans something to enjoy. Despite aiming to make a classic heavy metal record, the Sunbomb sound works even more effectively when Guns pulls out the acoustic guitar, and ‘Where We Belong’ ends up sounding like something that ‘Dysfunctional’ era Dokken would take in their stride. The combination of 12-string and Sweet (almost) attempting a more sedate vocal sets up something that’s pleasingly grandiose, but in terms of stylistic tribute, it achieves a near perfect result. Although Guns has aimed to make a late 80s metal record here, this tracl could sit happily on any classic rock/metal album released between 1988-2000, not least of all one of Sweet’s own.

Overall, ‘Light Up The Sky’ is big, brash and shamelessly old fashioned. Much like a couple of James Durbin’s Cleanbreak, it’s the kind of record that proves that taking a no-nonsense old school path can still result in a world of great music. Occasionally, the smell of old leather is a little too strong, and – predictably – Sweet’s massive voice can be a little too overwhelming, but in the main, Sunbomb have arrived with all guns blazing (no pun intended). It’s an album that never cares for the contemporary, but when it works, it’s all the better for that. By drawing from old, classic stock and resharing the sounds with love, Sunbomb have created a great follow up to their 2021 debut which stands a good chance of pleasing fans of old school riffs everywhere.

Buy the CD here.

May/July 2024

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