The great danger as a veteran band delivering a comeback album after several years of silence is always the stakes. Fan expectations tend to be extraordinarily high, fueled by years of history and a deep love for the band’s back catalog. Those were the kinds of stakes Fireflight was up against as they were creating Who We Are– and yet somehow, they delivered.
Two part album Who We Are: The Head and the Heart is Fireflight’s first album since INNOVA half a decade ago, and also their first project with Rockfest Records. That label partnership is an instant signal to fans that they can expect a return to Fireflight’s rock roots with Who We Are, a homecoming executed by a restored original band lineup of Dawn Michele, Glenn Drennen, Wendy Drennen, and Justin Cox. The band worked with producer Josiah Prince (Disciple) to write and record the 10 tracks that comprise Who We Are, a creative synergy that teased the hard-hitting riffs back into the foreground while still seamlessly interweaving the electronic influences that characterized INNOVA.
As you might anticipate from the delineation of The Head and The Heart halves, the first five songs tend to center on cerebral belief statements, while the final five tracks draw deep from emotional experience. Lead single “Who We Are” is the flagship track for The Head, a rousing rock anthem that calls us out of inaction and into our true identity as light-bearers in a dark world. This song is early evidence that even though this album has been written over the course of the past few years, it seems perfectly placed for 2020’s events.
The identity statements continue with “Keep Your Head Up,” a midtempo melodic song of empowerment. The lyrics offer reassurance from a God who is present in every step of our process: “through it all you’re never going to walk alone, I’ll take every step, every fall, by your side.”
“How to Fly” is another song centered on encouragement, framed by a fast-paced rock structure that feels like the best of the signature Fireflight sound. This track also beautifully exhibits the tension that the entire album rides so well: recognizing the reality of disarray, discouragement, even despair that we are all inhabiting in some way, setting it alongside the truth of the divine power that is available to us even here.
“Bang Bang” and “Ready for More” are the two tracks that round out The Head, both of them offering riffs and gang vocals crackling with fierce energy. These songs infuse a desperately needed sense of courage into challenging days, kickstarting the slowing heartbeat of hope.
When The Heart half of the album begins, it drops even deeper into human experience, drawing on the personal and painful. This begins by tapping into a shared experience with electrifying “Welcome to the Show,” which challenges the facades that can often replace true community and connection. This song will be particularly satisfying for old school Fireflight fans: Justin Cox offers up some screams to add momentum to the message.
The rest of the songs on The Heart are first person and vulnerable. Gentle ballad “Arrow” takes a look at relationships with an unusual perspective of realism, embracing the truth that those we love the most also have the potential to hurt us the most– which makes it all the more meaningful when someone commits to endure both the risks and rewards with you. “Bury the Dead” gives piercing voice to the experience of the used and abused, those desperately trying to sever ties to the things that were done to them, desperately trying to get free. The chorus is ripped straight from the raw places of a survivor’s heart: “What if I can’t forget the hurt, what if I can’t erase your words? How can I forgive what I can’t forget?”
The crux of The Heart sits squarely on the album’s final two tracks. Acoustic guitar-driven “I Believe You” encapsulates with cathartic simplicity perhaps the entire mission of Fireflight, looking straight into the heart of someone’s worst pain and refusing to dismiss it with easy answers, instead saying simply “I believe you.” That solidarity sets the stage for “Don’t Let Me Go,” a prayer that sees Dawn’s stunning vocals on display as she soars through a plea that connects the depths of our darkness to the heights of love available to us through Christ: “I’ve lost control, don’t let me go. No strength left in my soul, You’re the only hope left to hold.”
And isn’t that the exact paradox of who we are? Through the grace that stays closer than our own skin, even when all our hope is breathless and broken, we are made strong when we are weak. We are made full where we’ve been emptied. We are seen when we are in shadows. We are impossibly, unshakably held in the exact moment when we’ve let go of everything we believed was safe.
That’s the truth that makes Who We Are a triumph. Fireflight has created an album uniquely urgent for 2020, certainly. But beyond that, they have created a rock record that says something truly timeless, that is likely to leave you more deeply rooted in who you are long after the last song has faded out.
You can find Who We Are at https://lnk.to/WhoWeAreTheheadandtheheart.