BONFIRE – The Räuber

BONFIRE - The Räuber
  • 8.5/10
    BONFIRE - The Räuber - 8.5/10


Release date: August 1, 2008

User Review
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A veritable German Rock dinosaur is Bonfire, who rose from the Ashes of Ingolstadt, Germany’s, Cacumen, more then twenty years ago. Until today they released twelve albums, not counting three Cacumen releases between 1981 and 1984. In all that time the band never deviated from the chosen musical path with the small exception of recording an album and one EP in the German language, an experiment which was discontinued soon afterwards when the mockery was too much to stand, although sales were hardly bad. Mostly straight, simple down-to-earth classic Hard Rock is the game of Bonfire, and even though they never showed exceptional prowess, virtuosity and songwriting skills, one must acknowledge the fact that they gained quite a fanbase and sold over six million albums and singles to date.

In 2008, they return with this, their twelfth, release called The Räuber. Strange name? Indeed. An English article and a German noun make a reading one has to get used to, and on the CD version it will surely feel odd as the concept behind the works is not clearly visible. Onto the release at hand, which is the DVD version of said album, the title makes a lot more sense. The DVD retells a story by German writer Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805) called Die Räuber. In short, it is about Karl Moor who becomes an outlaw due to the dirty deeds of his own brother, who tries to rob him of his heritage and is eventually killed by his own kin. Being banned for a long time as Schiller’s book criticized authority and social order of the 18th century, it is a book held in high regard in Germany and a true classic. Of course, this summary does not do justice to the work, but best to focus on the Bonfire-release and not on the historic play, right? (If you want it in full, go to a bookstore, it actually makes good though old fashioned reading.)

But in this particular case the two are intertwined and impossible to separate. Because this is not a Bonfire live DVD as one may expect, but the recording of a play with music from Bonfire. The band did not come up with the idea themselves, but were hired by theatrical director Pierre Walter Politz of the Ingolstadt Theatre, who asked Ingolstadt’s finest Rock band if they could not only write the songs, but also perform the songs on stage with the ensemble of actors playing that very story by Schiller. That is the reason why the CD version is probably a good Bonfire album, but the stage version on DVD adds considerably to the magic of the compositions.

The experiment to mix a classic piece of literature with a modern stage design, acting and Hard Rock music can only be called successful, regardless if one likes that style or not, as it was performed 18 times so far with an encore presentation coming up December 10, 2008, and is already extended into the 2009 season. Of course, if one knows the play one can imagine that the powerful and straight Rock music also mixes well with the story full of pathos and love, desire for freedom and juvenile rebellion, classic tragedy and voluntary and involuntary violence – Politz transfers the setting to an abstract parallel universe that joins the 18th century and the contemporary world and lets a bag full of machine guns symbolize the aggressive tendencies of Karl’s criminal gang who never shared his idealistic approach to this German “Robin Hood” story – that has not lost any of its appeal or actuality.

The DVD version includes the complete play of over three hours during which acting and music alternate. But instead of putting the musicians aside, the performance of Bonfire is always in the middle of the action. To the surprise of the audience, the first song “Bells Of Freedom” which is the heaviest track of the whole show, starts with the band appearing right in the center of the stage, rocking the house as if it was a sweaty, dirty club and not the Ingolstadt Theatre. With lyrics partly reciting parts of the English translation of Schiller’s play, the band helps the play not only emotionally but even maintains its flow instead of being an interruption to the story (okay, with one exception: the drum solo feels misplaced). In this, and the equally powerful performances of most actors, Politz managed to blend the two ingredients into a tasty dish which does not become boring at all. Of course, the play does do its share for this, as some of the Bonfire songs are just too typical Bonfire Hard Rock, and a total of three ballads are good for some dragging on, especially during the simple “Do You Still Love Me”. And when it rains rose petals during a particularly cheesy double-ballad-volley from the band, one is close to using the fast forward button on the remote, a sure thing one would do with the CD.

But what may be less exciting on DVD surely unfolds its power and emotion on stage. And that is what the songs have been written for, to draw a theatre audience into the action, stir up emotions by means of Rock music in people who would never listen to Hard Rock normally and switch radio channels when a Scorpions-ballad is aired, and make them understand the connection between rebellion and freedom and the electric guitar, to manage to make an impression while at the same time trying not to ask too much of them by being too complex. As much as one may admire the Dream Theaters and Virgin Steeles (remember “Klytemnestra”?) of the world, it takes the AC/DCs and Krokuses of the globe to present Hard Rock in a form to which those people can relate. And for that Politz could not have chosen better representatives than Bonfire.

The combination of music and play goes so far that the cast of the play performs the majority of the singing. Claus Lessmann may be the better Metal voice, but the variety and even the occasionally obvious unfamiliarity with Rock singing, some of the actors exhibit, adds to the intensity of the play, and makes it more authentic and gripping. After having seen the play, the original Bonfire album does seem strangely uninteresting, as it can not deliver the same suspenseful emotional rollercoaster ride that this DVD does. It may even be that it is just a mediocre, typical Bonfire album, equally bland as only listening to the DVD without paying full attention to the screen. Hardly ever did a band demonstrate how different music can be experienced, and in the process created their first album which needs to be watched instead of listened to. Especially in the light of Bonfire having to return for an encore performance of “Hip Hip Hooray” in front of standing ovations of the audience – something the CD version cannot capture.

The experiment to mix Hard Rock music with classic culture created a bridge between what is perceived as contemporary “inferior culture” and classic, intellectual cultural heritage. Bonfire did not have to change, were not asked to bend to fit in, instead the two worlds collide with a bang and shards of wonder rain down on the young and the old, thereby exposing the old to modern music, and the young to classic literature. You may like Bonfire or not, for this work one cannot do anything else but give them highest credit, and the ensemble and director as well.

If you can, try to get a ticket to the show, as difficult as it may be, as all shows were sold out so far. But this show cries for being seen live on stage in a real theatre, to experience the power and intensity personally. Just a small warning if you are thinking about going to Ingolstadt to see the show: Of course, the whole play is in the German language. And if you cannot, this release is a reasonable substitute for the performance.

The DVD includes some extras which normally would be commented on more than it is done here, but extras pale in comparison to the piece of art performed, so a list will do: nine videos, a “Behind The Scenes” documentary and a TV Special make up the second DVD of this set. Great value for money, and especially the “Behind The Scenes” documentary is nice.

The DVD may be difficult to come by outside Germany, so probably one will have to contact the band in order to obtain a copy or check a well-known international online-seller beginning with the letter “A”…. The German branch (*.de) lists the DVD as available for under 22 Euro.


  • Frank Jaeger

    Frank was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of Bavaria, Germany. He has worked in the games industry for more than 20 years, now on the manufacturing side, before on the publishing end. Before this, he edited and handled the layout for a city mag in northern Germany ... maybe that is why he love being part of anything published. Frank got hooked on Metal at the age of 14 when a friend introduced him to AC/DC. They were listening to The Beatles, Madness, and The Police, and he decided they should move on. Well, they did, Back in Black became Frank's first Metal album, and since Germany is reasonably close to England, they had some small New Waves Of British Heavy Metal washing up on their shores: Tygers Of Pan Tang, Samson, Gillan, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Sweet Savage, Diamond Head, etc. If he had to pick his favorite styles, Prog and Power Metal would be at the top of the list.

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