Album Title: Firewind
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 15 May 2020
We all know that E = mc2, and that the meaning of life = 42. And, in a similar vein, all of us with a knowledge of heavy metal music know that Gus G = guitar virtuosity. His stock may have risen exponentially since he became the primary axeman for the original Prince Of Darkness, but many of us knew of his talents long before he was hired by Ozzy Osbourne. The primary vehicle for his undisputed talents was Firewind and, rather than prevent him from continuing with the band, working with Mr Osbourne has actually seemed to act as a catalyst. Since his appointment, Firewind have released a steady stream of albums, with their last, ‘Immortals’ being one of my personal favourites.
It is always a good sign when a band self-titles an album or a song, so I was eager to hear what album number nine would bring having been so enamoured with their last outing. Since that album, there has been a change or two in the line-up and it’s about as significant a change as there’s possible to be. Not only has keyboardist Bob Katsionis departed, but there has also been movement behind the mic stand. Gone is the undeniably talented Henning Basse and in his place comes Herbie Langhans. He joins Gus G, bassist Petros Christo and drummer Jo Nunez to become an integral part of the Firewind quartet.
Initially thrown by the deeper and richer tones of Langhans, it took me a while to get to grips fully with the new Firewind material. But with Gus G at the helm, there was never any danger that the quality would suffer, regardless of whether the overall sound might differ with a new vocalist on board. And so it has proved to be, albeit with a fair few spins before coming to this review.
The album opens up with ‘Welcome To The Empire’, which draws us in seductively thanks to a combination of acoustic guitars, atmospheric synths and then a lead guitar solo that picks up in pace as it develops; it is like Gus G’s way of telling us that it is business as usual and that we’re in for an album packed with his exceptional guitar playing. This message is received loud and clear as the song kicks in fully, with a speedy, classical-sounding lead before a meaty riff takes over, on top of which Langhans unleashes his gravelly and commanding voice. He adds a gritty, slightly gruff element to the music, whilst being able to hit the higher notes, as the chorus ably demonstrates. It’s a grower of a chorus but once it gets its claws in, it is hopeless to resist. Naturally, the song isn’t complete without a flamboyant, breakneck solo or two for good measure and as such, we’re off to a breathless start.
The heaviness of the album as a whole was a little bit of a surprise to me initially. I wonder whether it has anything to do with Langhans’ delivery, but the music on this records just feels a little more muscular and imposing, with plenty of chunky riffs and pounding rhythms courtesy of the Christo/Nunez combination, who never miss a beat or fail to drive the songs on. And yet, despite the more overt muscle, the compositions still carry all the catchiness and melody you could ask for from a Firewind album. To me, it’s a heady and rather addictive combination, one that just gets better, making it tough for me to listen to other music at the moment.
‘Devour’ follows the opener and it dials up the pace somewhat. The drums touch on near-blast territory as they gallop alongside the equally effervescent bass, whilst Gus G goes to town with his lightning fast runs, licks and solos to supplement his hefty-sounding riffs. There’s a swagger that comes through too, as if the guys are revelling in playing this music, but who could blame them?
As each song comes and goes, the sense of fun and enjoyment just gets stronger. As a lifelong heavy metal fan with an unhealthy love of all things guitar-oriented, it is difficult not to get swept up with the histrionics at the hands of Gus G, as he delivers solos, riffs and licks with a panache that’s undeniably impressive. But I have to say that he seems a musician reborn too; if ‘Immortals’ was the best Firewind had sounded for many years, then the Langhans-inspired ‘Firewind’ is the result of a band taking things to another level again.
I adore the track ‘Perfect Strangers’ with its winning blend of instantly hummable melodies, dextrous solos and yet more beefy riffs that can often be ‘missing in action’ where melodic metal is concerned. I also really enjoy the pulsating, groovy stomp of ‘Overdrive’; it is layered with prominent synths, whilst the chorus could have come straight out of the 80s heyday of heavy metal excess, such is its anthemic presence. One of my favourite lead solos can be found within ‘All My Life’, another up-tempo hard-rocking number, whilst ‘Space Cowboy’ is a delight with a gloriously infectious chorus and a slight Def Leppard feel within the verses, reminiscent of the Sheffield band when they were in their pomp.
And to underline the evident hunger and desire that is coursing through the Firewind camp, the record ends with a real bang in the form of ‘Kill The Pain’, one of the heaviest and aggressive tracks on the album and possibly within the entire Firewind back catalogue. The melody and flair remains, but it is tinged with a slightly darker and more serious edge, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for the band.
As I alluded to earlier in the review, it is often a positive sign when a band name an album after themselves. And in the case of ‘Firewind’, it just adds strength to this statement. With its energy, passion, strong individual performances and quality songwriting, I am very much of the opinion that this could be the best that Firewind have sounded since ‘Burning Earth’ was released some seventeen years ago. As far as I’m concerned then, it’s a real triumph.
The Score of Much Metal: 89%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: