21 January 2017

Review: Firewind – Immortals

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Greek guitar god Gus G has been a busy man of late. Not that he never was mind, but it seems he’s been working overtime in recent years. Ever since becoming Ozzy’s new right hand man in 2009, his profile has raised considerably; now at the forefront of the metal scene, no longer an underground six string wizard. Despite his role with Ozzy, he still managed to turn out two records with main band Firewind; 2010’s Days of Defiance and 2012’s Few Against Many. Commitments to the Ozzman, as well as two recent solo efforts, had seen Firewind put on ice, at least as far as new material goes. 2017 sees the glacier thaw however, in the form of Immortals, a concept album based on the Battle of Salamis.

When band activity is scarce for half a decade, line up changes become inevitable. Although there’s only been one reshuffle, it is a major one. Gone is long time vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, replaced by Henning Basse. Basse, whose voice is tad more abrasive than Apollo’s, possesses a decent range, striking a nice balance between rugged gruffness and a softer timbre. His delivery is a huge asset to the album, with plenty of character in his performance. The band match Basse every step of the way, their playing full of boundless energy that’s vital in this genre. Gus G is predictably in the thick of the action; a cyclone of rapid fire riffs and dazzling solos swirling over a solid, if unspectacular, rhythmic foundation. The solos in particular are what catch the attention, exhibiting Gus’ superb technical skills. Even when shredding at hyper speed (most notably in the lead section of mid paced anthem “Ode to Leonidas”, as well as throughout “Warriors and Saints”) his playing is incredibly clean and precise. It all sounds so effortless; exactly what you’d expect from the man chosen to fill the boots of Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde.

The riff driven Euro power metal of opener “Hands of Time” sets the tone for the album. Heavy, catchy and melodic; three vital components this branch of power metal has ingrained to its core. This particular track is also quite reliant on the keyboards of long term member Bob Katsionis, whose infectious lead melody is weaves itself wonderfully around Gus’ guitar line. “War of Ages” has a similar reliance on keys, a straightforward power metal stormer with a soaring chorus. For the majority of songs however, the keys are pushed to the background in favour of a guitar centric sound. The double bass thunder of “We Defy” drives Gus G’s riff bomb forward, whilst “Back on the Throne” is a riff monster; kick ass heavy metal with no strings attached. “Rise from the Ashes” has shades of dark and light, as the swift, brooding chugs of the verse make way for a stirring refrain. “Lady of 1000 Sorrows” is the obligatory ballad, and a fine one it is too; a simple track more rooted in hard rock than traditional metal, with a suitably rousing chorus and a chance for Gus’ to compose a more emotively charged lead.

There are a few weaker moments on Immortals (“Live and Die By the Sword” and “Warriors and Saints” both fall a little flat), but all in all it’s a rather pleasant listening experience. Nothing groundbreaking or spectacular, sure, but solid nonetheless. There’s some great riffs, strong melodies, and memorable chorus hooks… all the ingredients needed to create a listenable heavy/power metal record. Add in some exceptional lead guitar work and chances are you’ll concoct something good in the very least. Firewind don’t disappoint in that regard. A welcome return.

Rating: 7/10 – A vigorous power metal workout that just falls a little short.

Highlights: “We Defy”, “Back on the Throne”, “Lady of 1000 Sorrows”

Band links: Facebook, Official website

Immortals is available now, via Century Media Records/AFM Records.