Released by: AFM Records
Release Date: January 20th, 2016
Genre: Power Metal
Henning Basse – Vocals
Gus G. – Guitars
Petros Christo – Bass
Bob Katsionis – Keyboards
Johan Nunez – Drums
1. Hands of Time
2. We Defy
3. Ode to Leonidas
4. Back on the Throne
5. Live and Die by the Sword
6. Wars of Ages
7. Lady of 1000 Sorrows
9. Warriors and Saints
10. Rise From the Ashes
11. Visions of Tomorrow (Bonus Track)
As a power metal fan, there are a few rather major bands in the genre I still haven’t looked into as much as I probably should, and one of those is Greek band Firewind. Obviously, I’m well aware of guitarist Gus G. and his insane technical prowess, but the band, on the whole, has never really grabbed my attention, until now. I first discovered them with their previous album Few Against Many, and while Gus and keyboardist Bob Katsionis impressed me with their musicianship, the songwriting seemed rather boring and forgettable, like the band was focused more on showing off their technical skills than on writing memorable songs, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to hearing any new albums from them. Then I heard the lead single “Hands of Time” from the upcoming album Immortals, and was immediately impressed. After hearing the entire album several times, I’m happy to say the band has managed to win me over, striking the right balance between being technically proficient but actually writing fun and memorable songs to go along with that excellent musicianship.
First off, there’s one major change that happened in between albums and that is the departure of former vocalist Apollo Papathanasio. I’m sure many fans were disappointed by the news as he’s a great singer with a very distinct voice, but thankfully the band decided to move on without him and they brought in Henning Basse, another well-known singer who immediately makes an impact on the music and fits in perfectly. Henning has a very raw and powerful voice that helps give the music a bit of an edge, and he does quite a bit with his voice throughout the album, sometimes singing with a slight grunt, other times providing the kind of soaring vocals required for speedy power metal and sometimes singing in a much more relaxed voice, particularly on some of the softer sections, of which there are quite a few on the album. He does a great job all around, and I think he’s the perfect singer for this new version of Firewind.
Speaking of which, this album feels like somewhat of a restart to me. Obviously, the core of the band is still there and Gus G. still leads the way with his brilliant guitar playing, but I find stylistically this album feels more like a traditional power metal album at least compared to their two previous albums, in that there’s a much bigger focus on the melodies this time around and there are some pretty huge vocal melodies throughout, with the guitars still adding a bit of an edge, but the music certainly doesn’t get as rough or as dark as what was heard on Few Against Many. It’s certainly a much lighter and more melodic album on the whole, with more of a focus on catchiness, though obviously there’s still a ton of memorable instrumental sections, where Gus and Bob go back and forth with for some pretty epic guitar/keyboard solos.
Another thing to note is that this is a concept album, based on ancient Greece, and while that subject has been covered by metal bands before, this album provides an enjoyable take on the history, and obviously it’s appropriate considering most of the band members are from Greece. The track “Ode to Leonidas” does the best job with the theme, starting off with a nice acoustic section leading to pretty cool voice over from the perspective of Leonidas, which gets the song off to a great start.
I mentioned it already, but opening track “Hands of Time” is an instant winner and is the main reason I was curious enough to give the album a go because it really is that good. After a brief intro with some electronic beats, the melodic guitar leads kick in and the track turns into a super fast power metal track, with fun verses, great riffs, a huge sing-along chorus, and of course an excellent solo section with dueling guitars and keyboards. Henning Basse instantly steals the show, with his huge soaring vocals, and it’s the kind of melodic, super catchy power metal track I will never get tired of and also the kind of track I felt a previous couple of albums were lacking, so it certainly gets things off to a promising start.
I will say, while I don’t think anything else on the album is quite as fun as that track, it’s a very strong album overall, with no real duds. I also mentioned the song “Ode to Leonidas” previously. Well, after its big intro it turns into something of a mix between epic heavy metal and classic power metal, with fast tempos and a huge chorus, but it also has some pretty heavy riffs and some of the melodies remind me more of epic heavy metal, and so it’s quite the interesting track and certainly one of the highlights. Similarly, “Live and Die by the Sword” also starts off with an extended acoustic section, this time allowing Henning to show off some of his softer vocals, before speeding up and turning into another very epic and rather heavy track with some memorable vocal and instrumental sections. Those are the two longest songs on the album, and also two of my favorites.
Elsewhere, tracks like “We Defy” and “War of Ages” are still fairly fast, though a little bit slower than previously mentioned tracks, and they bring back a little bit of the roughness found on the previous album, though they’re still fairly melodic overall and are both have catchy choruses. The last really fast track on the album is “Warriors and Saints”, possibly the fastest of all, and it has some slight neoclassical flourishes from the guitars, as well as some nice acoustic sections, but it’s the chorus that really stands out. Likewise, “Rise from the Ashes” is a mostly mid-tempo track, which also has a bit of a rough edge during the verses, though its chorus is spectacular and possibly the best on the album.
On the softer side, we have the ballad “Lady of 1000 Sorrows”, which is a fairly nice track which really showcases Henning’s softer vocals nicely, and it has a pretty nice guitar solo in the middle as well. Lastly, we have the instrumental title track, a brief but very fun track which starts off fast and heavy before slowing down a bit and allowing Gus to provide a very beautiful solo in the middle that demonstrates not only skill but an ability to write beautiful melodies. The bonus track “Visions of Tomorrow” also features multiple extended instrumental sections, and it’s another excellent, mostly mid-tempo track with a pretty huge chorus.
Overall, Immortals is quite the surprise for me, as I wasn’t expecting too much after being less than impressed by Few Against Many, but it seems a new singer and a renewed focus on fun, memorable songwriting overall technical showmanship have allowed Firewind to excel in new ways, and help kick 2017 off with a great album. Recommended for all fans of melodic power metal, who enjoy a mix of great vocals and impressive of musicianship to go along with the expected speedy tracks and huge choruses. I actually think fans of the band’s previous works may be disappointed, but personally, I’m very pleased with the album and I hope the band can build off of this and do even better things in the future.
Reviewer: Travis Green