Released By: AFM RecordsRelease
Date: May 15th, 2020
Genre: Power Metal
Herbie Langhans – Vocals
Gus G. – Guitars, Keyboards
Petros Chriso – Bass
Jo Nunez – Drums
1. Welcome to the Empire
3. Rising Fire
4. Break Away
5. Orbitual Sunrise
6. Longing to Know You
7. Perfect Strangers
9. All My Life
10. Space Cowboy
11. Kill the Pain
It’s always a bit of a bold move when an already well-established brand, with a lengthy discography, decides to make a self-titled release, especially when such a release comes after a major lineup change. Needless to say, that’s exactly what’s happened with multi-national power metal band Firewind, a very well known, rather popular band within their field, who are now set to release a self-titled album as their ninth full-length release. After being quite impressed with their last album, Immortals, I was interested to see whether this new album would be as good as that one and after several listens, I am quite pleased to say it is indeed every bit as good, if not even better in spots.
One thing I was especially interested in, was seeing how big a change in direction this sound would be, both because Immortals already felt like a pretty big departure from previous albums, and because longtime keyboardist Bob Katsionis is no longer in the band. With guitarist/songwriter Gus G. being the lone original member remaining, I found it interesting that he chose to make this a self-titled release, and wondered whether it would mark the start of a new era, or feel closer to their older albums. It turns out, Firewind falls somewhere in between those two descriptions, as it does bring back a lot of the heaviness and edge of some of the band’s older works, while also having a fresh feel, with an ever-increasing focus on catchy choruses and more melodic songwriting.
On the whole, Firewind is a very straight-forward album, with a focus on immediately engaging, super melodic, and catchy tracks, which strike a pretty even balance between speedy power metal, and more mid-paced melodic metal, with the occasional heavy metal and hard rock influences. Like its immediate predecessor, the musicianship is still fantastic, and there are moments of excellent showmanship, but the focus is clearly on writing engaging, memorable tracks, and in that regard, the band has certainly succeeded. I’ve never been the biggest fan of their discography, though I did enjoy Allegiance and Immortals a lot, and I have to say, this is probably my favorite release by them to date. As expected, the album is very guitar-driven, with a nice balance between heavier, riff-oriented tracks, and some more melodic tracks, as well as some very soft passages, but while the use of keys is rather minimal, whenever they appear, they’re used quite effectively, particularly on the extremely catchy track “Overdrive.”
While the instrumental work is fantastic, and the sound production is excellent, as expected, there are two areas where I find this album stands tall, the first of those being the vocals. Firewind has had several different singers at this point, with the two most notable being Stephen Fredrick, who had a very gritty, powerful delivery, and of course Apollo Papathanasio, who had a smoother, somewhat theatrical approach. After getting a strong performance from Henning Basse on Immortals, the band brought in former Sinbreed vocalist Herbie Langhans for this album. I’ve always been a big fan of Langhans, and as expected, his performance on this album is absolutely killer, falling much more in line with the edgier approach of Fredrick, while having a touch of theatricality, as well as being able to deliver epic choruses flawlessly. It’s safe to say, he’s by far my favorite vocalist the band has ever had, and while part of that is from already loving him before, his performance on this album is spectacular, as he shows off all aspects of his voice perfectly while elevating every song to new heights.
The other area where the album excels is the songwriting. Before Immortals, I had found the band’s songwriting to be a bit inconsistent, as most of their albums I’d heard had a mix of great tracks and not so tracks, but Immortals was consistently great throughout, and the same can be said for this self-titled release. There aren’t any huge surprises or experiments, but there’s a good amount of variety between the tracks, with each standing out in their way, and every track is excellent and highly engaging, with a couple, in particular, standing out as major highlights. The first of these is the opening track and second single “Welcome to the Empire”, which starts with a nice extended intro, featuring light keyboard backing and some very melodic solo work from Gus G., before the full band kicks in, and the tempo quickly picks up. From there the track turns into an intense, hard-hitting power metal track, with a slight heavy metal edge. Langhans instantly makes his presence felt with some powerful vocals during the verses and builds up to the chorus, and then he soars during a very melodic, powerful chorus that ranks as one of my favorites on the album. It’s a very fun, no-nonsense kind of track, which gets the album off to a very strong start and is one of my personal favorites.
Next is “Devour”, another very speedy track, though this one has more of a classic power metal feel to it, moving at a frantic pace throughout, and while it does have some heavy riffs in spots, it’s a more melodic track overall, with a very fast-paced, melodic chorus, as well as some nice backing keys throughout, while the instrumental section has some of the most technically impressive guitar work on the album, without dragging on too long or feeling out of place. A potentially more divisive track is lead single “Rising Fire”, a slower-paced track, which alternates between a modern heavy sound during the verses, with some hard-hitting riffs, and more of an arena rock sound during the chorus, which is very light and catchy, and even has a slight pop feel to it. Unsurprisingly, some fans seem disappointed with it, but it’s an excellent track, overall, with a great chorus, and moments of instrumental greatness, especially from the main riff and instrumental section in the second half. It’s back to speedy power metal territory with “Breakaway”, another very fast-paced track, with a classic sound to it, as well as a nice blend between heavy guitar work and nice melodic keys. The track also alternates nicely between heavy and soft passages during the verses, while delivering a very intense and addictive chorus, with a very classic power metal feel to it. Overall, it’s an excellent track and another one of my favorites.
The pace slows down for a bit in the middle, with “Orbitual Sunrise” being a more mid-paced melodic metal track, with some nice rhythm guitar work and a bit more of a keyboard presence, as well as having a very melodic chorus where the vocals sound quite different than on the rest of the album, though I believe it is still Langhans performing the vocals, just with a softer, more theatrical delivery than usual, which sounds great. The lone ballad of the album is “Longing to Know You”, which starts with some very soft guitar work, that has a strong Iron Maiden vibe, and the track has a slight orchestral influence to it, to help add some flavor. It’s a very nice track, with some of the softest vocals I’ve heard from Langhans, and he sings with a ton of power and emotion, as always, delivering a very strong performance, especially during the chorus, which is fantastic. He starts very calm and gets more intense towards the end, while the epic guitar solo in the second half is also quite impressive. The fastest track during this sequence is “Perfect Strangers”, which moves at a pretty good pace, without ever fully speeding up like some of the other tracks. It’s another very hard-hitting track, though, with some great riffs and powerful vocals during the verses, while the chorus is fairly laid back, but still quite catchy and enjoyable, having a bit of a classic hard rock feel to it. The track is very fun, overall.
My favorite track on the album, though, is “Overdrive”, a lighter, slower-paced track which has a strong Sabaton vibe from the keyboards, but unlike some bands, which try and mimic the Swedes without adding enough of their touch, Firewind has made a very nice, super catchy melodic metal track, which still happens to have more of a heavy metal edge to it, with some excellent riffs, as well as a very nice, technically impressive instrumental section, while the chorus is extremely catchy, but it also has more of an 80’s a hard rock/heavy metal feel to it, to help make it more distinct. Overall, it’s a very fun and catchy track, and sounds quite different from the rest of the album, without feeling at all out of place. Another somewhat slower track is “All My Life”, a fairly laid backtrack with some nice melodic guitar leads, some fairly slow, softer verses, and a strong, though more subtle, chorus, once again enhanced by some very powerful vocals, though the highlight of the track is the instrumental section, which has some spectacular playing from Gus G., as well as some nice keys.
Reaching towards the end of the album, “Space Cowboy” is a fun, upbeat track, with a bit of a mix between speedy power metal and more of a hard rock edge. The verses are melodic and fairly restrained, while the chorus is quite fun and catchy, and the main riff is very memorable. Closing out the album is “Kill the Pain”, another intense, hard-hitting, full speed power metal track, which never lets up for one second. It has some blistering leads, frantic verses, and a very upbeat, catchy chorus, with yet another spectacular vocal performance, while the extended instrumental section is quite awesome, as always. It’s an excellent track on its own and closes the album out in style.
Overall, Firewind is an excellent self-titled release, from a band I’ve never been the biggest fan of, but with two strong albums in a row, they sure are starting to win me over! While some tracks are a bit lighter than fans may expect, there’s still a ton of the band’s classic hard-hitting power metal to be found, as well as moments of technical brilliance from Gus G., while Herbie Langhans vocals add an extra edge that had been missing for a while, and the songwriting is consistently excellent throughout. I expect longtime fans of the band to be fairly pleased with this album, while newcomers looking for a great hard-hitting power metal album, mixed with some catchy melodic metal, would be highly recommended to give this album a listen, as it’s a great album from start to finish.
Written by: Travis Green
My Global Mind – Staff Writer