Having been around since 1998 and eight previous albums, Firewind could probably be called an institution by now, as they release their ninth, self titled full length. Firewind may not be the cohesive mass of Greek fury, unleashing deadly heavy power metal backed by Gus G’s towering guitar work and basing it in dark themes and an aura of malevolence they once were, but that has not stopped Mr. G from releasing album after album even with a steady stream of lineup changes changing the sound and feel of each alongside the natural evolution of G’s songwriting. Apollo Papathanasio (Spiritual Beggars, We Sell the Dead) stayed eight years with the band, releasing four full lengths. Successor Henning Basse (Hollentor, Orpheus Blade) was with the band five years, Immortals (2017) being his sole full length with the band. Enter arguably the best vocalist Firewind has ever been graced with; Herbie Langhans (Radiant, Voodoo Circle, ex- Seventh Avenue, ex-Sinbreed) and not only does the prospect of a new Firewind album sound much more appealing, but its sound is definitely going to change. Gone are the days of the Chitral Somapala graced Forged by Fire (2005).
Immediately, the two singles are strikingly less interesting than their surrounding material; Devour and Break Away. Both tracks slap melodic highlights and furious soloing galore on a much grander scale than the singles while still sticking to a similarly straightforward approach. Welcome to the Empire is still a strong track to open up on and warrants few complaints, though it lacks the passion. Orbitual Sunrise is another highlight, being less in your face and more subtle in its approach than much of the other material. Mid paced rhythm action carrying phenomenal, dark bass lines from longtime member Petros Christo, solid riffing and a solitary, fitting solo from the main man himself, and Langhans giving an impassionate performance especially in the chorus just lands this song as closer to the older stuff while being definitely new in style. All My Life and Space Cowboy are those kind of straightforward punchers you’d rather expect from Langhans main mand Radiant, the lyrical tone shifting and the air of the music getting lighter in general, the former even letting on some keyboards.
While the talent is undeniable I was never the hugest fan of Gus G’s style and overly show off-y soloing. Some of it is kept in check here, but there are those moments where it just goes too far and loses its inherent value. Closing track Kill the Pain is the best example of this; the intro solo is phenomenal, but then the entire song turns into Gus G overdoing it with a few moments of Langhans putting in a great, if gravelly, performance. Like always it’s not bad per se, it’s just too much. The man’s good, but he’s no Jake Dreyer. Firewind has always been best enjoyed in small doses, a few songs here and there rather than blasting the entire discography - or even an entire album - in one go. And this album doesn’t change any of that. It brings much of what’s anticipated of a Firewind record; blaring, fast paced rhythms and solo wankery, angry double pedal stomping and tight, mean riffing, but there is a lighter touch to some of the material which is a welcome approach, to which end Langhans proves a fitting choice. Still, with Gus G heading the helm you kinda know what you’re going to get.
Standout tracks: Devour, Break Away, Orbitual Sunrise