Greek guitar virtuoso Gus G. must have thanked the gods on the day he became the leading axeman for Ozzy Osbourne. Performing with such a rock heavyweight presented a great opportunity to display his talents to a wider audience. For his long-running power metal project Firewind, the whole deal was only a mixed blessing. Although the group’s seventh studio effort Few Against Many (2012) was a reasonable success, Gus G.’s busy schedule led to the departure of singer Apollo Papathanasio. As a result, Firewind went on hiatus and Gus. G. was forced to revive his solo career. Two records of commercially oriented hard rock provided some distraction, but after five long years, metal fans were desperately craving for the real deal. Now, the wait is finally over. Album number eight Immortals starts a whole new chapter for the band, in which Gus G.’s songwriting skills are finally catching up with his always stunning instrumental abilities.
After a career of almost 20 years, Gus and the gang deliver their first concept album. It deals with ancient Greek history, and more specifically with the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. The band has taken a Hollywood approach to the subject, in which the first task is to stir the listener’s emotions. The immortal feats of Leonidas and Themistocles are the perfect excuse to raise your fist to bombastic anthems and sing along with syrupy ballads.
Firewind’s music definitely belongs in the category of contemporary power metal. Thanks to the versatility of the guitar playing, it does not sound too modern. Crunchy riffs and sweep-picked leads reminiscent of 80s Judas Priest are married to the high-speed strumming and keyboard enhancements of mid-90s Stratovarius. In addition, Gus. G. adds hard rock flavours in the vein of Whitesnake and Guns N’ Roses, aesthetic qualities that are also present in the vocals of new singer Henning Basse. Graced with a vibrato-rich baritone, Basse is more than capable of filling Papathanasio’s shoes. The ex-Metalium vocalist may not have the greatest vocal range in the business, but he hits those higher notes with surprising ease.
Immortals flows very well from front to back. Ode To Leonidas stands out because of its spoken introduction. This attention-grabbing technique was earlier used to good effect by the likes of Iron Maiden (Churchill’s Speech) and Rhapsody (Heroes of the Lost Valley).
The introspective guitars in Live and Die by the Sword build towards an energetic bridge that will surely rouse your inner hoplite. While Basse impersonates a warrior with true grit, the chorus sums up the Spartan way of life:
We live and die fighting by the sword. To prove that virtue is its own reward . . . There’s no surrender, the order will be restored.
Lady of 1000 Sorrows is the obligatory ballad, which revolves around another immortal Greek theme: how Fortune decides the ultimate success or ruin of every human endeavor.
I’m sure long-time fans will be pleased with Firewind’s latest record, which contains some of the best songs Gus G. has ever written. The combination of history and anthemic metal is always a winning formula and we can only hope the band continues along this path with future releases.
Release date: January 20th, 2017
Label: Century Media Records
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