Saturday, February 4, 2017

Firewind – Immortals

With the departure of Apollo Papathanasio, Firewind once again found themselves in an unfortunate position. Despite the fact that Firewind has never put out a weak record, the band felt somewhat faceless until the arrival of Apollo. He gave them both a sense of identity and consistency. His departure seems to have even shocked the band, as they went on a bit of a hiatus, with Gus G. doing some solo albums and Bob Katsionis joining Serious Black. The new singer would have some large shoes to fill, and Firewind could not have found a better vocalist to take over this role. Henning Basse comes from the recently dissolved band Metalium, which is probably the single most underrated power metal band in existence. Though his range has narrowed in the years since Metalium’s breakup, Basse’s voice remains one of the more charismatic and instantly recognizable sounds in power metal.

This brings us to “Immortals”, Firewind’s first full-length record in 5 years. The band wastes little time on this album, as they unleash the prototypical power metal single “Hands of Time” immediately. This song has everything a Firewind fan expects: a lengthy opportunity for Gus to showcase his shredding, killer melodies that are immediately catchy, and perhaps most importantly on this record: a vocalist who absolutely dominates in his performance. Basse fits in so well that you won’t even notice Apollo is gone. Whether it is on the speedy riff-fest of “We Defy”, the massive epic “Ode To Leonidas”, or some of the more versatile and diverse tracks like “Live And Die By The Sword” or “Lady of 1000 Sorrows”, Basse can do all of the classic Firewind-style songs.

Though the vocals were the most immediate concern going into this record, it shouldn’t be forgotten that “Few Against Many”, the band’s previous record, was their most uninspired. The album had a small number of great tracks, and certainly improved with subsequent listens, but it felt like Firewind going through the motions. Fortunately, that is not the case on “Immortals”. The average tempo on this album is much higher, the riffs are far more devastating, and the songs are much catchier. Gus also utilizes his talents far better on this album. A track like “Warriors and Saints” shows how easily Gus can make a song better just by shredding, as he unleashes some furious fretwork underneath the chorus. In “Ode To Leonidas”, he again makes the chorus interesting by mixing in some slight dissonance amidst excellently placed gang vocals. This track also shows that Firewind isn’t just a two-man show with Gus and Henning, as Bob Katsionis puts forth his best keyboard solo of the record.

Immortals” is overflowing with meticulously crafted songs, but the clear standout is “Live And Die By The Sword”. At just over 6 minutes, this is the longest song on the album, and is worthy of its runtime. The track goes through a variety of moods and sounds, starting off with a mystical acoustic guitar intro that leads into some of Henning’s most soulful vocals, and exploding into a true metal anthem. The band lacks all subtly that this song was built to be played live, as the gang shouts of “hey!” are all over this track. The chorus again builds to even greater heights, showing how dynamics and contrast are truly the best songwriting tools. Music doesn’t need to be the fastest, heaviest, or even catchiest to be impressive; it just needs some slight variety to make the great moments even better. Somehow, Firewind manages to take this song to another level after the second chorus when the rhythm section bursts into Iron Maiden-esque gallops while Gus (and presumably Bob on second guitar) conjure up incredible harmonies before another one of Gus’ jaw-dropping guitar solos.

Though Firewind can’t quite reach the same heights again after that track, they don’t let up throughout the remainder of “Immortals”. The second half of the record is consistent with much of the band’s earlier records, both in sound and inspiration. This was a very crucial record for Firewind given all of the changes and the length of time since their previous album, but they knocked it out of the park. “Immortals” doesn’t necessarily compete with “Allegiance”, but it is on equal or higher footing than anything else they’ve done!
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"Hands of Time"
"Ode To Leonidas"
"Live And Die By The Sword"
"Lady of 1000 Sorrows"

Final Rating
4.7/5 or 94%. 

Written by Scott

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