Sometimes in life, the way to get out of a rut is to change things up, try new things, and add some new exciting ingredients to spice things up a bit. The same can be true when it comes to music. Take for example, Greece’s Firewind featuring guitar god Gus G. (who some of you may know as the current guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band). Firewind has been releasing strong melodic power metal albums since 2002’s Between Heaven and Hell. Since then, the band has had a revolving door in the lead vocalist position until 2006’s Allegiance, which featured Greek vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, and the band had it’s biggest success and most cohesive album on the strength of the infectious single Falling to Pieces. The band followed that up with 2008’s The Premonition album, Days of Defiance, and 2013’s Few Against Many, which, while all having many good songs, they failed to live up to the promise of Allegiance (at least in this reviewers mind). It seemed as though the band was releasing the same album over and over again in an attempt to re-create the magic of Allegiance. Then in 2013, Firewind announced that Apollo was leaving the band. Combine this with the fact that Gus was growing increasingly busy with touring with Ozzy and it seemed as if Firewind would be placed on indefinite hold or break up althogether.
Then in 2016 there was a sign of life. New vocalist Henning Basse (ex-Metalium, Sons of Seasons) was brought into the band and some shows were announced, including the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. I had the chance to interview Henning on the boat and he did indicate that there were plans to record a new studio album, but I was unable to get any additional information. This brings us to the present and Firewind’s first studio album in five years titled Immortals. Upon first listen, I was hooked. Immortals has a freshness and energy that was severely lacking on the last few albums. This is thanks, in part, to the bands decision to use a co-producer for the first time in its history, enlisting Dennis Ward (Unisonic, Pink Cream 69), who not only engineered, mixed and mastered the album, but also co-wrote it together with Gus G.
Immortals is also Firewind’s first ever concept album. Conceptually packaged with suitable artwork courtesy of longtime visual partner Gustavo Sazes, the lyrical theme for Immortals is explained by Gus G. as follows: This is our first concept album and it has to do with ancient Greek history and more specifically the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis in 480 BC during the second Persian invasion of Greece. In Thermopylae, The vastly outnumbered Greeks held off the Persians for seven days (including three of battle) before the rear-guard was annihilated in one of history’s most famous last stands.
The album begins with the power metal anthem and first single Hands of Time. The main guitar/keyboard harmony between Gus and keyboardist Bob Katsionis is infectious and Henning’s vocals are ferocious and powerful with a strong melody, and the driving double bass precision drum attack of drummer Jo Nunez is the sound of a band who are at the top of their game. The guitar heavy We Defy features a gang vocal call and response during the chorus and the incredible neo-classical guitar solos we have come to expect from Gus G.
Ode to Leonidas begins with a slowly paced dark clean guitar passage as a spoken word of King Leonidas speaks to his army. The heaviness kicks in with a riff that is reminiscent of Electric Eye from Judas Priest. The song is epic in scope, and has a massive and majestic chorus. This song has everything that a Firewind fan could ask for, melodic vocals, shredding guitars, a killer chorus and impressive musicianship.
Back On The Throne begins with Bob Katsionis’ keyboard artistry and a guitar riff from Gus G. that sounds like it could have been on Bark At The Moon or No Rest For The Wicked ( specifically Miracle Man) era Ozzy. Live And Die By The Sword begins with a beautiful neo-classical acoustic guitar and Basse’s emotional vocal delivery. The song starts slowly and builds in intensity into a fist-pumping metal anthem and features a strong melodic chorus. Wars of Ages is a massive blast of power metal energy and has some incredible guitar work, as if you would expect anything different? The vocal talents of Basse are on full display with another massive memorable chorus.
The album slows down on the tender ballad Lady of 1000 Sorrows. The lead guitar work is almost bluesy in places and the song builds to a crescendo on the soaring melodic chorus, which Basse does so well. The title track is actually just an intro, an instrumental blast of power metal fury which leads into the blinding speed of Warriors and Saints, a classic metal track with aggression, shredding guitars, incredible drum work, power, and strong vocal and guitar melodies. Rise From the Ashes is another winning track that has all the power metal trademarks, exceptional vocals, Gus G.’s blazing fretwork, and a driving beat with another great chorus. The bonus track, Visions of Tomorrow has a Kamelot-esque vibe with its main melody. Basse turns up the vocal aggression here and the chugging guitars give the song a massive wall of sound. And Katsionis’ keyboard work is jawdropping to say the least. The chorus is as good if not better than any song on Immortals, so if I were to make a suggestion, if you plan on picking up Immortals, I would recommend the version that includes this killer bonus song.
When it comes to the world of heavy metal bands, replacing a lead vocalist can sometimes be a risky proposition, especially when replacing a vocalist with a distinct style like Apollo Papathanasio, but in the case of Firewind, the gamble has paid off in spades. Immortals is the comeback album that all Firewind fans have been waiting for.