Style: Power Metal
Release Date: 15 May 2020
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I've heard Firewind songs off and on for years on online radio shows such as the Wyrd Ways Rock Show and I've always liked their music. However, this may be the first time I've sat down and listened to an entire album. I still dig it. This is clean but strong, in your face power metal, led of course by the guitar virtuosity of Gus G. but with a solid lead vocal from new fish Herbie Langhans, the fifth singer Firewind have had over nine albums.
Welcome to the Empire is a great way to kick things off because it's a great example of what Firewind do so well. The riffs are heavy and urgent and the solos are intricate. The vocals are powerful and battle their way up through the instruments to stake their claim for dominance in the hook-laden chorus. The rhythm section is relentless but feels as effortless at this pace as the rest of the band. That's Petros Christo on bass, who's been in Firewind for seventeen years now, and Jo Nunez on drums, who's now in Lords of Black too.
The good news for me is that it isn't a one off. Only hearing great songs by a particular band on a radio show doesn't mean that their albums live up to that promise, but Devour may be even more fun than Welcome to the Empire, as the core riff is a memorable one and Gus G. is on fire, pun not intended, in the middle of the song. Sure, he can shred, but he tends to not go over the top the way that some (many? most?) shredders do. While this is his band, he knows that it really is a band rather than just a bunch of musicians who sit behind his fretwork flair.
Eleven songs with the impact of those two would be seriously impressive, so I can't be too surprised when Rising Fire and Break Away soften up a little, though only a little. They're still solid, hard hitting songs, but with less unyielding edges and more soft moments where the band can ease the intensity for a moment and Langhans can relax a little more.
I really do like how well Langhans's voice fits the music here. Sure, he's a talented and experienced singer but there are a lot of those out there. It's how the texture of his voice fits with that of Gus G.'s guitars that renders him such a perfect choice for Firewind. It's as if the vocals and riffs are partners in a joint assault and the rhythm section line up perfectly behind them both. It all feels right and natural like they've been playing together for years.
Eventually, Firewind soften up a lot, but they wait until the very middle of the album to throw out a power ballad. It's Longing to Know You and it's not bad at all. I'm not a big power ballad fan and I resist orchestral keyboard swells out of instinct. It's telling that, while this is my least favourite song on the album by a long way, it doesn't annoy me. Gus G. does well here and Langhans shows his range well too.
Having enjoyed everything else, I was concerned about the second half of the album, but it may be even better than the first. All My Life is a real gem, yet another slab of effortlessly classy melodic power metal. Space Cowboy is superb too, with a slightly more hard rock approach behind it. And Kill the Pain wraps things up with the most impact since the two openers. It kicks in like Motörhead, progresses into Accept riffage and ends up as quintessential Firewind.
As I mentioned, I've liked Firewind for a long time but I've never sat down and listened to a full album. I'm now very happy that I have. This is great stuff indeed and I'll happily spring for an 8/10 even with that power ballad.