Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Album Review: Firewind - Immortals

There was a time when I thought that Firewind was the most promising band on the planet. They had made a good record in the form of "Allegiance", and then followed that up with the phenomenal hooky rock meets power metal juggernaut "The Premonition". If that was going to be the genesis of their future, Firewind had both the buzz and the talent to have become the next big thing. That didn't happen, obviously. They stumbled back into making decent music, then lost their singer, then Gus G became more interested in being Ozzy Osbourne's sidekick than pushing his own band. I get it, but that means that hopes for this new Firewind record are at all-time lows.

With a new singer in tow, this album also marks a complete shift in how the band operates, with Gus G writing all of the material with melodic rock omnipresence Dennis Ward. While that ensures things are in steady hands, it also could clog up the process with a stale quality, given the number of albums he has had a hand in writing/playing/producing.

The big story, of course, is new singer Henning Basse. He's a solid singer in his clean tones, but for some reason he tries to be more aggressive than Firewind's music calls for, which is not a sound that he or the band is particularly good at. He also lacks the charisma that Apollo had during his tenure, so Firewind has certainly become more focused on Gus G's guitar work. That is not the best decision either, since it might be an uncommon opinion, but Gus is not all that interesting a guitarist. He's a great player, but the music he comes up with is lock, stock and barrel power metal by the numbers.

That leaves us in the position of saying that most of the credit for the album is going to be given to Dennis Ward, who I have to assume is responsible for most of the vocals lines and hooks. Ward does give us some good songs here. The opening "Hands Of Time" unfolds into a sweet and effective chorus, the likes of which Firewind used to trade in with ease. But those have been largely replaced with choruses that use more gang chants, and less melodies. "Back On the Throne" could be a song from Dio in the 80s, when he was often in the habit of not bothering to write choruses, since his voice was powerful enough to carry even a song fragment to success. Henning isn't Dio, and he can't do that. The under-written songs need more meat on the bone if they are going to be satisfying.

Firewind is also jumping on the growing bandwagon of bands writing about historical wars and battles, which is a cliche now, but also takes them in a direction that doesn't play to their strengths. Firewind is not an epic, majestic band that can create sounds big enough to replicate the theater of war. They were at their best when they wrote hooky songs that blurred the lines between power metal and melodic rock. Those days are long gone, and we're all the worse for it.

Look, I don't want to pile on Firewind. They're not doing anything bad here. It's a perfectly solid record that die-hard power metallers are going to enjoy. But as someone who used to think quite highly of the band, I'm sad to see them go down a path that feels like a regression towards being like everyone else. Firewind had an identity all their own once, and now they sound like plenty of other bands. "Immortals" will play well with fans of all of that, but it disappointed me.

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