When done well – all guns blazing well – power metal can be the most invigorating of genres. When done badly, it can be tedious, mind-numbing, leather-trousered dross. Happily Firewind occupy the same entertainment-related space as Dragonforce and subscribe to the mentality that more is, well, more. As a result the guitar pyrotechnics are suitably incendiary and all of the furious riffing that Gus G was held back from employing upon ‘scream’ is unleashed here to maximum effect.
Opening with ‘the ark of lies’ all the power metal standards are firmly in place – blistering lead runs, speed-of-light drumming and vocals modelled on Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford. It’s stirring stuff and as the multiple riffs pile up around the glorious, multi-colour sing-a-long vocal harmonies you’d have to be the most pig-headed of black metal fans to resist the urge to throw your fists in the air in time to the savage beat. Quite simply this is fun music that takes a classic formula and runs with it, adding the occasional contemporary flourish but generally staying true to a genre that has more than its fair share of class acts. ‘World on fire’ follows up the excellent opening with a bruising opening riff and prime drumming on what is one of the best tracks of the disc. A fiery (sorry – couldn’t resist) sonic battering of the highest order – this is the sort of music that was created purely to inflame the mosh-pit (ok – that really was the last one!). Richard Whitley-esque puns aside, ‘world on fire’ is the moment when you realise the serious intent that lies at the heart of Firewind’s technical mastery of their instruments. It’s a classic, heavy, exciting song that oozes class and excitement and is the perfect track to offer up to those who doubt Firewind’s ability to knock your socks off with a hard-hitting riff. ‘Chariot’ is another great track, but emphasising the melodic vocals and memorable hooks that the band are so adept at conjuring up.
Offering up a slight shift in quality is the keyboard-led ‘embrace the sun’ which is by no means a bad track, but it equally does little to impress and when it is surrounded by material of the quality that it is, its slick, Euro-metal styling is harder to forgive. A short segue in the form of ‘the departure’ leads us to the shred-tastic ‘heading for dawn’ however, which instantly redeems the band and showcases Gus G’s gloriously fluid playing. ‘Broken’ is a power ballad in the classic mould, complete with flamenco guitar opening and the sort of shameless sing-along that Europe mastered so impressively back in the eighties. Not that that is a bad thing – this is a great ballad and it fits the record perfectly. Nonetheless the listener is more than ready for the heavy ‘cold as ice’ which follows it and even more ready for the crazy guitar antics of ‘kill in the name of love’ which sees the guitars slowly being ground into dust beneath the lightening fast runs and chunky riffs. ‘SKG’ is a brief instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place on a dream theatre record with its progressive rock styling and intricate keyboard playing while ‘losing faith’ is another blast of powerful rock with a ever-so-slightly-yet-knowingly cheesy hook. All of which makes the thrashing, brutal ‘the yearning’ come as something of a shock. While it maintains of all of Firewind’s best elements that opening riff is a monster that could knock you flat at a thousand paces – another track to baffle the doubters perhaps – while the chorus is irresistible. Shimmering closer ‘when all is said and done’ closes this wonderfully consistent album and leaves you in awe of Greece’s biggest metal export.
While this is unlikely to convert power metal sceptics to the cause, this is a wonderful album with a warm heart and a sense of fun amidst the ballads, cheesy keyboard hooks and astonishing guitar playing. With hints of dream theatre, blind guardian and iron maiden all present in the mix, Firewind are a power metal band at the very top of their game and they have the songs to match their blazing ambition. A great effort from a powerful band – let’s have some more live dates now, eh?