Firewind - Immortals

Firewind Immortals cover
Century Media Records
Firewind were pretty much left to their own devices, for as long as Gus G. was away playing guitar for Ozzy Osbourne’s band and he released a couple of mostly questionable solo albums that failed to really make any mark, despite their illustrious guest vocalist talent. Now Firewind, which was “on ice” for quite a few years, (I believe the last thing they did was a support tour for Turisas in 2013 with guest vocalist Kelly Sundown Carpenter) returns with their eighth album, after a much needed “break” that finds Gus G. and company, now joined by Henning Basse (ex Metallium) on vocals.
“Immortals” is a concept album, a first for Firewind and one that chooses to tackle the whole “Persian Wars” event of King Leonidas and the 300 brave defiance and its aftermath… a theme noble at its core, but often vilified by comical interpretations.
While musically it’s probably one of the better albums Firewind has done in a while, with catchy and well thought melodies, it suffers a bit by the banality of trying to interpret a tragic and heroic event in a way that fits the largely Euro-symphonic tendencies that the band displays. They do manage to keep things from getting into self-deprecation and parody, but only just. While Basse is a good vocalist and certainly a good match, he’s a bit too tame here, whereas Sundown was too much of an untamed version of Stephen Fredrick... one of their earlier vocalists, but might have worked a bit better here, with the more “epic” tone and all.
Opener, “Hands of Time” reeks of Yngwie-isms in a good way and establishes the tone, with no other surprises than the change of vocalist, who however makes a favorable impression.
“We Defy” gets a more basic riff and a sturdier tempo and has some nice soloing that stands out and is an ideal introduction to “Ode to Leonidas”, one of the singles, (with a really cringe worthy el cheapo 300 inspired video complete with a bad spoken intro, not too dissimilar to the ones Manowar would have, but lacking the charisma); another kinda marring moment is the moment soon after the intro when you can hear a bit of a Judas Priest riff finding its way into the song, in a rather obvious way... despite that a nice enough chorus manages to wash off the notion, only to have that nice little riff repeat again straight after! Hehe…
“Back on the Throne” manages to create a bit of an antithesis with its varied atmosphere, nice solo and extended chorus, which allows Basse to show off a bit, whereas he’s mostly kept at bay, elsewhere…
“Live and Die by the Sword” had me reaching for my “baby-oil”, but I should happily report that it was a lot better than I expected, with Basse again managing to “carry” most of the song on his shoulders as it’s quite “Spartan” (bare) otherwise, other than for its interesting solos.
“Wars of Ages” is not bad per se, but the band just fails to change the gear much, with another track that sounds rather similar to the rest, despite a convincing chorus where I feel the album would have benefited from something really taking the focus and the tempo elsewhere.
This just happens on “Lady of 1000 Sorrows”, a half-ballad that gets a bit more electric in the chorus. Here Basse channels that softer, more lamenting husky tone that made the rather average live performer that Apollo was, so beloved to the band’s fandom.
And quite wisely, the gears shift once again for the title track, “Immortals”, which is an instrumental dark paean that sets the scene perfectly for “Warriors and Saints” that follows it, where the band goes from a soft intro to a Priestly middle done in a way more “Power Metal” way, but convincingly so with Gus positively setting fire on the strings, in the midst of all the violence and the beauty. Well done.
“Rise from the Ashes” is a fitting epilogue that manages to sum the album rather nicely in what must be one of the most solid Firewind efforts in ages; it also succeeds to reinstate the band, have them tick the box of concept album and avoid ridicule, all at the same time, by delivering the goods on an album that could have easily descended into “sword and sandal” hell.
I am rather impressed, I must say and Firewind has not impressed me in a long time, probably about a decade, with the exception of some of “Premonition” that I did find rather good. And in this case I’m quite happy to be proven wrong. With no visible clinches in their armor. Firewind return from the “dead” in a mightily impressive way. I wouldn’t have minded the album being a touch more epic here or there, but then it might have run into the danger of entering that slippery when wet from Manowar’s baby-oil territory and it could have been a modern Greek tragedy.
“Vision of Tomorrow” is a bonus track that’s typical of the album and I’m happy to report not a throwaway, actually it’s sad it didn’t end up on the actual album… a couple of demos as well complete the limited edition, clearly pre-production, where the only comment I have to make is that Basse sounds a lot freer and more heroic and not as drowned out by the instruments. So I guess, I might have liked the album just a tiny bit more had the put him just a tiny bit higher on the mix, very little, but going a long way to making it all sound way more impressive.