Firewind - Firewind

Firewind cover
AFM Records
Usually self-titled albums are either debuts or come at a point in a band’s a career, when one band considers that they’ve delivered their magnum opus.
Losing the singer of their previous album and a number of years and Bob Katsionis, who had been a member for more than a decade, the prognostics were not necessarily great. To remedy the situation, Herbie Langhans, a veteran of over 10 bands (none of great fortune or fame) and backing vocalist in Avantasia, has been brought in and while he’s a seasoned performer that works well, I suppose his teutonic grit and accent (which just comes across too strong in some lines he sings) make him an okay, but not perfect replacement for his better suited predecessor.
For the time being Gus G. has assumed both guitar and keyboard duties (at least on the album) and while it’s cool to hear Firewind being more guitar/riff centric again, at time one feels like it might have been a better idea to have someone else bounce off ideas with G, even if they didn’t have creative control. There are times where a keyboard might have filled in a space better or when a dual guitar duel might have elevated certain tracks.
“Welcome to the Empire” opens the album furiously and it’s obvious that Langhans sounds closer to Stephen Fredrick or KC Sundown, than any of the other singers the band had. The mix also, while not bad, is certainly pretty harsh sounding, which I suppose works with these more aggressive songs, but might cause some inconsistencies if one views the entire discography as a whole. Stylistically the song also harkens to the band earlier works, but with the added experience of the twenty plus years of experience it ends up sounding like a Dio-esque, nordic power metal, track, decidedly not Europower and G’s tasteful solo works well in it.
On “Devour” Langhans sounds a little freer and the guitar onslaught continues as the pace picks up quite significantly. The chorus is simple, but it works and the pyrotechnics that G is unleashing are rather Yngwie inspired, before the latter decided to gang##$e his own career.
“Rising Fire” comes riding on a massive fat riff, the likes of which Mystic Prophecy, where Gus was also involved in, seem to have been over relying on. It actually sounds like one of the more straightforward songs the band has recorded, without that being a bad thing necessarily – as it’s immediacy, is endearing. But the band’s/GG’s over reliance on using fire in the titles borders on Manowar levels of word overuse.
“Break Away” tries to break away from the linear style of songs, at least initially, with a slower intro, where Langhans barely manages to rid himself of his coarseness… which makes me think of him like a bit of a Ronnie Atkins soundalike, without the softer, melodic side; the song itself is nice enough with a cool riff and nice guitar melodies throughout...
“Orbitual Sunrise” might be tucked halfway through the album, but it’s Europe meets Malmsteen mannerisms, turned to eleven (think Edguy at their prime), are anything but unwelcome, making it one of the better songs on offer.
“Longing to Know You” opens with some soft acoustic guitars and it’s a ballad, sure enough, but one which seems to suffer a little, since Langhans’ range doesn’t allow it to explore the full dynamic range it could have had.
“Perfect Stranger” is an almost Accept like riffy rocker, well on the occasions that those Teutons went a little more commercial, which feels a little by the numbers. It begins promisingly enough, but it feels like it’s let down somehow, by the vocal performance. It’s the sort of song that say a Bormann or Johansson would have easily kicked out of the park.
“Overdrive” had me thinking “Headless Cross” and I guess it feels fairly similar. There are some keyboards, indeed nothing to write home about and the song feels quite derivative, in all honesty and also a little over the top performed vocally, with not enough clarity, but unnecessary amounts of gritty, throaty sounds. An additional problem that Herbie faces that might make his work more difficult, is that he has to antagonize G’s overactive guitars, but most of all a boomy bass that seems to create a great muddy mess – not mass along with the drums… to the point of annoyance.
Things are a little better on “All My Life” for Langhans, but the song is probably of the less interesting ones… with a nice riff a quite great bridge and an okay chorus, but not such impressive verses. Gus’ solo is suitably impressive and quite indulgent but not over-doing it. A song that could have been much better with a few rearrangements.
“Space Cowboy” is an odd one, more hard rock inspired and maybe a little inspired by GG’s solo adventures, but easily catchier than most of the stuff he’s come up for those albums. It’s a fun little diversion that is once again gifted a new and even more melodic solo.
Lastly, “Kill the Pain” made me jog memory to an Accept song by the same title, from the Tornillo days, which this is completely unrelated to. This is actually a pretty hard rocking metal track, with Langhans occupying the space between the aforementioned Tornillo and maybe Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl, at his clearest, but on a song, which seems to be a little too indulgent, with a chorus that works and a nice solo, but not much in the way of cohesion.
Overall, not the train wreck one would expect, with 2 crucial members changed and in fact Gus G. sounds rather inspired, but I don’t think that the right chemistry has been achieved. Langhans sounds more like a stopgap solution, than a guy that could comfortably keep on doing this, for a variety of reasons and I suppose a certain someone to somewhat counter Gus’ dominating presence, without trying to antagonize him might make for a more pluralist result.
Also a producer would benefit the result greatly. However, despite all this criticism that might sound harsh, I think that this album is among the better efforts of the band, just not as polished as it should have been, by a band that has been doing this for such a long time.