Long running Greek power metal warriors Firewind have always been a reliable second-string act thanks to the capable stewardship of axe God, Gus G. When news broke in 2009 that he was to be Ozzy‘s new guitar wiz, I wondered if he’d be able to keep his first love alive on the side. Immortals marks the third Firewind platter since he joined with metal’s original maniac, so it seems the man can multi-task just fine. It also marks the first album with new singer Henning Basse on board (ex-Metalium, ex-Brainstorm). Henning replaces the very capable Apollo Papathanasio (Spiritual Beggars) and I’ll admit I was a bit leery when I heard of the switch. Though I enjoyed his work on Metalium, I found him to be a very generic power metal vocalist and I worried he might be the wrong choice to replace the highly versatile Apollo. After two weeks with Immortals, I’m happy to report there is nothing to fear except power metal itself.
Opener “Hands of Time” gets the party started right with a very Stratovarius-like zip and punch. The energy is high, melody is king and Henning gives the music a fist-in-the-air bravado that really completes the package well. Gus G’s impressive noodling and soloing is gamely challenged by key whiz Bob Katsionis (Serious Black) and the whole thing is like a fresh cheese enchilada. The band sticks to this winning blueprint with rousing chest thumpers like “We Defy” and “Live and Die by the Sword” and the fun level is kept high while the music remains speedy and exuberant.
The big guilty pleasure is the over-sized and bombastic “Ode to Leonidas,” which I suppose almost has to be larger-than-life when done by a Greek band. It’s the classic Euro-power song with silly lyrics and overblown theatrics, but it works and the chorus is undeniably catchy. Gus G. immolates everything with his furious fret-work and things just screams METAL! They switch things up nicely for “Back on the Throne” which almost feels like a Jorn number, full of hard rock bluster and bluesy swagger. “War of Ages” has a strong Kamelot vibe running through it’s pirate shirt and satin trousers and there’s more than a whiff of Dragonforce in the guitar overkill on “Warriors and Saints,” but the writing keeps things immediate, catchy and testosterone-filled.
There isn’t a bad cut to bog down the flow and even the semi-ballad “Lady of 1,000 Sorrows” works well. The 44 minute length is perfect and the mix is fine, allowing the guitar and keyboards to duel lustily with each other.
Gus G. always impresses with his guitar prowess and it’s made abundantly clear the man is a unholy shred monster. More impressive however is his increasingly solid writing chops. While I’ve enjoyed all the Firewind albums to some extent, his writing was at times inconsistent. Immortals shows him in peak writing form, crafting 9 rock solid cuts of power metal glory. Henning Basse also impresses with an impassioned and gritty performance. He gives the material a tough, hard-boiled edge that really packs a punch and this may be the best he’s sounded on an album. He keeps the Euro-power inspired songs from sounding too Helloweenie and light, and even though he’s singing about swords, sandals and serpents, he makes it feel heavy and sincere.
I wasn’t really expecting all that much from Immortals, but I’ve been spinning it a whole lot and really enjoying it. In fact, this might be my favorite Firewind record of all. If you want some catchy power with high-level chops and a commitment to guitar excess, this is Sparta! Now bask in the glory of the below video as you braid your back hair into freedom knots.