We all know war is a typical theme in metal. There’s just so much fuel to keep these destructive fires going—be it in the black, death, heavy, power, or thrash genres; or by bands like Marduk, Sodom, Sabaton, or Iced Earth. Wherever exists that thing where men and women meet and kill each other, you can expect to hear about it in metal. Especially as this world turns more and more to shit. There’s no shortage of hate and angst to stoke the flames. But, let’s turn to those artists determined to use the art of history to mold their own. Like Sabaton, Belgium’s FireForce focuses all their energy around battles come-and-gone, the bravery of the few, and the historical instances that led to war. With two albums under their belt, this five-piece is back with another history lesson. This time on Greece’s Oxi Day, the Danevirke, the infamous Iron Brigade, and much more. So, come along, dweebs. School’s in session. Grab your Thermos and knapsack, it’s time to get learneded.
OK, now, don’t get too excited. While the themes are solid and most of the songwriting works, FireForce is a pretty standard Sabaton-meets-Grave Digger power metal act. Though much of debut, March On, had energy, the songwriting was quite generic and Flype’s vocals were heavy on a power-metally Angelripper approach. Then 2014’s Deathbringer arrived. And, with it came a better vocal performance and all-around superior songwriting. If you know the band and you know Deathbringer, then you already know this year’s Annihilate the Evil. Not that Annihilate is a carbon copy, but the direction is pretty spot on. Annihilate the Evil ain’t no power-metal record of the year, but it’s simple and its bigness makes it fun.
As far as repeat listens go, the front and back pages of this album aren’t the tracks that keep me coming back. “The Boys from Down Under” and “Herkus Mantas” aren’t bad, but they’re pretty generic: standard choruses, crisp power-metal riffs, and just enough energy to make them listenable. Songs like “Fake Hero,” “Oxi Day,” “Thyra’s Wall,” and “White Lily (Okhotnik),” on the other hand, are keepers. All have the kind of choruses that stick to you like goatheads and that passion that’s only found in power metal. While “Fake Hero” takes on some mid-paced riffage and one of the more fist-pumping choruses of the record, the other three go for the jugular. As in-your-face as the day it’s written for, “Oxi Day” fucks around with Tommy Angelripper-esque vox and a clenched riff that knocks the listener on her/his ass midway through (much like “Fake Hero” does in its midsection). Like “Oxi Day,” “White Lily” calls upon more Sodom-ish vox (with full-band shouts nestled between) to support its addictive little riff. “Thyra’s Wall” also puts forth some balls. It has a quick, sharp lick that slices through its chorus and powers on to a stop-and-go chug, throttled by bass drums. After that, the entire song gives way to an upfront bass guitar and a unique, yet captivating, melodic interlude.
But, those four are the best. “Defector (Betrayer of Nations)” and “The Iron Brigade” have their moments (and choruses), but they’re all missing pieces that would make them great. “Defector” is another mid-paced piece (like “Fake Hero”) with one of the biggest choruses on the record. But its melodic qualities aren’t as convincing as those of its counterpart. Likewise, “The Iron Brigade” carries much of the same vibe and attitude as “Oxi Day,” but lacks its umph. It has some tasty full-band shouts (much like “White Lily”) and a chorus straight from Dream Evil, but it’s just another fun, solid ditty.
Also fun is the closing cover of The Rolling Stones‘ “Gimme Shelter.” As far as covers go, it’s quite respectable. It’s also a much better cover than the Tygers of Pan Tang cover on Deathbringer. Also respectable is the mix and mastering. It ain’t gonna win any awards, but Annihilate the Evil sounds good, which helps make repeat listens bearable. In the end, I have my favorite tracks and I spend most of my time with them. Much like I do with those on Deathbringer.