The problem with power-metal is that, for a genre that’s supposed to amplify the boldness and triumphant scope that’s built into metal by design, it’s frequently not all that adventurous. It feels as though there’s generally one of three set paths a power-metal band can take – go completely off-the-rails with technicality like DragonForce and thrive that way; find a gimmick and build an identity around that (see Babymetal, Sabaton or any band that likes to pretend to be pirates or Vikings); or become trapped in one of music’s narrowest bottlenecks and effectively remain unless either of the prior options is taken up. The third camp tends to be the most populated too, where you’ll most likely find a band like Firewind who’ve built an almost-twenty-year career on being power-metal’s default setting. That’s not exactly surprising given it started life as a means for Gus G to flex his guitar skills and attract a record deal, but he’s become really the only defining feature of this band. Longevity has become their strongest asset given that they’ve never made an impact outside of their own fanbase, and with an excessive number of lineup shifts over the years (they’re currently on their fifth vocalist alone in Herbie Langhans on this album), it’s not like there’s any expectation for Firewind to deliver a late-period opus with this self-titled album.
Still, a moderately okay listen isn’t the worst thing in the world, though to hinge on that as criteria for success is a lower bar than even Firewind should be permitted. At the end of the day, this is still just another piece to sink into the gelatinous mass that is the majority of modern power-metal, with none of the distinguishing features that could actually do something for it. Sure, all the bombast and guitar pyrotechnics are here in full force, but the lack of any real soul has Firewind going about their business in such a workmanlike fashion. The brief flourishes of fun are outweighed by the rote self-satisfaction of so many other ‘virtuoso’ guitarists, and in a sub-genre like power-metal that wants to bring the theatrics and absurdity up as far as they can go, being boring just doesn’t cut it.
That generally means that what Firewind have to use as a boon comes almost exclusively from the bones that their genre can throw them. In fairness, they do a good job at making this a bit meatier in terms of production, whether that’s turning towards a more foundational metal gallop on Orbitual Sunrise, or even taking cues from more modern sources like Fever-era Bullet For My Valentine on Perfect Strangers. They’re augmentative factors over everything else, but it’s honestly just nice to hear a willingness to at least try and bend the rigid power-metal rubric, even if it isn’t taken all that far. But while the effect is there, the fact it’s superseded by Firewind’s slavish devotion to power-metal mundanity takes the edge off significantly. It’s ultimately what makes this album so forgettable; besides the arms-aloft cheese of Longing To Know You which plays so knowingly into its own ridiculousness that it’s actually quite enjoyable, Firewind remain frustratingly meat-and-potatoes throughout, with the reliance on Gus G to pull things together with another solo arriving with disappointing regularity. As for Langhans, he casts a figure that’s build to be a power-metal frontman on All My Life or Space Cowboy (which sadly is neither a Jamiroquai nor a Kacey Musgraves cover, and is all the worse off for it), but again, he brings no flair or individuality to the fray; substitute him for any other older, more operatic frontman, and literally nothing would change. It’s almost as though Firewind are operating on the prospect of getting away with what they can; the proficiency and technicality is good, but when it’s so evidently going through the motions without even being all that catchy or memorable half the time, it presents so little to actually say.
And of course there’s no change to that with the lyrics, the one potential saving grace that putting stock in immediately becomes a lost cause given power-metal’s profound lack of anything to say. And when Firewind show no interest in deviating from that, why would you expect anything different? There’s a fragmented trilogy of songs floating around the idea of environmental exploitation from the perspective on an astronaut, but it’s all business as usual beyond that, as Welcome To The Empire kicks things off in typical broadsword-swinging fashion, with Rising Fire and Kill The Pain continuing down that well-worn trail and adding nothing of worth to it. Granted, there’s never been too fine an onus on lyrics in power-metal, and Firewind are clearly just inflating their scope even further with their writing, but when that highlights and magnifies just how generic this all feels, brushing it off as ‘genre standard’ doesn’t hold nearly as much merit. It’s complacent, and there’s barely even an attempt made to hide it.
That all ultimately comes together for yet another Firewind album that occasionally can pick up steam in the moment, but has no staying power whatsoever and doesn’t even try to rectify that. Over two decades of floating in the mid-tier is hardly going to be reversed on one album, but a level of comfort with their own middling expectations like this isn’t the best way to go about it either, yet that’s what Firewind have done. They’ve made an album that’s functionally sound and nothing else, filling in the correct blanks in the formula and leaving it as ‘good enough’. That’s not really a surprise in itself at this point, but it goes without saying that they’re capable of a lot more, and so blatantly ignoring that is making Firewind seem more and more redundant. That’s about the exact place where this album resides; it’ll do the job, but expecting even an indication of anything more is asking far too much.
For fans of: Queensrÿche, DragonForce, Iced Earth
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Firewind’ by Firewind is released on 15th May on AFM Records.