Few would argue against the point that the true heart of power metal is fun. Powerful fun. Triumphant fun. Escapist fun. Uplifting, unbridled fun. The fun, even when delivered in half-baked and stock songs, is still fun, although it may also come across as shallow and empty, giving the genre’s detractors lots of fuel for their stupid fires. But when combined with just enough songwriting depth and seriousness, the fun aspect of power metal creates a feeling of pure joy that can’t quite be replicated elsewhere in the Wide World of Heavy Metal.
That refinement of course begins with founder and mastermind Gus G., who shreds shreddily to his shreddy heart’s most shredtastic content all over the place (you don’t get tapped to be Ozzy’s guitarist without End Level Boss Chops). His solos range from pure rawk (“Perfect Stranger”) to heightened levels of emotion (his solos in the wicked good opener “Welcome to the Empire”) and brief-but-delightful Yngwie-ish neoclassical passages (“All My Life”). His leads also carry a certain brightness that helps to amplify both the album’s sense of unabashed glee and its absolute punch.
Joining Gus and the other Firewinders is new vocalist Herbie Langhans (Beyond the Bridge, Radiant, several others), who imbues the record with a smoky, slightly gruff charisma and a keen knack for phrasing. The latter skill makes just about every chorus some degree of super infectious, while the occasional touches of melodrama (the ever-higher-and-higher ascensions of “Devour”) give off a hint of Nils Patrik Johansson, but for the most part he’s very much his own man. No matter the emotion – triumph, sorrow, wonder, introspection, amusement, or more triumph – Langhans handles the moment with a constantly magnetic presence.
The rhythm section obviously knows that Gus and Langhans are the stars, because they provide constantly solid but unflashy accompaniment, while the production carries that perfectly modern-but-not-candy-coated quality. Even the lyrics do just enough to set the band apart. Sure, there’s plenty of the typical staying true to yourself (“Rising Fire”) and how much it rules to be in a successful band (“Overdrive”), but blink and you might miss a song about environmental degradation and the pitfalls of industrialization (“Orbital Sunrise”). Sure, it isn’t much, but it’s nice when a style stereotyped for not being for The Thinking Man does a little bit of thinking, especially when it shreds this hard.
Firewind’s approach is simple: write solid songs and let the immense talents of your stars shine through. On Firewind, they shine indeed. More than that, it is so abundantly clear that these guys just love this. There is bliss in every vocal melody, machine gun riff, and slick lead, even when a song’s topic might veer a bit darker. In times like these (and you know what these times are), reminders of others’ joy and elation can work like quick tonics for the soul. So crank up Firewind and let Gus G.’s never ending supply of hot licks transport you to Smilesville. You deserve it.