Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Firewind - London Review

Firewind have been on somewhat of a self-imposed exile over the past few years. Founding member and guitarist Gus G. has been busy with other things; namely touring with Ozzy Osbourne, and releasing and touring behind solo albums; and the departure/firing of longtime frontman Apollo Papathanasio seemed like a good reason to put the Greek power metal band on ice for a few years. Despite having been associated with many different bands over the years, it is with Firewind that G. has found the most recognition and respect from. His heavier, more guitar-orientated take on the well-trodden power metal path certainly sets Firewind apart from the pack, and has allowed the band to become the primary vehicle for G.'s guitar pyrotechnics and songwriting abilities. Journeyman metal vocalist Henning Basse, who had been working with G. on his solo tours, was finally announced as the band's new frontman back in 2015, and a few festival shows introduced the band's new line-up last year. It took until last month however for a new studio album to see the light of day. It marked Basse's recording debut with the band and the result, Immortals, is an extremely strong piece of work. It is easily the band's best album since 2008's The Premonition, and possibly before that, and harks back to the band's heavier earlier albums. A UK tour to support the album was always going to be a tour that had to be attended, and a trip to London's Underworld venue to catch the band in action was planned. Camden's Underworld is certainly not my favourite venue in London, but it does seem to have had a bit of a makeover of late (especially the toilets which used to be truly awful), and I have to say my opinion on the place is softening somewhat. The sound is usually very good there at least, and it does seem to be one of those places that manages to generate a good atmosphere.

Before Firewind however, the growing crowd was treated to two support acts. Greece's Scar of the Sun were up first and played for around 30 minutes that was growing all the while they were on the stage. Sadly however, the band did very little for me and churned out a set that after a couple of numbers really did all begin to sound the same. The band had all the ingredients that should make for a good band, and some of their riffs were pretty good, but the songs just lacked any real hooks for my liking. Sadly I find this is often the case with unknown support acts, especially in the metal world, so Scar of the Sun will be added to the long list of bands I have tried but just cannot get into.

Sweden's Manimal were much better. Presumably named after the obscure W.A.S.P. song, the band were clearly influenced by metal from the 1980s. The strange corpse paint-esque make-up was clearly a tribute to bands like Mercyful Fate, and frontman Samuel Nyman certainly had the voice to suit that type of music as he let out plenty of high-pitched screams throughout their set. While not exactly classic or original, Manimal were certainly enjoyable during their time on stage and they are probably a band I will look into more at some point. Those who enjoy vocalists like Tim 'Ripper' Owens and the late Midnight will probably appreciate Manimal's style, and I am sure they made a few new fans at the Camden Underworld - many were even chanting their name as they left the stage!

Firewind were the main draw however, and by the time they hit the stage the place was pretty full. I was glad that the band decided to throw so much new material into the set, clearly showing how proud they are of Immortals. I always feel that bands should stand behind their new material live, and it was great to see Firewind do just that. All eight of the band's albums were represented in the set too, which certainly helped to provide some depth of material and familiarity to long-time fans. Ode to Leonidas was the perfect way to start the evening, with the cheesy spoken word intro playing as the band members took to the stage. Basse, on his first full headline tour as an official Firewind member was on fire all night and proved why he might just well be the band's best frontman yet. He excellent on the new material, for obvious reasons, but managed to take the older songs and make them his own with ease too. We Defy and Head up High followed and the upbeat, fast nature of these songs allowed for a bit of movement from the crowd and the atmosphere really started to build. G. is of course the star of any Firewind show however, and he soloed his heart out all night. I like the fact that he never drags any of his solos out, and they are always there to serve the melodies of the overall song. Bob Katsionis (guitar/keyboards) is just as worthy of the 'star of the show' mantle too, with his constant switching between his two instruments and his fluid keyboard solos which can more than match G.'s guitar solos for incendiary note runs and exciting melodies. He especially shone on Hands of Time which features on of his best keyboard solos. My personal highlight of the night was the power ballad Lady of 1000 Sorrows, which featured and lengthy guitar/keyboard intro. Basse showed that he could deliver and emotional, 1980s-style performance with ease and it was the only song in the set that saw the pace slow down somewhat. This style suits Firewind really well, and I hope they write more songs in this style in the future. The set was rounded off with some real classics, including the shredding instrumental showcase The Fire and the Fury, which of course is G.'s signature song, but Katsionis also impressed with a section where he shredded on both his keyboard and guitar at the same time! The poppy single Mercenary Man and the thrashy anthem Tyranny saw the main set come to a close. There were plenty of 'Firewind' chants as the band left the stage, and of course there was time for a couple more. The epic new number Live and Die by the Sword went down well, before the bouncy Falling to Pieces, which seems well-entrenched now as the band's final song at shows, saw some jumping from the faithful towards the front and plenty of singing from everyone else. The band left the stage to huge applause from a group of fans who are pleased the band are in business! The setlist was:

Ode to Leonidas
We Defy
Head up High
Few Against Many
Between Heaven and Hell
Back on the Throne
Hands of Time
Wars of Ages
Lady of 1000 Sorrows
World on Fire
The Fire and the Fury
Mercenary Man
Tyranny
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Live and Die by the Sword
Falling to Pieces

Overall this was a great night from a band that have probably never got the recognition they deserve, but are currently on top form and out there promoting a really strong new album. I hope Firewind are back for good now, and G. puts all of his efforts back into writing and touring with them!

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