You won't get many surprises from a FIREWIND record. And why would you want them? Gus G has consistently demonstrated his mastery of melodic heavy metal, not to mention the art of guitar playing, and whichever of the band's multiple vocalists has been front and center, FIREWIND have been thoroughly consistent. A muscular, streamlined alternative to power metal's twinkly eyed pomp, their sound is all about the big melody, the bombastic chorus and the blazing solo. The difference between this band and the countless others that pursue a similar path, is that FIREWIND have never struggled for memorable songs. If "Firewind" is meant to be a definitive statement, as self-titled records tend to be, then it says a lot of very good things about this latest incarnation of the band, with powerhouse vocalist Herbie Langhans upfront. It's the newcomer's presence, his bluesy tone and his deliciously Dio-esque sense of melodrama, that gives the likes of woozy waltz "Longing To Know You" and the dark, propulsive "Break Away" their subtly out-of-the-box charm. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are so immaculately on the money that even the most straightforward of metal songs — the distinctly Swedish-sounding "Perfect Stranger", for instance — sounds somehow heavier and more substantial than it arguably should.
Another laudable principle that FIREWIND have always upheld is that Gus G is only intermittently the star of the show here. His riffs are uniformly great, of course, and those solos will definitely blow some gravel up your back passage, but it's his service to the song that shines through most impressively. And yeah, he's always been that way and FIREWIND have long been a cut above the majority of the rest when it comes to songwriting, but "Firewind" feels particularly exuberant and vital, as if this latest personnel shuffle has finally transported the band to where they should be, both musically and in terms of an overall wildly infectious vibe. Sonically a touch warmer and grittier than 2017's "Immortals", "Firewind" feels more organic and untamed than previous records, even during the sumptuous grandeur of opener "Welcome To The Empire" and the joyous AOR stomp of "Overdrive": both gentle nods to a spirit of diversity that suit FIREWIND perfectly well, while still fitting neatly into this album's thunderous flow. Even the slightly goofy, glam-metal strut of "Space Cowboy" earns its place with a killer hook, while the closing "Kill The Pain" is a snotty, speed metal riot, with Langhans snarling like Udo in his prime.
Proudly delivering the goods — very much as advertised but with the occasional, inspirational tweak — FIREWIND are back and on their best form since 2008's "The Premonition". If you like explosive heavy metal with massive tunes, you know what to do.