Saturday, 11 February 2017

[ALBUM REVIEW] Firewind - Immortals

Genre - Power Metal

1. Hands of Time
2. We Defy
3. Ode to Leonidas
4. Back on the Throne
5. Live and Die by the Sword
6. War of Ages
7. Lady of 1000 Sorrows
8. Immortals
9. Warrior and Saints
10. Rise From the Ashes

Back after a five year hiatus from their last effort, the Greek power metal stalwarts Firewind return with their eighth full length entitled 'Immortals', a concept album about Greek history, specifically The Battle of Thermopylae, Spartans and all that subject matter that the Greek metal bands just love recycling to us under a million different guises.

For me Firewind always kind of sat on the fringes of power metal greatness, never quite reaching it, but coming close with 'Burning Earth', but for the majority of their discography they seemed to suffer from playing it far too safe and being all too predictable, with actual solid songwriting often being eschewed to make room for Gus G's flamboyant roller-coaster of guitar playing. Fair enough I get that it is solely his band, he can do whatever the fuck he likes, but still, technical wizardry and flashy arpeggios does not a good song make.

So how does 'Immortals' hold up then? Considering how busy the band have been in the last few years with other projects, guitar virtuoso Gus G jet-setting across the globe with Ozzy Osbourne, and long time singer Apollo being replaced by ex-Metalium vocalist Henning Base, it's pretty much like they never went away, pretty much what you'd expect from Firewind. So take from that what you will, Euro power metal is like chalk and cheese to most people, you either love it or hate it.

'Hands of Time' is a brilliant opener, your typical power metal 'anthem'. Really steely, crunching guitar riffs, a kicking rhythm and catchy, sugary as fuck chorus, it's basically what you want from them. I actually get a significant Lost Horizon vibe from them on this album (only nowhere near as good), vocalist Henning at times sounds very similar to the more aggressive side of Daniel Heiman.

As my previously mentioned ills with the band pointed out, 'Immortals' again suffers from the same problem many power metal albums do, they just completely blow their load on one song and kind of just seize up on auto-pilot for rest of the album. 'Ode to Leonidas' starts off with so much promise but kind of just fizzles out after the intro leaving you thinking, 'is this it'? While 'Back on the Throne' and 'Lady of 1000 Sorrows ' are just kind of awkward and exemplify my main grievance with the album, it threatens so much but never quite crosses that threshold, playing it safe and by the book. The last two tracks 'Warriors and Saints' and 'Rise from the Ashes' do pick up the pace again and are certainly decent, again standard fare cascading Stratovarius-esque neo-classical guitar leads, breakneck drumming and sing along vocal lines.

Fans of the band should definitely check this out, but for those on the fence or those who aren't fans it's not going to change opinions, they've cemented their formula and sticking to it. It's Firewind by numbers for the most part and aside from a few shining highlights here there it's just restricted by its inconsistency and average songwriting. 


If you like - Dragonforce, Lost Horizon, Stratovarius

Originall written for

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

[ALBUM REVIEW] Holy Martyr - Darkness Shall Prevail

1.  Shores of Elenna
2. Numenor
3. Heroic Deeds
4. Darkness Descends
5. Taur Nu Fuin
6. Minas Morgul
7. Witch-King of Angmar
8. The Dwarrowdelf
9. Born of Hope

Genre - Heavy Metal

 Sometimes nothing can set you up for the head-in-hands disappointment when a band you loved releases a completely unexpected and out of the blue sub-par release. Such is the case I have found with Italian epic heavy metallers Holy Martyr, who release their first album in six years entitled Darkness Shall Prevail, trading the exotic ancient Japanese samurai themes of Invincible for the hobbits, elves and nazgul of Tolkien. I mean it's Holy Martyr and Middle Earth, how could you possibly go wrong? Theoretically this should have been amazing, how could it have been anything but? But in reality it bears all the scars of a band who have just by the looks of things have lost direction and don't know quite what they are trying to achieve with this release.

To begin, the production is really fucking bad for a heavy metal release, and let me tell you being a huge black metal fan I'm pretty immune to bad production jobs by now. Fair enough Holy Martyr always seemed to opt for the rougher side of the coin when it came to this, but it worked on their earlier releases; it added a sense of grit and fortitude to their sound, but here it's hard to describe as anything other than downright terrible. I get that they're going for a kind of darker sound here, but it just really doesn't work. For starters the vocals are absolutely brick-walled in the mix, they're far too loud and together with Ivano's slight accent it just comes off a bit disjointed and awkward and actually started to give me a headache about halfway through this.

Instrumentally it is decent enough, but for a band of this calibre who are so much better than this, 'decent' just isn't acceptable enough. The guitar playing lacks urgency for the most part, the tone is thin and weak. There are decent patterns scattered here and there and the odd riff which threatens to ignite some sort of spark but then it kind of just dwindles off into mediocrity each time, leaving you with the impression of lost opportunities every time. “Born of Hope” is definitely the stand out track here, containing some great riffs and vocals and was pretty much the only one to hold my attention, it's just a bit of a shame it's the last track.

What I'd love to know is where has that heroic, barbarian spirit of the past gone? When you compare the likes of “Tar Nu Fuin” to the likes of “Warmonger” and “Spartan Phalanx” there's just no comparison really. It seems like they completely lost their balls in opting for this 'darker' sound that they are shooting for on Darkness Shall Prevail. When you're attempting epic-metal in the vein of Manilla Road like these guys, you really need the hooks and melodies to hold peoples attention, and that's just not present here, the whole album kind of just passed me by like heavy metal elevator music.

I really hate to say it but the whole album was just a struggle to get through, not due to it being downright awful no, it's just painfully boring more than anything else. Where it threatens to break out into something epic and fist pumping it kind of just unceremoniously veers off into mediocrity. The likes of “Numenor” and “Witch King of Angmar” are decent enough but not what I come to expect from these guys, the whole album just sounds jumbled, incoherent and hastily thrown together, and with having had six years to work on it, is pretty inexcusable. I spent far too long looking/hoping to find something which wasn't here on Darkness Shall Prevail, so don't bother with it unless you're an absolute die-hard of the band, their previous three are so much better. These Italian warriors appear to have lost their way a bit and could do with re-finding their inspiration. 


Originally written for The Metal Observer