Sound — 9
Ah, the sweet sounds of symphonic guitar shredding. Gus G., the acclaimed 26-year-old guitarist from such bands like Nightrage and Mystic Prophecy, has finally decided to go full-time with the band Firewind and his decision was a wise one. While the band's US debut Allegiance could have been easily one long guitar solo with not much musicality underneath, it is surprisingly melodic and memorable. Granted, from the content of the title track you might get the impression that Gus G. will be padding each song to the gills with solos, it's actually a fitting opener. The guitarist said that he intended for Allegiance to be a song that pretty much hits you in the face, and it succeeds in making most guitarists wish they had spent at least 5 to 6 more hours practicing each day. It's easily one of the most impressive tracks technically speaking. But even with the high technical quality, it still doesn't necessarily represent the most rock anthem-worthy cut. It's when the guitarist takes a step back a bit more that the best songwriting comes through. The first single Falling To Pieces is more subtle with the guitars, and Firewind allows listeners the opportunity to hear its songwriting chops without any extra adornment. With vocalist Apollo Papathanasio's charismatic delivery and extreme range, the song will instantly have you humming along. There's a bridge-type section leading up to the chorus that is just incredible, featuring layered vocals (in a wide assortment of octave ranges) from Papathanasio that is just sends chills -- of the good kind. It's hard to say if Firewind will appeal to the general rock crowd with its dramatic flavor, but the band shouldn't be pigeonholed into the epic metal genre. At least a few of the tracks could easily be rock radio tracks and recall a lot of the best metal hits from back in the '80s. There is definitely an 80s theme that flows throughout Allegiance, from the lightening fast guitar solos to the emotional, yet manly vocal delivery. There are some also killer keyboard lines from Bob Katsionis, who could one day be up there with the likes of Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater.
Lyrics — 8
Firewind takes another cue from the '80s with its lyrics, which have a flair for the dramatic. This is not to say that they are melodramatic (no songs about dragons or cauldrons of fire), but they definitely have more emotionally driven lyrics that recall bands like MSG or even Stratovarius. In Till The End Of Time, you get a good sense of the themes throughout most of the tracks. Papathanasio sings, How can we make it through the night? This demon we must fight; Visions of hell within my mind; But we must carry on, carry on. There are a few tracks that do like to use those standard favorite images of demons and beasts, but the band never overdoes it and it doesn't ever get to be a distraction. The lyrics are not the most original ones in most of the tracks, but it's actually kind of fun to hear words that are reminiscent of some of the classic '80s bands. It feels almost like an homage to the big hair metal days at times, and that should appeal to a lot of old school metal fans.
Overall Impression — 9
Firewind is a nice balance between various genres -- you've got a bit of epic metal, a little sprinkle of hair metal, and the talent of prog rockers. While many of the most talented guitarists on today's scene play metal that's a bit too heavy for radio, Firewind could actually be accessible for a wide range of audiences. There are moments when it almost feels too radio friendly if that is possible, but there are enough tracks that are unique and inspired that Firewind should be respected by fellow songwriters as well. With the regular audio CD you'll also get a bonus video for the single Falling To Pieces, as well as a 17-minute documentary of the band. That's a big plus, particularly considering Firewind is a name that a lot of Americans aren't familiar with yet. While the documentary doesn't go extremely in-depth in terms of the band's songwriting style, it's still a great addition for fans. Allegiance is a powerful introduction for Firewind and Gus G.'s ability as a guitarist if you're not familiar with any of the band's work in the past Considering the limitless number of solos that Gus could have laid down (he's the only remaining original member and has free reign), the man showed excellent restraint. There's plenty of incredible axe-grinding going on, but it's not just The Gus G. Show by any means.