It has been five years since the last full length from Firewind, the band headed up by guitar extraordinaire Gus G. During those years Gus G has been busy on other projects including the release of two solo albums and continuing to deploy his considerable skills with Ozzy Osbourne. I must admit I’ve been waiting patiently for this album as the band has had issues of retaining vocalists. This is the bands eighth album and for this new era a new vocalist has been recruited called Henning Basse (Mayan) who has done vocals in a myriad of bands including Gamma Ray and Metalium. Added to that this new opus is a concept album based around ancient Greek history with a particular focus on the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis in 480 BC specifically.
Maybe I’m picky or just a geek for detail but looking at the exceptional artwork I felt the use of the Greek letter delta as a substitute for the letter A in the album’s title is a little crass and thoughtless unless I’m missing the point of its use. Often tagged within power metal Firewind has always been slightly outside that genre due to the innate variation in the songs retaining a clenched fist around the throat of heavy metal as this album increases the complexity of the arrangements and injecting symphonic elements that enhance the emotion through the various songs as the album kicks off with the rousing “Hands Of Time”. A safe and solid platform the track is double kick laden initially and immediately Henning stamps his authority on the vocals, adding a new dimension to the songs by having a slightly gruffer tone, as the chorus break is classic Firewind material. That platform is reinforced with “We Defy” which has a heavier riffing style and denser arrangements as the song cruises along blanketing the listener with a layer of double bass. Gus’s lead breaks are as athletic as ever, deluging the song with blazing solos that are as tuneful as they are gymnastic.
Contrasting with the two opening songs is “Ode To Leonidis”, that begins with a semi acoustic guitar piece and narrated words setting the tone for the song with its poignant atmosphere before unleashing a classic metal riff that is accessible, catchy and very memorable in an 1980s way of thinking. The symphonic elements are subtle, never overstated but breathing life into the song with finesse.
The effects laden “Live And Die By The Sword” with its raining and thunder backdrop may be a cliché but it works as Henning showcases why he has got the job of vocalist in the band. His emotive delivery is genteel, possessing charm and theatrics as the song escalates into full metal complete with battle ready chants. Well established bands like Firewind have a lot to prove and with a song like “Lady Of 1000 Sorrows” the song is powerfully with a stirring vocal performance typified by the simple but addictive chorus and is a stand out track on the album. As this track ends the title track inundates the listener with a double bass cannonade complete with symphonic choral vocals and a trademark Gus firestorm lead break
Closing the album is “Rise Above The Ashes” a softer tune with a rock approach and choral backing used to excellent effect. The song has a meandering heaviness underpinned by the drum work which is never overstated but enables the song and the album as a whole to brandish its metal credentials perfectly. Again the lyrics and choruses are extremely catchy and when coupled to the sublime solos the album ends superbly.
(9/10 Martin Harris)