My penchant for this Greek metal outfit is well known within my circle of friends as I adore every album this exceptional band has released in the last two decades and whilst I do have my favourite releases and songs of course one thing is always consistent and that’s the ingenuity of Gus G whose supreme guitar work and song writing craft shows no dilution on this the ninth album.

This self-titled album is quite possibly the most varied release the band has ever released as each song has its own uniqueness identified equally by the riffs but also the vocals courtesy of new member Herbie Langhans whose tone is grittier than previous vocalists but still rich in tone. I must admit I was fairly nervous listening to this album mainly due to the new vocalist and the opener, ‘Welcome To The Empire’ which didn’t allay my fears initially as the atmospheric guitar work and subtle lead work lead into a stalwart metal tune that doesn’t quite hit the mark even though the grittier vocal style enhances the more gravelly guitar sound that is displayed. However ‘Devour’ is purist Firewind as the double kick and slicing guitar work is balanced by the fabulous vocal arrangements that sees soaring notes and penetrating potency that all fans of the band will appreciate.

‘Rising Fire’ is massively catchy and harks back to Firewind’s earlier era where the straight metal posturing was rife but of course the production by Gus is pristine, allowing Herbie’s vocals to truly dazzle especially with the sublime chorus lines. Retaining a grittier heaviness ‘Orbitual Sunrise’ has a denser more ominous riffing style as the pounding beat is backed by subtle keyboards when the lead break powers through the song with piercing finesse. I’ve never been a fan of ballad like tunes but I’ve always made an exception for Firewind because they are laced with power and ‘Longing To Know You’ matches songs like ‘My Loneliness’ or ‘Lady Of 1000 Sorrows’ in surging emotion before the album returns to the style Firewind fans expect on ‘Perfect Strangers’ (no it’s not a Deep Purple cover). The guitar sound takes a nose dive downwards producing an edgy riffing base and slightly deeper vocal delivery but of course the choral section is massively uplifting as is the majestic ‘Overdrive’. Beginning with a simple drum beat and cymbal highlight the song reeks of 80s arena rock with a punchy beat and keyboard saturation making sure you will sing the colossal chorus whether you like it or not.

That 80s aura continues into ‘All My Life’ as the keyboards continue their softening as the lead work again produces a catchiness that Firewind write so exquisitely. ‘Space Cowboys’ has the 80s influence completely ingrained in its structure as the opening lead work leads into a borderline hard rock style that sees Firewind drift away from the metal quotient you’d expect making this a real standout before the release closes in familiar territory with ‘Kill The Pain’. The drumming start is great with full on fist pumping fervour and of course the blazing solo that ensues at the beginning. The song is probably the heaviest on the album with a double kick lacing that permeates the song in places leaving the listener with no doubt that Firewind are back with a new album, a slightly new style but firing on all cylinders as always.

(8.5/10 Martin Harris)