Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Firewind - Few Against Many (2012)


With the inclusion of Gus G into the ranks of Ozzy and co. as they spiral into the depths of trite, plastic commercialism, the prospect of a new Firewind album feels more and more appealing, a good line-up of riffing whiskey shots to wash the taste of carefully constructed, poppy garbage out of my mouth. Indeed, Scream was an insincere abomination, about as metal as the Jonas Brothers at long last, designed in utter sterility to appeal to the largest, lowest common denominator of children and idiots. The one light in this money-spawning morass of creative death was Gus G, whose unmistakable riffing could have been used to great effect, if he had been allowed be anything more than a supporting role for the soulless composition.

Now, Firewind have always embraced the simplicity inherent to heavy/power metal, but they’ve done it with an undeniable degree of heart, writing catchy verse-chorus numbers because they’re a heavy metal band who loves heavy metal, and not because it’s what the brainless MTV hordes will devour. And that’s what we like about them; they’re an energetic vehicle for the endless riffing ideas of prodigy Gus G, who continues to shred like his life depended on it. Yep, they just want to rock the fuck out, and to that end, Few Against Many is largely a success, an exercise in riff-driven simplicity. Few Against Many is absolutely formulaic, not attempting to break any boundaries or redefine the precepts of genre, and basically feels like more of the same, but when the same is so reliable and solid, one can’t complain too much. I’ve never resonated too deeply with them, preferring more power-oriented acts like Blind Guardian and Gamma Ray, but they do what they do well, and seem to have a solid fan base that supports them passionately.

Wisely stacked in the front of Few Against Many is Wall of Sound, the album’s single, and undoubtedly its most infectious track, a simple steel-striking rocker in true Firewind fashion. It’s nothing spectacular, but it certainly rocks the fuck out, and Gus’s inventive licks are in fine form. Losing my Mind is one of the longer tracks, with a lingering thread of somberness, an overall tone that, when in conjunction with the chorus, would’ve fit right in to one of the mid-era Ozzy or BLS releases. The titular Few Against Many also feels dark, with a heavy cloud about its shoulders, definitely one of the more dense, emotionally charged tracks on the album. The Undying Fire feels a bit anemic, though. Gus’s chugging, mid-paced riffs here are not among his best, slightly dry and lacking flair, though the solos are invariable high points. The verses and choruses, however, just don’t grab me at all.

Another Dimension fares better, with a stronger selection or riffs and some really impressive, twirling leads. The chorus is a bit cheesy, but it has a nice dark angelic grace that works in its favor, punctuated by the organ-like keyboard tone. Glorious is another simple, rollicking bruiser in the vein of Wall of Sound, if a bit less up-tempo. Edge of a Dream is the obligatory ballad, steeped in the sensibilities of 80’s cheese, and the addition of cello-metallers Apocalyptica adds some nice rainy-day atmosphere, as it builds from a tear on Apollo’s cheek to a flood of melody. It’s certainly not bad, working in the traditional compositional style of a good ballad, but it’s just too sappy for me to take seriously. The trio of closing tracks are some of the better songs on the album, so a strong end is a mark in its favor.

Seems to me that Firewind are going for a bit more overcast atmosphere this time around, with an ingrained melancholy on a handful of tracks that lends a denser feeling than the typically upbeat nature we expect from them. However, it’s a subtle thing, and doesn’t really change or diminish the attempted grandiosity. In the end, it also isn’t anything we haven’t heard from Firewind before, sometimes better, sometimes worse. It’s a Firewind album, basically, in all its perceived glory and fault.

I for one have never been incredibly enthralled with the bands simplistic, NWOBHM meets speed/power sensibilities, but neither have I felt any negativity towards them. On the contrary, they can always be relied upon for some consistent, rock-and-riff fun, and I make a point to follow their career. At worst, they’re melodramatic and formulaic, but never bad, and all their work is at the very least solid, if not overly compelling. Few Against Many does nothing to break apart from this, content to bang along and riff its heart out in the style it knows best, and for fans of the band, this will probably be all they desire and more. To me, it’s simply another enjoyable romp, nothing amazing, but good solid fun, and it’s always a pleasure to hear Gus’s new concoctions of notation.

At long last, I can’t say I’ll listen to Few Against Many all that often, and it’s not the bands finest hour, but I can’t imagine it will really disappoint anyone, least of all their fan base, and it’s about 900 times more interesting than the new Ozzy, which isn’t worth the plastic it’s printed on (once again, not Gus’s fault). It’s a good solid rocker that will shred your face off, if that’s what you’re looking for, and contains enough base-line quality for me to both lightly enjoy it and recommend it to genre enthusiasts. An album of this nature succeeds on the strength of its hooks, and they’re definitely prevalent, but they just didn’t sink in so far this time, though not for lack of trying. So, even though it lacks the momentum to truly make much of a lasting impact in my memory banks, any heavy/power freaks would do well to give it a spin, as chances are you’ll enjoy it much more. And I hope you do, because the band is clearly passionate about their art.

Yes, the sunny days keep shining for Firewind, roughly the same as last season, and the season before that. If this troposphere has kept you fat and happy thus far, then worry not, but if you keep glancing at your umbrella in hopes of some deviation, you’d best continue to look elsewhere.

7.5 / 10 - No Heroes, No Sinners