Monday, January 24, 2011

Firewind: Days of Defiance (2010)


Greek power metal stalwarts Firewind have been one of the best-known power metal bands for quite a few years (among American metalheads, anyway). But they got a huge boost when guitarist Gus G. joined the Ozzy camp, and Days of Defiance is the band's bid to take full advantage of that fact.

Days of DefiancePower metal is quite literally a mainstream genre throughout much of Europe, but here in the U.S. it's always been relegated to a very small fan base--rejected by the rest of the metal clans as an aberration, with the occasional exception of the American style of power metal. A lot of the reason for that is, it's just plain cheesy, and it reminds us too much of our own embarrasing mainstream metal of the 1980's. (Europeans seem to still like that crap. Go figure.)

Firewind has always been more palatable, though, and Days of Defiance is no different. Sure, it's European power metal--virtuoso guitars and dramatic clean vocals always take the forefront, keyboards play in the background and they get leads, and most of the songs could be considered ballads. But Firewind is far less cheesy than, say, Rhapsody of Fire. The vocals are just barely over the top, and the keyboards rarely take the lead (but see keyboard interlude "The Departure" or the intro and outro to "Embrace the Sun"). The guitar leads are strong, and despite Gus's obvious talent, he never goes out of his way to show it off at the expense of the song. Plus, they know how to keep the heavy in their brand of metal, with some melo-death leanings on tracks like "The Yearning".

The music is catchy, and even when they do a straight-up ballad, it's not always embarrassing. "Broken", for example, switches between acoustic verses and an infectious power ballad chorus. It's even better when it's not a ballad, though. "World on Fire" has dissonant verses and a sing-along chorus followed by a heavy riff, and closer "When All Is Said and Done" has everything you could ever possibly want in a power metal song. Instrumental "SKG", with its guitar and keyboard solos, could be a Dream Theater song if I didn't know any better.

Still, the tracklist is geared a tad too much toward ballads for the average American trve metal crowd, with "Kill in the Name of Love" being the biggest crime. But with all the things going for Firewind right now, they could be a big breakthrough act in the U.S. mainstream. Most of Ozzy's youngest fans are far too young to feel any personal embarrassment by the similarities to 80's mainstream metal, and the music is catchy. There's a small chance power metal could finally be hitting the mainstream in America. Maybe--I give it a 50/50 chance.

The Verdict: Firewind have released another strong album, which gets past the shortcomings of European power metal for the most part. It's still a little ballad-rich, but that may be just what they need to make a run on U.S. rock radio. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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