Firewind - O2 Academy 3, Manchester (UK) - 16 February 2017
A late departure from work, football traffic and the fact driving through Manchester city centre right now is like going off road, meant I missed the opening band of the night. I arrived in time to see the last two songs of the second support Manimal who were musically excellent. 'Invincible' and 'Irresistible' both made an impact and displayed strong writing skills and quality musicianship. The singer's high register suited the Traditional Metal style and the fact the sound in the room was crystal clear helped immensely. Manimal have a theatrical element to their stage craft, to enhance the delivery, but it is certainly not at the expense of the songs.
Firewind are a band I have seen before, but that was eleven years ago at the inaugural and short-lived ProgPower UK Festival in Cheltenham. Back then I remember thinking they were not really anything special and highly generic in terms of both song-writing and performance and though I do have several of the band's albums, I have missed the last few releases. Of course they have become well known in recent years as being the day job for Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Gus G, who I was fortunate enough to catch on his solo tour of the UK in the early part of 2015. The vocalist in his band that night, Henning Basse, has since become the lead singer for Firewind and I'm aware that hardcore fans bemoan the departure of Apollo Papathanasio. Well, all I can say is, if they stayed away tonight for that reason then they missed one hell of a show.
Firewind were, yes, on fire. 2017's 'Immortals' album is a concept piece based around Greek History and a touch of mythology and the new songs they included in the set tonight sat nicely next to those more established. What was disappointing was the meagre turnout, less than a hundred fans for sure, yet they made enough noise for a thousand and the band played as though they were in a stadium. I haven't seen as much headbanging or air guitar at a gig for a long time and the synchronised moves on stage were cheesy but totally forgiven once caught up in the moment.
Gus G is a guitar hero for sure, but he is supported by some fantastic players. Tonight was about being part of a band rather than massaging an ego. Keyboard player/second guitarist Bob Katsionis manages to play riffs on the guitar and keys at the same time and is essential in giving the overall sound added depth and an extra dimension. Joe Nunez (drums) and Petros Christodoulidis (bass) are the unsung heroes, but a rock solid rhythm section who shun the spotlight and left Gus G, Basse and Katsionis to be the main focal points.
'Head Up High', 'Few Against Many', Between Heaven And Hell' and 'Hands Of Time' personify the Power Metal genre and if there had been a monitor handy, my foot would have been placed firmly on it. 'Lady Of 1,000 Sorrows' gave Basse the chance to show what a fantastic singer he is, and though the energy levels remained intact, it was something of a breather before the full-on assault continued. 'World On Fire' is a no-nonsense song that demanded audience participation, followed by the incredible instrumental 'The Fire And The Fury', it was a chance to see everyone interact and display their talents. Two of my favourite Firewind songs were saved for the encore. 'Mercenary Man' channelled a number of Thin Lizzy influences, whilst 'Falling To Pieces' was another crowd-pleasing sing-along with a heavenly melodic hook.
Seventy-five minutes passed in the blink of an eye and left everyone in the room in no doubt that Firewind were back and passionate about what they do. They generally receive mixed reviews for their studio output, but the hardcore fans in attendance tonight left happy and though the journey to and from Manchester was a little problematic, I was glad I'd made the effort. It was a pity that more didn't as Firewind are a quality outfit who deserve more appreciation and attention.