Firewind - The premonition 3.5/5
1. Into the fire
2. Head up high
3. Mercenary man
4. Angels forgive me
6. My loneliness
7. Circle of life
8. The silent code
10. Life foreclosed
Straight off the road for the touring of 'Allegiance', Firewind got back into the studio for the recording of the follow-up. It took long enough, but Gus G. has managed to hold a Firewind line-up together long enough to record more than one CD, and with the band finally staying in one piece between tours they have obviously been keen to keep the momentum going.
Despite 'Allegiance' being something of a breakthrough for Firewind, it was my opinion at the time that it was easily their weakest CD to date, something I still hold to. The surprising thing about 'The premonition' is that while it is a continuation of the direction the band were heading in with it's predecessor, nearly everything seems to have taken a step up in terms of quality. The problem with 'Allegiance' wasn't really down to the change in course, but just an occasional lack of inspiration that left a mildly disappointing aftertaste.
One of the biggest problems I had personally with 'Allegiance' was the performance of the new vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, and thankfully the overall improvement in musical quality is partially down to him ironing out the negative aspects of his singing. It seems he has grown into his role in Firewind, and has shed the irritating ultra-soft technique he used far too often on 'Allegiance', and has also taken minor steps to upping the aggression in his voice from time to time.
In terms of style, 'The premonition' is probably an equal split of the heavier sound fans will be accustomed to and hook-laden, 80s-style melodic metal. Perhaps unexpectedly, keyboard player Bob Katsionis' contribution to proceedings this time around has been greatly reduced – while still bursting forth for a solo every now and again, he is otherwise almost strictly back on 'atmospherics duty' and the thick layers of keyboard that coated parts of the previous CD are nowhere in sight. It is an odd paradox that as Firewind mellow out to some extent that the guitar dominance has been upped again, but it suits the sound they are pursuing here perfectly and the keyboards feel more appropriate when they do make their brief steps into the spotlight.
"Into the fire", after a brief acoustic intro reminiscent of middle-80s Metallica, gets things off to a flier. A raging metal song bursting with heavy riffs, the expected ripping solos and a great vocal display, it starts 'The premonition' with an almighty bang and shows Firewind at their very best. However, it also manages to create a bit of a false impression of what is to come, being followed by 3 uplifting, hard rocking songs that are all soaring vocals, addictive guitar melodies and gigantic choruses.
This may sound like a turn-off to fans that like to keep their rock and metal separate, but the quality of the first half of "The premonition" is so high that any fan of melodic heavy metal should be at the very least satisfied. The real strength of these songs is how all of them seem to crescendo brilliantly on their respective choruses. No matter how well each song is going, they just seem to explode into life when the chorus kicks in. Gus G. really comes into his own on these tracks, and the melodies he has crafted are among his best to date, particularly on the superb "Mercenary man".
"Remembered" deserves special mention, as it manages to form a bridge between the 2 prevalent styles. Opening on thundering guitar and double-bass offensive, it suddenly bursts into a by-now-expected huge, memorable chorus that demands to be sung along to.
In amongst all this wild praise though, it has to be noted that the 2nd half of the CD does not quite match the quality of the first. None of the songs are in any way bad – though, despite a great lead guitar break, "Circle of life" is the very definition of generic – they generally don't manage to scale the same heights as the opening clutch. The cover of the Michael Sembello's "Maniac" (from the film 'Flashdance') is diverting enough, but comes across as a perhaps slightly by-the-numbers. The original keyboard line is kept in the same sort of cheesy 80s tone by Katsionis (Casio-nis?) and Firewind's rendition is a perhaps surprisingly faithful one, with the slightly tame vocals lessening the impact of the heavy guitar and drum playing.
"Life foreclosed" is a bit of a departure for Firewind, a crunching midtempo head-shaker that concludes the CD on a menacing note. A bit of a departure from their usual style of closing track, and it reminds the listener that while Firewind may have cooled off a little, they still know how to cause a ruckus when the mood takes them. The single ballad, "My loneliness", (usually the one to be found in the closing spot) is also something a little different for Firewind, with the contemplative verses accompanied by a wandering, brass-sounding keyboard line before the expected flurry in the chorus. It is another small step into new territory, and thankfully another success.
Scoring this CD proved to be a tough call – while it certainly outstrips 'Allegiance' with ease (in my opinion), it remains a rung or 2 below the first 3 Firewind CDs, and the slight dip in quality as the CD progresses tempers the enthusiasm built by the top-notch first half. My greatest fear for 'The premonition' was that Firewind would end up a boring hard rock band, and that much has most definitely not come to pass. This new direction for Firewind is a promising one, and while they may have left power metal behind, they are welcome to continue this path as long as they can continue to build on the excellent progress they have made here.
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