Firewind - Days of defiance 3.5/5
1. The ark of lies
2. World on fire
4. Embrace the sun
5. The departure
6. Heading for the dawn
8. Cold as ice
9. Kill in the name of love
11. Losing faith
12. The yearning
13. When all is said and done
14. Wild rose (bonus track)
15. Ride to the rainbow's end (bonus track)
16. Breaking the law (bonus track)
Firewind have certainly come a long way since their years as Gus G’s pet project, and have traded in being on the back burner to a variety of other bands for shedloads of touring to maintain a regular cycle of a new CD every couple of years. Unthinkable even a few years back, ‘Days of defiance’ is the 3rd in a row with the same line-up (though doomed to be the last following the departure of drummer Mark Cross) and is a solid enough follow-up to ‘The premonition’, which was itself a nice improvement over the stodgy ‘Allegiance’. I find myself in the minority when it comes to opinion on their 2006 breakthrough CD right enough, so I suppose anything I say in relation to it may have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Everything you would expect from Firewind is present, and although it offers a few unexpected twists, the CD is a continuation down the well-trodden path that has brought the band to where they are today. Gus G shows no signs of losing the creativity in his extraordinary lead playing even if his riffs are maybe becoming a little more predictable, and Bob Katsionis continues to keep him on his toes with some competitive keyboard noodling that sets up a few eye-popping solo duels.
Stylistically, ‘Days of defiance’ is a bit more of a mixed bag than ‘The premonition’, which followed a slightly more organised structure of songs. Just like its predecessor though, the melodic metal/hard rock approach the band have been dabbling in of late is present and correct, along with some satisfyingly heavy crunch. What is a welcome surprise is the presence of some speedy European-style power metal, something Firewind have been gradually edging away from over the years. “Heading for the dawn” is the first of this sort, a Stratovarius-style galloper with all the superlative guitar and keyboard interplay that entails, and a mighty chorus that kicks the CD fully into life after a slightly stop-start opening.
The abandonment of this style has been part of the reason Firewind have slipped down the list of my favourite bands somewhat in recent years, and hearing them in joyous, double-bass-hammering full flight again like this is a heartening experience. There are no individual songwriting credits in the booklet, but Katsionis’ name is all over the sparkling, Sonic the Hedgehog 3-style guitar melody of the masterful “Losing faith” which sounds like a more restrained adaptation of his whirling instrumental solo work.
For a final word on this facet of ‘Days of defiance’, the true closing track before some well-worth-the-money bonus material, “When all is said and done” floats in on a dreamlike intro quite reminiscent of Labyrinth before exploding into a powerful song that burns with the same romantic elusiveness the Italians are best remembered for.
Aside from these songs, which by no coincidence are the standouts, the quality of the CD is in truth a bit up and down. A few of the songs fail to inspire without really doing anything wrong; a couple of choruses don’t exactly ignite things the way they should and sometimes there is lack of unifying drive to pull together the assorted fragments into a cohesive end product.
What makes up for there being a few forgettable songs are the bonus tracks that come with the digibook version of the CD. No throwaway acoustic reworkings these, instead there are 2 high-quality songs that somehow missed the cut for ‘The premonition’ as well as a handy rendition of “Breaking the law”. A roll of the eyes is maybe justified for that last one as it is one of the hardest classic metal songs to put a new spin on, but Firewind succeed through no more than switching the main riff onto keyboards for the first few bars and spicing up the bridge with a couple of solos.
That is just a cute little sideshow to the other 2 extra original songs though. “Wild rose” is a fantastic ballad, quite different to Firewind’s usual approach to the softer stuff with shimmering acoustics and some gentle piano adding a little intrigue, all the while maintaining a nice heaviness that defies the usual expectations.
“Ride to the rainbow’s end” is another stunner, actually one of the fastest and heaviest on the CD, and it makes for a nice marriage of the upbeat Europower and thudding modern heavy metal styles that are prevalent elsewhere. The 3 extra songs in truth probably drag the CD out a little too long, but the quality makes the expanded edition the definitive one and you’d be a fool not spend the extra pound or 2 it takes to get your hands on it.
So while it’s far from Firewind’s best CD – I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that the first 3 will now probably never be topped – it is another worthy addition to their catalogue with some sparkling songs that hold their own with the band’s finest. For big fans of the 2 preceding releases this is a must buy, and there is plenty to enjoy for everyone else too. But, as if the point needed re-stating by now, make sure you go for the digibook.
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