Firewind - Stand United

Artist: Firewind

Album Title: Stand United

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 1 March 2024

Four years may have passed since they released their self-titled ninth album in 2020 but, for Firewind, the reality is that very little has changed. Returning with the same line-up and the same, familiar musical output with their tenth release, ‘Stand United’, it’s like the band haven’t missed a beat. It also means that ‘Stand United’ is the kind of album that is comforting and enjoyable in equal measure, precisely because it delivers exactly what you expect, and in exactly the same way as they always have.

We can talk endlessly about bands evolving, pushing boundaries, trying things that are new to both them as musicians, but to the hard rock and heavy metal genres of music in general. And that’s very important, because we always need progression with a small ‘p’, otherwise music can become stale, formulaic, and boring. However, there’s something to be said for those bands that don’t change that much across their careers, steadfastly adhering to their key beliefs and ideas as they do so. Some of these are awful, turgid bands, admittedly. But, when done well, they can be that source of reliability and reassurance. And that’s where Firewind come in.

For over 20 years, the axeman that’s Gus G, formerly the lead guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, has continued to release albums under the Firewind moniker and, whoever is beside him, the results have been solid at worst, but excellent at best. Blending power metal and hard rock together, Firewind has been the vehicle for Gus G to demonstrate his six-string prowess, as well as his knack for strong, memorable songwriting. ‘Stand United’ is no different.

Joined once again by vocalist Herbie Langhans, bassist Petros Christo, and drummer Jo Nunez, the quartet deliver a clutch of new compositions that offer just under three-quarters of an hour of fun. I think it’s fair to say that Firewind will never conquer the world and become as successful as heavy metal’s biggest hitters, but that has never been the aim of the game. And neither has changing the face of music. Firewind write, perform, and record the music that they like, and they do it really consistently and really well.

First off, I love the cover artwork. It’s a deliberate homage to their debut album, that featured artwork based on a painting. This time around, Firewind commissioned Costin Chioreanu to come up with the imagery, and the result is very striking, not to mention wonderfully welcome in a landscape suddenly flooded with ghastly AI imagery. The artwork also ties in nicely to the themes that are discussed within the lyrics, lyrics that touch on the way that the world seems to have become ever more divided, and, as Gus G puts it, ‘out of balance what with environmental disasters, the pandemic, the wars currently raging all over the globe. In such times, it’s more important than ever for mankind to stand close together instead of fighting each other. That’s what ‘Stand United’ is about!’

Firewind - Stand United

On to the music itself and for many of the tracks, it was like at first listen for me. Firewind are never the first name on my lips when asked to name a favourite band regardless of genre. However, when the quartet get it right, they can write a catchy, melodic hard rock/metal track that will rival just about anyone. Exhibit A: ‘Salvation Day’. With a vaguely 80s feel to it, the opening cut from this album starts with cinematic intent before a catchy riff, complete with wailing and exuberant lead work cuts through the speakers, bolstered by a commanding rhythm section. When Langhan’s vocals arrive, they do so surrounded by a pulsing bass and bold nostalgic synth sounds to allow him the limelight initially, before the song builds up around him, culminating in a chorus so ridiculously catchy that on a first listen, it’s like it’s been in your life for years. And it’s made even better, cheekier, and more fun thanks to the lead work that only Gus G can deliver. There’s the ubiquitous lead guitar solo, and final reprise of the chorus whilst the gritty vocals of Langhan lead the band to a close.

The title track benefits from a surprisingly powerful rhythm, double pedal drumming leading a fast, strong riff that fleetingly calls to mind Symphony X from a point of view of the vibrancy and technicality on display. The chorus isn’t as immediately potent as its predecessor, but it grows on you until it becomes almost as irresistible.

For all the fast-paced, hard rocking and powerfully strong metallic elements on ‘Stand United’, I have to give a moment’s pause to discuss one of my personal favourites, ‘Chains’. It’s the quasi-ballad of the album but it’s written in a way that brings a real AOR flavour to it, thanks to the slightly more gentle guitar riffs and the lashings of keys that supplement the melodies and the brilliantly catchy yet moody chorus. I love the emotion that Langhans brings to his performance on the track, too, that lead to a greater sense of committed occasion, especially with the layers of backing vocals behind him.

Elsewhere, ‘The Power Lies Within’ is a slightly more muscular number, whilst ‘Come Undone’ offers more of a straight-up power metal flavour, especially thanks to the galloping rhythms and bold synth embellishments. I’m not really a fan of the cover version of The Romantics’ ‘Talking In Your Sleep’, and I do wonder a little about the choice of ‘Days Of Grace’ as the closer, as it’s not the strongest way to end the record. The acoustic guitar-led track is nicely done but I would have much preferred a more up-tempo and hard rocking song to bring the album to a close.

Nevertheless, these minor criticisms cannot detract too much from what is a really enjoyable listening experience overall, and another very worthy addition to the Firewind back catalogue. You know what you’re going to get with ‘Stand United’, but I defy you not to like what you hear for the most part – these consummate pros know what they are doing and they do it very well indeed.  

The Score of Much Metal: 86%



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