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Just put out another Firewind album Gus!!! - 60%

hells_unicorn, October 7th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Century Media Records (Digipak)

It should be stipulated to anyone approaching Gus G's material that his prowess as a guitarist and his ability to juggle multiple projects are without question, thus any inferiority in his studio work will tend to fall upon either questionable associations with other musicians or a lack of effort in songwriting, though the latter of these two is usually not a problem for this Greek born virtuoso either. For the most part, Gus' approach to musical composition has erred on the side of being heavily formulaic and predictable, to the point of writing pop-oriented songs with a heavier sound and more flashy detailing, particularly insofar as Firewind's latter day albums have been concerned. But with longtime vocalist Apollo Papathanasio out of the picture and Firewind consequently on a short hiatus, combined with the last Ozzy studio album being released 4 years ago, one of the busiest guitarists in metal these days needs an additional outlet, thus we've come to the resurrection of Gus' long abandoned self-titled expo project for something a bit different.

To put it plainly, I Am The Fire is Gus' answer to the last few Avantasia albums, reinterpreted into his own guitar oriented style, but still flirting with rock radio a bit too much and mincing a winning formula into smaller, easier to digest pieces. A large collection of who's who types from the past and present have been enlisted to put together what is essentially an amalgamation of a super-group and a solo project, and the result, while a bit less schizophrenic than The Scarecrow, suffers from similar problems of conflicting identity. At times this album hits with about the same amount of intensity and fury as The Premonition and Days Of Defiance, sometimes even leaning back into the early glory days of Between Heaven And Hell where Gus' guitar chops were at their fanciest, but at others this thing just unnecessarily wanders off into modern alternative rock territory, resulting in something that almost resembles Nickelback at times, particularly when some of the more questionable vocal characters enter the scene.

To give credit where credit is due, a lot of the vocalist choices that Gus went with on here are respectable, though some of them seem to function as token inclusions for name recognition. Mats Leven, whose past work with Malmsteen, At Vance and ongoing work with Candlemass make him an obvious choice for repeated vocal appearances, of which he has 4 on this album. Most of the songs he appears on tend to be down tempo and rock groove oriented, but the opener "My Will Be Done" is a bit up tempo and starts the album on a positive note, whereas the other songs are musically adequate, but lack intricacy apart from the lead guitar breaks. Mike Starr of Steel Panther, who listens like a slightly less gravely version of Leven, also makes an appearance on here with a solid up beat rocker in "Redemption", a song that listens the most like a Firewind song save the instrumental offerings. With regard to the instrumentals, "Terrified" essentially breaks out of Gus' mold in the opposite direction and listens like a super-technical power/thrash instrumental and all but upstages every technical display he's offered in the past, while "Vengeance" is a bit more laid back and groovy, but still loaded with plenty of tasty guitar treats.

Sadly, the aforementioned solid to exemplary moments above constitute about half of this album, and it is shadowed by a strong helping of mediocrity and banal alt. rock-infused rubbish. The appearances of Tom Englund and Jeff Scott Soto are not an unwelcome occurrence if judged by their vocal performance alone, but the music that surrounds them essentially exaggerates their respective sounds with their other well known projects to the point of unintentional parody, with Englund's ballad "Dreamkeeper" being the slightly less annoying offering, but still heavily steeped in Evergrey cliches minus the tact. But where things truly fall apart is the disastrous title song "I Am The Fire", featuring alternative rock hack vocalist and quasi-rapping poseur Blake Allison singing over a shitty song that sounds lifted off a reject from a Papa Roach session. A similar story is told with the aped Lacuna Coil homage "Long Way Down", though the vocalist is a bit less grating and the music is more contrived than outright terrible. Someone should also rip that acoustic guitar out of Gus' hands because he's using it enough to morph just under half of these songs into ballads.

When this album is on, it sounds like Firewind, but when it's off, it sounds like something that no metal guitarist should be touching with a 50 ft. pole. If there is any silver-lining to this confused little album, it is that it may lead to Mats Leven being recruited for the next Firewind album, which would be a great outcome if it can be reconciled with Candlemass' schedule. This might cut it as a 2nd hand grab for die-hard fans of Gus' guitar playing, but it's way too confused to warrant a double digit dollar purchase. Hopefully Gus got all the pop/rock out of his system, or otherwise, at least keeps this stuff out of Firewind's next album.

He is fire. He is wind. He is... lame? - 63%

sadun_tryst, April 12th, 2014

Woot, here’s another trip to solo waters. Gus G, a well known and renowned guitarist of Firewind fame has decided that being in two bands is not enough (second one is Ozzy Osbourne), so he has released a solo album entitled I Am The Fire. I have decent amounts of respect for his work so I kinda expected a lot from this album, possibly more that I could have hoped to get. However, I clearly am not that big of a fan because until today I didn’t even know that this is actually his second solo album, first being Guitar Master, released 13 years ago, before the fame and everything.

So, to get one thing straight, I Am The Fire is not a copy of Firewind. But, as IAtF goes into a bit more commercial and radio-friendly waters, not everyone will be pleased. On some moments album even sounds like a cross-breed between Avenged Sevenfold and Lacuna Coil, to put it bluntly. I mean, why settle with songs that literally show only 5% of your possibilities? Why sing some alt-nu-commercial-bullshit type songs like the title song “I Am The Fire” – alongside with Devour The Day - currently “in” alt rock band?

Speaking of guest appearances, the whole album is based on them. Jeff Scott Soto (TSO, ARP, Yngwie), Tom Englund (Evergrey), Michael Starr (Steel Panther), David Ellefson (Megadeth), Mats Levén (Candlemass, Yngwie) are just some of the names and I do not think I need to go on further. The team is top notch, and I must emphasize bass players, not necessarily because of their performance (it is great, of course), but for the simple reason that instrumental pieces on which they play are best parts of this album. “Vengeance” (Ellefson) and “Terrified” (Sheehan) are huge reminder of a mandatory instrumental tracks from first few Firewind albums.

“Dreamkeeper” is by far the biggest disappointment on the album, the song is painful experience, contrived, soulless and unnecessary, and Englund sounds like he is singing under duress. “Eyes Wide Open” and “Just Can’t Let Go” are no better. And I’m quite sure sure people won’t wait in line to hear “Long Way Down” too…

But, enough with bad things. “Redemption” is fast paced hard rocking song and Starr is doing his job pretty well here. Just like the opening song “My Will Be Done” and the aforementioned instrumental pieces. “End Of The Line” is a very good choice for closure, a little slower thing with very good solo and chorus pleasing to your ears. It’s emotional just enough that it doesn’t sound sleezy. And, before I forget, about the songs that I mentioned earlier as inferior, almost all have a solid solos, but, there is little consolation in that when the rest is rubbish.

In the end, I have no idea what to think. In one hand, it’s nice to see that Gus didn’t just copy-pasted Firewind style on his solo work. On the other hand, why the hell did he go that far into commercialism? I understand that a man wants to attract a new audience, or to try something new, but come on, you already have an audience! Or maybe there’s more to it, I don’t know. His choice, I guess…

I Am The Fire is definitely not for everyone, not for (most) fans of Firewind, and not for all alt-rock fans. A title led us (or at least me) to believe that this will be a real treat for guitar shredding lovers, but instead we got a few soulless songs that would have sounded a lot better as instrumentals, we got couple of real instrumentals, and we got two or three other songs worth getting our attention. This is short summary of I Am The Fire and you decide will you buy it or not.

Radio rock at points. Purely amazing at others. - 70%

PowerProg_Adam, March 20th, 2014

It is always hard to know what to expect when guitarists have solo albums, especially when they are already pretty much the leader of their main band. Will it be their attempt at something experimental, a chance to do vocals, or will it be a complete festival of shred. When it comes to Greek guitar virtuoso it almost seems like life couldn’t get much better. His own band Firewind has steadily been releasing albums for years and he is now probably more known as the guy who replaced Zakk Wylde in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. When reading that he was due to put out a solo album titled I Am the Fire (which in itself to me signifies his leadership of Firewind), I had no idea what to expect or why he was doing so.

On paper I Am the Fire seems extremely impressive, with a wide array of guest musicians from Mats Leven, Tom Englund of Evergrey, Jeff Scott Soto, and even oddly enough Steel Panther’s Michael Starr. A couple of the tracks even had the bass laid down by legends David Ellefson and Billy Sheehan. Then we get thrown a curve ball in terms of expectations by the several tracks with guests from more modern bands such as Devour the Day, Eyes Set to Kill, and Lynam. The only thing left to do to find out where your expectations were met is to actually listen to the album.

Realizing that Mats Leven, who has been in several technically proficient bands such as Yngwie Malmsteen and At Vance, is on four songs seems like the logical place to begin an analysis of the album. From these tracks I can easily see what Gus was trying to do with this project. He is trying to get more mainstream success without alienating Firewind’s fanbase. Every track with Leven is very similar. They are all pretty much 3 to 4 minute Guns N’ Roses meets Buckcherry sleazy sounding rock and roll tunes. That seems to have always been a huge craze and I can honestly understand why Gus would choose to write songs like this. What I don’t really understand is why someone of Gus’s ability minimizes on the complexity of the riffs and plays pretty basic by the numbers guitar solos in several of the songs. Out of the Leven fronted tracks End of the Line is definitely the bright spot. It has a very laid back vibe to it, is a little more memorable than the other four and Gus’s guitar playing really starts to shine. The solos are very melodic, yet intricate and soulful and its honestly one of the best tracks on the album.

The next logical tracks to check out are the two with the guests from the up to date radio rock sounding bands Devour the Day and Eyes Set to Kill. I Am the Fire and Long Way Down both sound like something that could easily be a hit on the radio. Both are a little repetitive and have that “life is hard” kind of lyrical content that most popular rock bands of today seem to have. Neither of these tracks are anything I would think most fans of Firewind would appreciate, but I could see them garnering some mainstream attention although myself would not normally listen to songs like this. Just Can’t Let Go with Jacob Bunton of Lynam on vocals can very easily fall into the same category as these two as well.

What I am least surprised to see on this album is that there are two absolutely shredding instrumental tracks which oddly enough are the ones with Ellefson and Sheehan playing bass on them. Vengeance and Terrified are what I expect to see on any guitar virtuoso’s solo albums. I am usually not the hugest fan of instrumental tracks, but both tracks are phenomenal, especially Terrified, which is just a huge wall of speed and technical ability while maintaining a flow that is memorable, which is what made me fall in love with Gus’s guitar playing several years ago.

The last part of my analysis is the tracks I expected to love solely on who the guests on them were. Redemption sounds nothing like what I would expect from the vocalist of Steel Panther and from the vibe from several other songs on the album. Starr’s few high notes he hits on this track are pretty amazing, but its honestly not the most memorable of songs. The guitar solo is once again is very nice though, extremely fast and probably one of the longer solos on the album. Summer Days with Jeff Scott Soto actually does sound like it could be a Firewind song. Its a mid-paced melodic rock tune and is extremely memorable. This is easily one of the best songs on the album and the one guitar solo that probably has the most emotional feel to it from any of the album. Dreamkeeper is actually the first song I listened to because I have always loved Tom Englund’s blend of dark, yet emotional vocals. He is easily one of the most soulful metal vocalists I have ever heard and definitely doesn’t disappoint on this. It actually sounds like it could be an Evergrey song and is a unique almost power ballad-ish sounding song. The song fades out with a lot of very emotional sounding guitar work as well. Honestly this track is the highlight of the album and I really wish more songs on the album were like this. It was great to see Gus and Tom working together again since all those years ago in Nightrage. I really hope that they record a full album together sometime in the future.

After completely listening to the album I am a little more impressed by it than I first thought. There are a wide variety of songs for pretty much any fan of hard rock and metal and a couple of fantastic instrumental pieces. Not all of the songs are things I would normally listen to, but I definitely must admit that 2 or 3 songs really drive this album, especially Summer Days and Dreamkeeper. I would not be opposed to another Gus G. solo album in the future. This has a lot to offer several types of music listeners, but of course I highly doubt most people would like all of it. The three or four phenomenal tracks greatly increase the rating of this album.