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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.