Firewind – Resonate with ConsistencyThursday, 14th May 2020
When it comes to fiery melodic power metal with proper virtuoso elements, you can always depend on Firewind. Ever since the early 2000’s, guitarist Gus G. has made this a mainstay of the scene – even during the years when he ventured into work with Mystic Prophecy, Dream Evil, Nightrage, or Ozzy Osbourne. The latest album is self-titled and the debut for new vocalist Herbie Langhans, who many may know through his work in Sinbreed, Voodoo Circle, or live with Avantasia among others. It’s another sterling example of Firewind doing what they do best – delivering strong songwriting at a variety of tempos, hooks that stay within you for a lifetime, plus strong neoclassical runs and shred-oriented leads from Gus G.
We reached out to Gus G. on Skype and he was happy to bring us up to speed on the activities of the band. You’ll learn more about the deadlines to get the record done, the pivot the band is making with touring activities because of the pandemic – as well as thoughts on how they are handling another significant singer change, whether the imposed live concert shutdown will make people appreciate music more, and the possibilities of developing a book project in this downtime.
Dead Rhetoric: Firewind has a new, self-titled album coming out – the ninth studio record for the band, and first with Herbie Langhans singing for the group. Outside of that difference in terms of his delivery and melodies, where do you see this record and set of songs sitting in the catalog of Firewind? What did you want to get across to the Firewind followers this time around?
Gus G: Well, a good question. I personally think this is one of our best records, I won’t say it is our best – that’s such a cliché. I feel very strongly about this record. The best way I would describe this record is it combines all the elements that sum up the Firewind style since the beginning up to now. You will hear a lot of those elements that shape up our sound and style. Yet there are new elements, probably with Herbie coming in that will bring something fresh and carry us into the future.
Dead Rhetoric: Herbie had to record his material in a very short time-window due to deadlines you were under. How do you think he handled this – and how are you when it comes to specific deadlines and pressure either self-imposed or from outside entities as far as your music?
Gus G: We went through hell to complete the deadlines – and this is all pre-Coronavirus. We still had deadlines, we had a world tour that was about to follow and we wanted to tie it in with this new album. Of course all that now is down the drain. Anyhow, once Herbie stepped in we had about six or seven weeks to complete the whole project. We had the music all recorded and done, but we had to write the lyrics for seven or eight songs, plus the vocal melodies. I had three already, and the rest was up to Herbie. His work ethic was amazing – he worked every day and he would be in touch sending me versions of the songs the whole time. And even though we worked from a distance, he was really quick and really professional. That was also one more thing, another reason why I thought he was the perfect guy for the job.
There was a lot of stress involved, I’m not going to lie. It was a lot of stress, there were a lot of times where I was wondering if this was going to work out. We made it, and I think the result is really good. His performances are great, he worked really hard on the vocal lines. We just didn’t want to throw something together and get it done. We worked really hard even until the last minute.
Dead Rhetoric: Although you didn’t go for a full-concept storyline for the record like Immortals, there is a three-part sci-fi story spread out over the record with the songs “Orbitual Sunrise”, “Longing to Know You”, and “Space Cowboy”. Can you discuss what takes place in terms of the lyrical content, and how it came to be that you spread it out over the track listing rather than have all three songs appear in consecutive order?
Gus G: Sure. The whole idea was I was talking with Herbie, and I said to him at some point – what will we write about? How about this for an idea – write about some sci-fi story where you write about a space odyssey or something. An idea to write about an astronaut that goes up in space and orbits around the earth, his thoughts about humanity and mankind and the overexploitation of nature. And in “Longing to Know You”, that explains him missing his wife and his sons, can’t wait to see them when he gets back. A socio-political type of thing, but through the eyes of an astronaut.
The reason why we spread them out in the track list. It’s not like a continuation – I think “Orbitual Sunrise” and “Longing to Know You” are back to back, but “Space Cowboy” is towards the end. When I put a track list together, I want it to have a good flow together musically. I think about tempos, key changes, and how the overall flow will affect the listeners. That’s more important to me than linking the story of the songs back to back.
Dead Rhetoric: And then when it comes to the song “Overdrive”, that’s a bit of a different song for you to write and develop, it has that Black Sabbath “Heaven and Hell” type feel to it…
Gus G: It was one of those riffs I had, like you mention with a “Heaven and Hell”, “Headless Cross” type of thing. I knew it was a cool song and a little bit different for Firewind, classic traditional metal. I thought with the right vocal line, it still could be a cool song. I sent it to Herbie and here’s the idea with this – outside from what we usually do. He sent me the vocal lines back, and it was right in his ballpark, so good right away. And then he said let’s write this anthem-type of track, a song about the fans and celebrating heavy metal. The drive in all of us, the band, continuing and forging on. It’s nothing new, but if it’s done well, it’s a good song.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you handle the possible criticism that comes about that you’ve now had three different vocalists on successive records? Do you believe you’ve established a certain style and brand being a part of the scene for so long, that most people will focus on the quality and worry less about the stability or situation behind the lineup changes?
Gus G: It’s no secret, it’s not like we are trying to hide and not say that we’ve changed members. Three singers in three records, but it’s overall five singers in our entire career. Look, how many bands have remained the same members for more than ten years? It’s just something that happens, it’s relationships and people change. For me, the brand Firewind is bigger than certain members – without necessarily putting anyone down. I realize that every time that we change members- especially the singer, that is the one that hurts the most because that is sort of the identity of the band. I’ve found over the years that if you have a singer that overall does a good job on the record, even though he may not be a fan favorite, but if you put out consistently good records, people will support you and it will resonate with the audience. It might even bring you a new audience.
The brand is important. Look at Queensrÿche. We just toured with them, they have a great singer in Todd LaTorre. It’s one of those things that he goes up there and wins the fans over every night, and I saw that with my own eyes.
Dead Rhetoric: There are so many bands you can look to that have done this, and had to do it – Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, etc. that can still keep a following from era to era…
Gus G: Yeah. I think it’s about the quality of the work, the music- and of course delivering great shows. If you build a catalog, fans will have their favorites. It’s the same with me, I like certain Sabbath records more than others. That’s all I have to say – it’s going to happen to 99% of the bands out there.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe your outlook, philosophy, or abilities have changed when it comes to your songwriting from the debut Between Heaven and Hell album from 2002 to now – and if so, what areas do you pay more attention to than ever before?
Gus G: I’m not the guy I was when I was 20 or 21 years old. I’ve grown as a person, as a musician, and as a guitar player. I have more experience. If I listen to that first album, I still can hear a lot of core elements that sum up my sound. I could see back then that was a bit more raw version of me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy those records – I still enjoy them and I’m still proud of those albums. You evolve as a musician and as a person – I think every record is important to make. It’s essential to growth, whether it was a good or a bad record. Everything brings you to the point where you are at today, in the present.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering the numerous sub-genres of heavy metal that exist on all sides of the fence from extreme aspects to the more traditional and melodic ones, do you think fans more than ever are embracing and accepting of the diversity – which in terms helps Firewind gain more followers?
Gus G: I think it seems to me there’s a place for everyone. Heavy metal is a niche thing, and within that there are niches in their own little corners, separate corners within each branches of heavy metal. There are all these little sub-genres, and there is a space for what we do and a space for people who want to put in clarinet solos, bagpipes or want to be a pirate, a fairy, or a Satanist who plays black metal. There is room for everyone.
Dead Rhetoric: With Herbie now in the band will it will open up different song choices from the Firewind catalog, especially from the first two albums in a headlining situation – as I’d imagine with nine albums to choose from, the Firewind live set choices don’t get any easier?
Gus G: I would hope so. No, the choices don’t get easier – but I think Herbie would sound great with the first two albums of Firewind, the Stephen Fredrick era. I’d like to bring back some of those songs in our setlist, yeah.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering the worldwide pandemic that we are currently in the midst of, you have to change your plans for the major North American tour with Symphony X and Primal Fear that was on the cards later this spring. How do you as a musician pivot and make the best of this downtime or holding pattern situation – are you choosing to plan ahead, be more creative, or a bit of both?
Gus G: It’s hard to say, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. I don’t want to make panic type of plans, I want to wait and see what is going to happen. Nobody can say right now when touring will be safe again. I’ve been in lockdown, writing a little bit, using my downtime to be more creative and at the same time I don’t really worry about when the next tour will be. I’m in touch with the booking agents, so let’s see. I’ll follow up with them and see what promoters and agents say, and then we will make some decisions.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the touring situation will be even more competitive when we come out of this?
Gus G: Absolutely. In the beginning at least. Think of all the tours that were on the books, cancelled, and are now getting rescheduled. A lot of the tours for the spring are getting booked for the fall, and if you try to compete against the fall schedule, it’s almost impossible. My thoughts are, will these people even be able to tour in the fall? The first few months will be hectic, but eventually things will go back to normal, I’m guessing we will go back to normal.
Dead Rhetoric: Maybe this will force people to pay more attention to the albums and recordings, because of the live aspect being off the table…
Gus G: This is a good thing you are bringing up. One of the reasons why we decided to continue with the planned release, because we had that discussion with our label AFM. Should we postpone the record? No – let’s just put it out there, people still need to hear music, and maybe they will stream it more, maybe they will buy more records. Everybody being at home, they will have to listen to something. Maybe they will appreciate it more. I hope people can give our album, but generally like new music more of a chance now rather than consuming it like a quick burger at McDonalds, you know?
We are forced to stay inside (because of the pandemic) and reflect on what’s important to us now. Think about it- when would you leave all your work, all your business, to sit at home for a month or more? Get back to basics- my health, my loved ones, my family are most important. The music that I love, the books I want to read. Appreciate those things more instead of being on the run, go, go go. Gotta make more money. It is an interesting time for us, as a human race.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe it’s important to take your ‘guitar hero/virtuoso’ status seriously in everything that you do, either on stage or in the studio?
Gus G: I don’t know. I only take it under consideration because I want to keep developing as a player. I don’t let it take over me. I’m aware that people have certain expectations from me, fans and the people who follow my work. I’ve been fortunate to make a living by doing what I love and expressing myself the way that I feel. I think that’s more important – staying true to yourself and not thinking in those terms. I have to be the guitar player of the year- that’s just the ego talking and you need to leave that on the side, especially when you are creating. Express yourself the way you feel you need to, and I guarantee you when you do that, it will always resonate with someone. I don’t know how many people, but somebody else will feel that thing as you do as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Gus G. and Firewind over the rest of 2020 into 2021 as far as activities? Would you ever think about developing a personal documentary of your life or maybe writing an autobiography?
Gus G: Very cool question. If you look at my social media on Facebook a couple of days ago, I posted something from three years ago. The national Greek television channel did a documentary on me. A director who followed me on a couple of tours, they interviewed my family and bandmates- that was broadcasted here on television two years ago. We put it up online now, free to watch. This has already happened, from my humble beginnings up until 2017. I have been contemplating on a book. I’ve talked to a friend/journalist I’ve known many years, a local guy who writes really well. He had come up with the idea – I don’t know if it will be an autobiography specifically or just Firewind stories. Something to do possibly in the next few months.