Firewind – Sub89, Reading, 12-Sep-2011

Sub89 in Reading is gradually building a reputation as a metal venue. Being my local venue, it’s great to be able to see gigs without worrying about travel or accommodation. It also means you can check out unfamiliar bands who you might not have travelled to see. Greek metallers Firewind are such a band; I streamed a few songs on mFlow, liked what I heard, and decided they were worth seeing.

I wasn’t over-impressed with the opening act, but they’re very young and clearly still learning their craft; everyone has to start somewhere. The guitarist with the pink “Hello Kitty” Strat looked rather out of place, as if he’s wandered in from an arty indie-pop band by mistake.

The second support, Sweden’s Wolf were a lot better, playing an entertaining and energetic set. Flying-V wielding Niklas Stålvind comes over as a very engaging frontman, and their music had such strong NWOBHM flavour it was taking me back to the Reading Festival in the early 80s. The song “Kursk”, about the Russian submarine, was very appropriate given the name of the venue.

Headliners Firewind are an archetypal European power-metal band, straightforward melodic songs embellished with the sort of pyrotechnic soloing that people either love or hate about the genre. On this tour they were without lead singer Apollo Papathanasio, although stand-in Mats Levin did such a professional job you’d never have known he wasn’t the band’s permanent singer.

As one ought to expect, lead guitarist Gus G played several air-guitars’ worth of neo-classical shredding over the course of the set, and Bob Katsionis’s keyboard solo was so Rick Wakeman that I thought he ought to have been wearing a cape! The set included no fewer than three instrumentals. On one of them, despite the frenetic soloing, it was the driving bass riff that stood out. Too often the bass gets drowned out by the guitars at metal gigs, here Petros Christo’s playing came through clearly, underpinning the songs.

It all added up to an entertaining evening. Power-metal is never going to be one of my favourite metal sub-genres, but I enjoyed Firewind a lot.  They were tight, played with a huge amount of energy, clearly enjoyed being on stage, and benefited from an excellent sound mix. That’s what makes for a good gig, whatever the genre.

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