Frets of Fury Tour - October 13, 2011 - Wally's Pub, Hampton Beach, NH
By: Matt Coe
Gus G's Firewind
Confusion reigns supreme as to the particular venue that would host the Frets Of Fury tour in New England. When the original tour dates were announced, Rocko’s in Manchester, NH seemed to be the appropriate venue. A few weeks before the show, the venue changed to Wally’s Pub, a couple of streets down from the Casino Ballroom on Hampton Beach, NH. My friend Eric (who would provide transportation and accompany me to the show) warned me that this is quite a tiny bar, possibly enough to hold 200 people at capacity. With the doors opening at 5:30 pm, I got the sense that this would be another case of “get them on the stage, play, 10 minute changeovers” to beat any curfew implications.
To bump up the value for consumers hard-earned dollars, two local bands would briefly showcase their wares for 25 minutes each. The first four-piece Dreamer hail from Rhode Island, and while they may have had a shredding lead guitarist, the other rhythm guitarist who doubled on vocals Christian Shields needs to go back to the drawing board for anything above whispering melody range. His high pitch vocals were like an out of control Ron Keel-meets-Geddy Lee if either had no semblance of staying within key. The second band (name escapes me), played a very furious blend of metalcore-meets-brutal death metal, with a decent sense of songwriting and a vocalist who when laying off the reverb effects, can channel three different distinct parts of his voice- almost like a heavier Chuck Billy meets hardcore screamer.
Nightrage would be the first regular band on the bill, including a guest guitarist in Bill Hudson (ex-Cellador, Power Quest) subbing for Olof Morck for these American dates. Drummer Johan Nunez would be performing double-duty as he also handled the percussion work for the headliners Firewind. As much as I tried to enjoy songs like “Hate Turns Black” and “Delirium of the Fallen” from the new album Insidious and older tracks like “Wearing A Martyr’s Crown” and “Frozen," vocalist Antony Hamalainen seemed stuck in one solid monotone screaming delivery, making his words unintelligible in comparison to his studio work. Such a shame as there is plenty to savor musically about this melodic death metal group.
White Wizzard from California hit the stage next. This is one act I’ve been looking forward to seeing, as they have stellar musicianship and a style that seems to blend the good old 80’s Sunset Strip hard rock times with Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and a touch of early Flotsam and Jetsam. Michael Gremio now handles the lead vocals, and he’s up to the high-pitch velocity challenge. Their six-song set was split evenly between their High Speed GTO EP and Over The Top debut album, along with two new tracks from the yet to be released (at least in America) Flying Tigers. Favorites included “Celestine,” “40 Deuces” and the furious “Fight To The Death”. You won’t hear many bass players as good as Jon Leon these days, and the guitar players easily shred and give you a hefty serving of dual harmonies for your dollars. Closing with crowd favorite “High Speed GTO” (the shuffling parts remind me so much of Dangerous Toys), they seemed to get the small throng of 50-60 patrons abuzz.
Arsis from Virginia took to the stage next, and if nothing else, they know how to give the consumers numerous merchandise choices based on their array of t-shirts and long sleeves at the venue. Good thing that musically they can also punish the audience with their brand of death metal with arpeggio laced, spider web-like passages and jaw dropping solos. Touring without their main vocalist/guitarist Jim Malone, the band didn’t seem to lose any part of their sound through the eight song set list, including a new track “Sense the Shadows” as well as “Forced to Rock” from their last platter Starve for the Devil. Bassist Noah Martin must have neck whiplash after every show, his hair windmills a highlight of their stage show.
By 9:45pm it was time for Firewind, and although the numbers weren’t there as expected for a turnout, the band never let on that they were playing for a small throng, which speaks to the professionalism of guitarist Gus G and crew. Over the course of the next 80 minutes we would take in 15 songs, spanning Firewind’s entire six album discography. Vocalist Apollo P. has more of a gritty edge to his live performance, something that should be taken into account maybe on the next studio album, as it gives his normal smooth melodic delivery more of a Russell Allen bite.
Starting with “The Ark of Lies” from the latest Days of Defiance, the band would dance around the catalog from “Destination Forever” on Between Heaven and Hell to “Kill To Live” off Forged by Fire, but most knew Firewind would concentrate on the Apollo-led years from 2006’s Allegiance forward. Instrumentals like “The Fire and the Fury” and “SKG” would give Apollo a brief respite from his microphone duties, but the crowd still would clap along and scream for the entire stand out solo moments between Gus G and keyboardist/guitarist Bob Katsionis.
Highlights included “Head Up High”, the furious encore start of “Into The Fire” and the power metal flurry from “Heading for the Dawn,” and Gus G was firing his fingers up and down the fretboard to the delight of all guitar mavens in the crowd. The man can play; the band knows how to balance the chops with distinct songs and isn’t stuck in one persistent tempo- all which make for a satisfying performance. You can tell Gus hasn’t let his new guitar gig with Ozzy slow down his commitment and passion for Firewind. I was also very appreciative of the reasonable merchandise prices from the band, so if you get the chance to see this tour in action throw your support in this manner their way.
At the end of the day Firewind have the versatility and songwriting plus exemplary playing ability to deserve their headline status. Great job gentlemen!