(Century Media)

01. Allegiance
02. Insanity
03. Falling to Pieces
04. Ready to Strike
05. Breaking the Silence
06. Deliverance
07. Till the End of Time
08. Dreamchaser
09. Before the Storm
10. Essence
11. Where Do We Go from Here?

RATING: 9/10

You may have heard of Greek guitar hero Gus G. from his participation in MYSTIC PROPHECY, NIGHTRAGE, and DREAM EVIL. Or maybe you caught him live as a fill-in guitarist with ARCH ENEMY during last year's North American tour. Well he's no longer a member of any of the first three bands so that he could devote most of his attention to what is perhaps the world's most underrated power/traditional metal bands, FIREWIND. Now that the band's fourth album, "Allegiance" will be given a proper North American release on January 23, it is time for those of you who haven't experienced the excellence of this Greek outfit to get on board. 2005's "Forged By Fire" upped the quality ante considerably, but "Allegiance" is Gus and company's masterpiece. If you want monster riffs, blazing solos, infectious melodies, and all-around metal explosiveness, then look no further than "Allegiance".

One of the reasons for the album's magnificence is new singer Apollo Papathanasio who replaces Chity Somapala. He is everything that you'd want from a melodic metal singer and quite simply is the perfect vocalist for FIREWIND. His style borrows heavily from classic British heavy metal singers of old: powerful, tuneful, and always in firm command of the song's melodies. At several points along the way he reminds of a young David Coverdale and captivates the listener just as a front man should.

Making your way through the album you'll not ponder which are the album's highlights, but which songs are not highlights (answer: there are no disappointments). An expert mix of incredibly hook-laden melodies with absolutely crushing metallic heaviness is the key, the title track perhaps the quintessential example of the combination with its raging delivery and splendid backing-vocal supported chorus. The album's purest heavy metal anthem in the aforementioned classic British heavy metal sense is "Ready to Strike", an up-tempo ripper that wouldn't have been out of place on a vintage MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP album. Even here, the song breaks for an alluring, piano-led section before the sparks begin flying again.

The disc's melodic gems come by way of the upbeat "Insanity", "Falling to Pieces" with its prominent keyboard melody (an instrument tastefully utilized throughout the disc), and the album-closing "Where Do We go from Here?" The latter tune is right up there with melodic beauties like "Brother's Keeper" from 2003's "Burning Earth", the main riff recalling the SCORPIONS (think "Big City Nights"). It is one worthy of playing over and over again; Papathanasio nails the melody in a big way! Add to that list a soothing track called "The Essence", as well as the heartfelt "Deliverance" with its acoustic guitar accompaniment and vaguely EVERYGREY vibe. Finally, "Breaking the Silence" marks a first for FIREWIND in that female singing sensation Tara joins "Papathanasio" in an inspiring duet on the modern rocker.

"Allegiance" is a grand slam…period. You'll be hard pressed to find a match for it, no matter how many power/traditional metal albums are released this year. It's a sure bet to make my Top 10 of 2007 list. It's a complete album to which you'll keep returning, whether for the fiery metal grandeur or the amazingly catchy melodies. All hail FIREWIND!


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