Gus G – I Am The Fire
Reviewed by Jeff Teets
I feel I should start this review by mentioning that I’ve been a pretty avid fan of Gus G’s work for about a decade now. The first several Dream Evil and Firewind records completely sold me on his ability to play some technical yet tasty solos and write some great songs. I was singing Firewind’s praises for years before the band had any US backing whatsoever. In fact, I saw them play in Reading, PA to a crowd of about 15 people plus straggling members of local support bands in support of Allegiance, my favorite record. I figured that Firewind was on its way to becoming one of my favorite bands, but it seemingly collided with a brick wall around the time of 2010’s Days of Defiance, and just about everything Gus has been doing since then has left me underwhelmed. The occasional song can still grab me, but overall I’ve just been waiting for him to blow me away like Allegiance did back in 2006.
The jury’s still out on Firewind’s next effort (to be fronted by the excellent Kelly Sundown Carpenter), but for now, Gus offers up his first-ever solo album. At first mention of this, my initial reaction was “Why does Gus even need a solo album?” Being the principle songwriter and band leader in all of his projects, a solo album seems bit redundant at first glance. Upon further investigation, it becomes rather apparent that Gus was looking to branch out a bit, stylistically, from what he’s known for, as well as team up with many other names from all over the map. Similarly to Magnus Karlsson’s solo album Free Fall, Gus works with a different singer on just about every track (save for Mats Leven, who makes four appearances).
Like the singers, this album is a mixed bag in every sense of the word. There’s a couple of gems to be found here, which are generally marked by appearances of great names – despite Mats Leven’s tracks being relatively underwhelming (save for the fun and upbeat opener “My Will Be Done”), Evergrey vocalist Tom S. Englund sounds great on the relatively mellow and vibe-y “Dreamkeeper” near the end of the album. Jeff Scott Soto’s vocals propel the 80’s-influenced “Summer Days” to the top of the heap of what this album has to offer: it’s got a memorable chorus, catchy melodies, and is a great song in every sense. The instrumentals (“Vengeance” – featuring Dave Ellefson and “Terrified” – featuring Billy Sheehan) are everything fans of Gus have come to expect from his instrumentals: furious riffing, shred-tastic soloing that still remains relatively tasteful, and an all-around concise format that tends to keep even people not normally thrilled with instrumentals interested. Another pleasant surprise is hearing Steel Panther vocalist Michael Starr sing some serious and surprisingly solid vocals on the track “Redemption”.
With “Redemption”, “Summer Days”, and “Dreamkeeper” forming a trilogy of excellent tracks on the back half of the record, the first half stands as a bit of a train wreck with no outstanding work to speak of. The album starts decently enough, but for the most part we’re treated to Gus G’s attempted foray into modern radio rock. With songs featuring Tennessee-based rock band Devour The Day (title track “I Am the Fire”), post-hardcore band Eyes Set To Kill’s vocalist Alexia Rodriguez (“Long Way Down”), and retro-influenced glam rock band Lynam’s singer Jacob Bunton (“Just Can’t Let Go”), half of this album really just smacks of desperation for an attempted crossover to mainstream success in the American rock radio market. While I admit that the genre as a whole is not my bag, very occasionally I hear some stuff out there that combines accessibility and substance in a ratio that both the general public and I can enjoy. These songs are not examples of that mixture. While Gus does stick in the expectedly-enjoyable guitar solo to break up the monotony, overall the songs just come off as dull, lifeless, and a bit whiny in all of the annoying ways that modern American radio rock usually does.
Overall, what we’re left with here is an album with very little identity at all. The only constant to unite the vastly different pieces of this endeavor is Gus’s guitar playing and a nice, tight, snappy production and mix. Aside from the three tracks mentioned in the previous paragraph, the album really doesn’t bother me, but it merely fails to exceed an average set of expectations, save for maybe 3 or 4 tracks. Despite its name, I Am The Fire fails to reignite that spark of interest I used to have in Gus G’s stuff, despite remaining as big of a fan of his playing as always. I’m guessing the fleeting attempt at crossover success won’t dare rear its head for future Firewind albums, but I still worry that this album represents a deeper flaw in Gus’s work in the past 5 or 6 years, which is a failure to really amaze in any sense, and ultimately comes off a little bit more like a space heater than a roaring fire.
3.0 // 5