If you listen to hard rock or metal in any of its various forms, chances are you’ve heard the fancy fretwork of guitarist Gus G. during recent years. He’s probably most known for his work with his own fantastic band Firewind, which I would probably categorize as power metal if I had to assign them a subgenre. not that I’m particularly good at distinguishing one subgenre from another. To date, they’ve released an impressive seven studio albums and two live releases. Meanwhile, he’s also worked with Dream Evil out of Sweden, Mystic Prophecy out of Germany and Greece’s Nightrage, Greece being Gus’ home country. But his highest profile gig is being Ozzy’s guitarist. His killer, heavy-as-hell work on Ozzy’s Scream album even resulted in a 2010 Grammy nomination. He’s also received lots of accolades from metal and rock magazines, including Guitar Player Magazine’s Best Metal Guitarist, the coveted Dimebag Darrell Shredder award at Metal Hammer’s UK Golden Gods Awards, and Metal Hammer Greece’s Best Guitarist title on four separate occasions.
It seems the idea for Gus to do a solo album came from the fine folks at what is arguably metal’s greatest label, Century Media Records. But it made perfect sense to Gus as he’d already written some songs over the years that didn’t quite fit Firewind — or his various other projects — and he wanted to write more songs of that nature.
I Am The Fire was recorded between Los Angeles and Greece during the second half of 2013 and found Gus working with many of his famous friends, including vocalists Mats Levén (Candlemass, Therion), Alexia Rodriguez (Eyes Set To Kill), Jeff Scott Soto (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, ex-Journey), Jacob Bunton (Adler), Michael Starr (Steel Panther), Blake Allison (Devour The Day) and Tom S. Englund (Everygrey). But not every song on the album has vocals, the record blending hard rock and metal with guitar-driven instrumentals. As for famous musicians, the record features Jeff Friedl (A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, Devo) and Daniel Erlandsson (Arch Enemy) on drums and guest bassists Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, ex-David Lee Roth band) and Marty O’Brien (Tommy Lee, We Are The Fallen). Gus performed all of the guitars and keyboards on the album, as well as bass on the tracks that didn’t feature guest bassists.
While I knew this was an all-star album, like many of Slash’s solo albums, prior to hearing it, I have to admit that I totally forgot that I was listening to a guitarist’s solo album while listening to the first few tracks. It was only about halfway through the first instrumental, “Vengeance,” that I remembered this was a guitar god’s record as Gus played scorching solos over his own solid rhythm tracks while Dave Ellefson played some slick bass guitar alongside him. While “Vengeance” and the other instrumental — the high octane “Terrified” featuring the always amazing Billy Sheehan — are both addictive tracks that entertain without making you feel like you’re listening to a guitarist jerk off — a la some of Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen’s stuff — the songs with vocals are what most dazzled me. Even though there are various singers, the songs fit together well, coming off less like you’re listening to a solo album and more like you’re listening to a great band’s album. Of those songs, I’d have to say that I was most impressed by the four truly awesome tracks featuring vocalist Mats Levén, who’s to Gus what Myles Kennedy is to Slash: an insanely talented secret weapon. If Gus decides to tour for this album, Mats is the guy who should be his vocalist, hands down. The guy has a great voice that falls somewhere in between hard rock and old school heavy metal. I’m not quite sure who to compare his style to because I haven’t really kept up with those scenes so much during recent years, largely because most of those musicians seem to spend half their time doing truly awful tribute albums and can’t seem to hold onto a singer for more than six months at a time. And a lot of those bands’ albums sound really cheesy — and not always in a good way — in retrospect, so I’d probably be doing Mats a real disservice if I compared him to any of those cats. Besides, his voice is unique and that’s one of the reasons those songs are so special. I’m hoping that Gus will start a regular band with him.
As for the other songs on the album, my favorites are easily “I Am The Fire” featuring Blake Allison and his band Devour The Day, and “Redemption” featuring Michael Starr of Steel Panther, one of the few new bands to do hair metal and do it quite well. In fact, clubs like The House of Blues and The Paradise in Boston let Steel Panther play there and they *never* host any other hair bands whatsoever. Not that I like the term hair band, mind you. Those bands used to simply be called heavy metal but nowadays that label seems to only apply to the bands that actually are *heavy* metal like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. In any case, it seems like Blake, Michael and most of the other singers on this album are trying to sound similar to Mats Levén, which could be something Gus asked them to do in order to make a cohesive album, though it’s probably just coincidence. Chances are Gus just picked singers who’d mesh well together. Plus, Gus wrote the songs, so they’re bound to call for a certain type of vocal. There are a couple that stick out like sore thumbs though: “Summer Days” featuring Jeff Scott Soto and “Long Way Down” featuring Alexia Rodriguez. Both of those songs are decent, but they don’t quite fit in with the rest of the album.
Ultimately, there truly isn’t a bad song on I Am The Fire. There are the couple of above-mentioned tracks that don’t mesh well with the others, but even those are solid songs. If you like hard rock — both retro and modern — then I would highly recommend this album. Ditto for fans of hair metal who are looking for something new. And, of course, I’d also recommend this to fans of mind-blowing guitar solos because there are fantastic ones on each and every song on the album.