Nuclear Blast Records (2012)
Often key members’ tragic deaths signal a crossroad moment in a band’s career. For Led Zeppelin and John Bonham, it meant the end of their recording/touring activities. For AC/DC and Bon Scott, the other members of the group moved forward with Brian Johnson as singer and would record one of the biggest selling hard rock albums of all time with “Back In Black”. So moving forward from the sad motorcycle death of singer Steve Lee has not been easy for veteran Swiss hard rockers Gotthard - but they’ve found a new vocalist with Nic Maeder, who was living in Australia but shares their Swiss heritage. “Firebirth” is their tenth studio platter and an important junction in their successful career- will Gotthard keep their fervent following or will many cast themselves away to other younger and possibly more creatively vibrant artists?
The first video for the opening cut “Starlight” proves Gotthard isn’t afraid to return to its more basic, stripped down hard rock roots, the arrangement featuring breezy background vocal harmonies and an infectious guitar/drum groove that reminds me of classic Aerosmith. “Remember It’s Me” should appeal to the ballad-oriented fans of the group, Nic giving a heartfelt, melodic David Coverdale-ish performance and the band using slight keyboard orchestration to emphasize the heavier portions of the bridge and chorus. Leo Leoni and Freddy Scherer lay down a series of steamrolling mid-tempo riffs that are in the classic 70’s mold as the solo work within “Fight” makes an air guitar hero out of those who desire to mirror the bends, picking, and ringing notes.
Gotthard excel at getting to the hook of a song quickly, and then building upon it so that your body and mind movement are symbiotic: best examples on “Firebirth” include the swanky “S.O.S.” and feel good up tempo “I Can” where Nic stretches his bluesy range. The final song is an acoustic tribute “Where Are You” for their former singer, and one I predict will bring many a tear through the band and audiences if performed on their upcoming tour.
So fear not Gotthard legions, “Firebirth” assures the quintet lead the current melodic hard rock brigade.
Rating: 5 / 6
Composed by Matt Coe