Paying homage to the epic motion picture “300” is a challenging undertaking. Fortunately for the Greek power metal act FIREWIND, their leader Gus G. had already made an ally who can help them bring the epic Battle of Thermopylae to the screen and visualize their epic new track “Ode to Leonidas”. Their upcoming album “Immortals” is available January 20th via Century Media Records.
Serbia may not have a big mainstream metal band familiar to the community around the world, but we do have a video production team that helped put Serbia on the heavy metal map. The people behind the iCode team got many bands and their publishers talking about this East European country. Their journey into this business started with a band called Deathstars. The team now has around 70 metal music videos under their belt and countless other music videos mainstream pop artists have recorded with them. As a huge fan of their work I always dreamed of seeing how the team helped Avantasia and Kamelot visualize their music behind the scenes. Fortunately, we got the opportunity as the team had invited us to see the Greek metal powerhouse FIREWIND record their latest video.
Their leader and guitar player Gus G. already had the chance to work with the team and shoot a video off of his second solo album “Brand New Revolution”. The video for his instrumental “The Quest” boasts impressive scenes brought to life through the fantastic use of special effects. The video has it all: from the computer-animated robotic spider straight out of big Hollywood movies to the scenes where Gus kills his enemies with a guitar, which just might become his trademark.
“I think we’re going to continue the saga when I do a new solo video, a new instrumental. I was talking to Staća, we need to continue the adventure, keep the spider robot. Maybe it could be the adventures of Gus and Spider Robot in Outer Space”, Gus said laughing.
Gus was so thrilled with the final result that he decided to bring the rest of his Firewind pack with him this time. The band Gus founded back in 1998 decided to seek help from our team in portraying the scenes inspired by the Battle of Thermopylae, which is one of the central themes of their upcoming concept album titled “Immortals”. For those who didn’t pay attention at the history classes, the Battle of Thermopylae was a part of the Greco-Persian Wars and has gone on to inspire many artists, including Frank Miller who depicted the battle in his comic-book simply titled “300”. The same comic inspired the eponymous Hollywood blockbuster directed by Zack Snyder.
Gus explains the concept: “We are making a concept album about the Greco-Persian war in 480 BC. It’s mainly focusing on the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis, the navy battle. Each song has something to do with the story: there is a song about Xerxes, there is a song about the Oracle and Leonidas. There’s a song called ‘Live and Die by the Sword’ which describes the final battle where the Persians surround and slay the Spartans because Ephialtes betrayed them.” Gus goes on to talk about what makes this album different compared to their previous releases: “There are two major differences. The one is obviously that we have a new singer, so it’ll sound a bit different. And the second difference is that it is a concept album, our first one. When it comes to the other stuff, I think this album combines all the elements Firewind is known for: the riffs, some of the keyboard stuff, the arrangements, shredding solos, trading leads with the guitar and keyboards, big choruses and catchy stuff”.
“Immortals” marks a triumphant return for the band five years after their previous output “Few Against Many”. The band has since welcomed Henning Basse, a German singer, into their ranks. “It’s my kind of music”, Basse claims enthusiastically. “In Sons of Seasons, I was trying out different things, singing in mid-range, in a more aggressive tone and melodic. This is pure… There’s no power metal or traditional, it’s pure metal that I’m used to and that I love.” The singer then goes into explaining how he fit the ranks of the Greek band: “It felt natural singing those songs in the studio. It was made easier by working with Dennis Ward because he’s a good producer and a great person.”
The new album is not only their first concept album but also the first time the band enlisted help from an outside producer. The topic of the album is more than appropriate. Gus explains how the band got the idea to base their album on the Greco-Persian Wars: “It’s something we’ve been talking about for a few years. Our bass player Petros Christodouldis kept saying that. This is our heritage and our history. A lot of people have done it, Americans, British, Swedish and whoever, but not Greeks. Maybe some Greeks have done it, but not at the level of international establishment that we have. It was something that we have talked about for years, but then the band took a break for three years and I went on to do the solo stuff. And when the time came to put the band back together I was collecting ideas here and there. I knew I had good music, but what the fuck should the lyrics be about. And then we talked about it and the guys said maybe it’s time to bring back the idea of Thermopolis and ‘300’“.
However, the album almost ended up not following a concept, but rather the theme of great Greek warlords. “In the beginning, we were toying around with ideas, maybe we should do an album about ancient Greek warlords, one song about Alexander the Great and one song about Leonidas or Achilles. But in the end, we narrowed it down to the ‘300’ story and the Salamis battle”, Gus recalls. Basse reveals that even though he may not be Greek, he’s not a stranger to the topic as well: “In my childhood, we had the chance to read some stories about the Greek wars with our teacher. He made some very soft version of the stories, no blood or anything.”
The recording was already in full swing when we arrived. The studio was set in a building you might easily miss (which we did) if not for the sound of music just barely breaking through the isolated walls, even so upsetting the peace and dead silence of this suburban landscape. Our hosts gave us access to the entire compound, and we gladly took the offer and took the opportunity to see Gus recording his parts. Clad in black stage gear with black paint across his face, the guitar player radiates authority while performing in front of an imaginary crowd. But instead of thousands of crazy fans, on the other side of his stage were the camera crew, director Ivan Čolićand us. “Give me a few minutes to change”, the guitarist greets us, still full of energy.
Sitting in the lobby was keyboard player Bob Katsionis, ready to stand in front of the great green screen next. In the middle of the radioactive-green room was his set of keyboards decorated with battle spears, shields and banners. The bright red color of the fabric was a sure hint of the topic of the video. That bloody-red color has “300” screaming all over it. The latest Bring Me The Horizon video was playing on the TV while we discussed music and bands like Mastodon and Ghost. What else would a bunch of metalheads talk about these days?
Coming back from the dressing room, Gus seems extremely glad to be out of his “uniform”. Trading it for a long sleeve and jeans, the guitar player joined our music video banter. “Everything more or less has been done before. And we as a band have done a lot of videos, a lot of good performance videos. But that has been overdone. I think people are looking for that something extra, something different. Everybody’s looking for something over the top, or they get bored easily. Like with any video, not just metal videos, you need a good band”, he adds.
But what is it that makes a music video a good metal video? “Leather studs, loud guitars, and all that shit, I could give you a cliché answer. But a good video needs to have good aesthetics. Or if you are going to go for cheesy aesthetics go 100% for that. A lot of people think Firewind is a cheesy band, and I think it’s a compliment. If you think that we’re that and we’re doing it the right way and going all the way, great.”
“Like I said this is a concept album. This is not something for the masses, this is something for people that like that shit. If you like metal and swords and battles and shredding this is your video. But it hasn’t been done in a good way. I always look at how the stuff is done, the editing, the angles, is the green screen stuff good or cheap shit and all kinds of stuff. And there’s the thing when the singer looks good and the guitar player looks good, but the rest of the band look like homeless bums”, the guitarist laughs. “Everyone has to be on the same page and perform at the same level. The band and the crew, the director and editor, they make a good video together.”
Talking about music videos, I couldn’t help but wonder: who are you doing this for? Back in the day metal videos were a huge part of promoting a band. There were days when the only way you could pick up a new band was by seeing their video on shows like The Headbanger’s Ball. Nowadays, the chances of a video like this being aired on any channel are pretty slim. Still, huge bands like Metallica still focus their promotion efforts on music videos, recently publishing one for each song off of their latest record. So are metal videos a format belonging to the past? The guitarist weighs in: “I think that YouTube is a great tool. Today we have so much more freedom and you don’t have to depend on a channel that wants to cut your video because there’s too much nudity, or too much this or that. Of course, YouTube has rules, but you can basically do whatever you want. I think it’s a good platform, like Facebook and million different platforms you can show your videos on these days. There are so many ways to reach people. You don’t have to follow a format, you do what you want and have pure artistic freedom, and it’s amazing.”
We couldn’t resist asking what made them decide to work with iCode and trust them with visualizing their new video. Gus explains: “This is my second time working with iCode, and it’s really easy. For me the only challenge is to perform well – we don’t have to worry about anything. Ivan and the team know exactly what scenes they are shooting, which angle, what’s coming when. They don’t fuck around or go let’s try this or that. There’s no improvisation, everything is already set. When we come in we are expected to perform and when we do it, they do their part. Then they send you the end result and you’re like oh fuck and you have a great video. That was my experience with them on ‘The Quest’ video and it seems like it’s going to be the same thing tonight.”
The guitar player tries little to hide his excitement as he goes on: “They are really well prepared, they know what each angle will look like. It’s like Ivan already has the movie finished in his mind before. There’s no discussion with him like maybe I should do this. It’s like stand here and do this. He knows what he needs from you, which is very cool.”
While we were chatting, Bob Katsionis already finished his work for the day, and it was Basse’s turn to perform. After the director explained the gestures and the movements he wants to capture very graphically, Bassestepped into the frontman role in front of the great green screen. I asked him how he manages without a mic, a stand or the audience, and he has the answer: “We did that before with Sons of Seasons, and I had no microphone stand there too. You need to get used to it, but after a while, it works out really well. You have to perform with your hands and act like that.”
You might think that we might be fed up with “Ode To Leonidas” after hearing the tune so often from the loudspeakers as the members recorded their parts. Instead, we grew very fond of the tune which crawled so deep under our skin we had the impression that we had heard it many times before and went on to hum the melody for the rest of the evening.
After all the band members recorded their parts, it was the Spartans’ turn to shine. Dressed in spectacularly rendered costumes, the actors marched triumphantly into the studio to record their shots that were understandably much more demanding. Unfortunately we did not stick around to see the epic battles performed and recorded, but we did get a chance to witness the briefing and hear all the little details that made these scenes so impressive – details we will not be sharing, as we should leave just a bit of the magic of this spectacular music video behind the scenes and screens, where it belongs.