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After being nearly destroyed by the awful musical nuclear bomb that was Dimensions, Empyreal regrouped in a molecular fashion in the far end of the cosmos…three years later, at the exact time of the release of Freedom Call’s next album. He gaped in horror as the abomination hovered closer, radiating with such a terrible animosity…would this finally be the end of him? No more reviews or fun times to be had? Football season was over. All the cheerleaders had hung up their pom-poms and were going back home through the snow. Was this really it? It felt so anti-climactic…
Ahem. So this is the latest exploitation of metal from bullshit artists Freedom Call, consistent only in their quest to never be consistent in their music. I mean, what is this band trying to do? Ever since Eternity they’ve been stumbling around tripping over their own instruments, apparently trying to be “artsy” or something. Nothing they’ve done in the last few albums has sounded anything like the album before it. It’s like how a kid will crumple up a sheet of drawing paper after he messes up too many times, starting over. But that isn’t enough to sum up this conundrum of confounding confusion – let’s just listen to Legend of the Shadowking and get this all over with.
Freedom Call mostly just need direction – badly, if I might add. This album is at least not as annoying as Dimensions, but it really doesn’t seem to go anywhere. They experiment a bit with some darker motifs and heavier songs, but they also seem to be trying to write stuff like their early material again. Which one is it, guys? Which one is it? Opener “Out of the Ruins” is just kind of there, with a catchy chorus backed up by some of the lightest, most transparent music I’ve ever heard that could still be called ‘metal.’ I mean…this is just so wimpy that I can’t believe it. It’s not bad, but it certainly isn’t something I’d consider very powerful. Since, you know, this is Power Metal after all!
Then “Thunder Gods” comes up, and I also kind of like this chorus, but the verses and riffs just sound so much like Helloween that it’s uncanny in the worst way. And it’s got those lame chug riffs at the end…I seriously just don’t get this band. Honestly, this is some of the most bewildering stuff ever. Nothing goes together. It’s like a bunch of parts from different puzzles put together in the same box. “Merlin – Legend of the Past” is another lightweight song with a decent chorus that I think they stole from some song in their back catalog, I can’t be sure, but it’s still about one of the better songs on here.
The only songs that even come close to being legitimately good, and standing on their own feet, are the four darker experimental tracks that the band has introduced. Starting with “Under the Spell of the Moon,” which is probably my favorite on here with its elegantly dark harmonies and foreboding crooning from the vocal front, we get a host of songs from this band that are…actually interesting and not stupid? I’m having a hard time believing it. “Dark Obsession” is a creepy, Helloween-ish romp that actually uses that influence to Freedom Call’s credit rather than just sounding like a ripoff. It’s got a pretty cool chorus and some eerie chords that sound surprisingly ominous. “The Darkness” is coolly dark and refreshing, with good riffs and menacingly dark theatrics, and the faux-title track has some of Chris Bay’s best vocals in years. Very cool.
However, the stuff surrounding these songs is just as silly, meandering and lame as anything else the band has done lately. Yeah, nice work, guys; just HAD to keep sucking, huh? “Resurrection Day” and “Tears of Babylon” are boring and poorly constructed respectively (although alright, I do find myself liking “Tears of Babylon” a little more than I care to admit…), and “Remember!” just goes nowhere at all, with a dull chorus to boot. The reprise of “Merlin” is just completely random and useless, as is the “Ludwig” thing – serves no purpose at all. All of these songs just sound like random mish-mashed demo tracks stuffed into the album just to make it longer. You had three years, guys; couldn’t you try a little harder to give us some good stuff? You already proved that you can with those four good songs I mentioned above, so what the hell? It’s seriously baffling. They sounded so fucking good on the songs I listed above, but the rest of this album is just disposable Power Metal-lite crap like everything else they’ve done since the early 00s. This makes no sense, and further proves that Freedom Call have just lost their fucking minds altogether.
And we finally hit the rock bottom I expected from this band after Dimensions with the last two abortions, as these are just terrible, and I mean terrible. Oh, good, you haven’t forgotten how to write sleazy power-rock-excrement yet; exactly what we needed. God, I wish I could just wipe this shit from my brain. “Kingdom of Madness” is full of smarmy, overly sleek riffs and a really loud, obnoxious chorus stuffed to the brim with fluffy choirs too overwrought to be entertaining at all. It’s really moments like this when I just have to look at iTunes and wonder what the fuck the band was thinking…we got fake crowd cheering, we got acoustic rock strumming, we got 80s glam vocals in the chorus…er, did I accidentally put this thing on shuffle again? Nope, this band is just plain fucked up.
“A Perfect Day” harkens back to the annoying “whoah-whoah-oh-oh” noises from “Mr. Evil,” with dumb lyrics and a shitty, jokey chorus just as bad as anything on their last album. What a load! “The biggest, the best, better than the rest”? What is this, Smash Mouth? A 90s arena rock backdrop for a baseball game? A wrestling anthem? It sure as hell doesn’t sound like lyrics I’d expect out of a Freedom Call album. Really, really stupid.
This band is just…confusing, mostly. There are only a couple moments on here I really hate, but it’s all just so jumbled and unfocused that I have a hard time even enjoying the really good moments. I think this band needs to quit trying to experiment. They are just not good at it. The most memorable parts on this end up being the bad songs, which just doesn’t bode well at all. Try again, Freedom Call; maybe that one last good album is coming up after all.
Much like the famed Jell-O slogan, at least as far as I’m concerned, there is always room for Freedom Call. If Gamma Ray is just a little too guitar oriented for you, and Luca Turilli’s various projects have more keyboards solos and orchestral elements than you can handle, they make a pleasant middle ground that straddles the divide that exists between speed metal and AOR. The band emits an aura of confidence and excellence that avoids becoming an overbearing show of technical prowess (something that I personally don’t mind, but most tend to get tired of) and puts an emphasis on memorable themes. They rely on the most obvious clichés within the rock and metal arsenal, but more often than not it is these clichés that get remembered while the ambitious art pieces are often only appreciated by a limited and more eccentric audience.
Since the closing of their famed Taragon saga, which spanned 3 full length albums and an EP, they’ve been a bit off their game in some areas. But “Legend Of The Shadowking” sees many of the older elements that won them their place amongst the Power Metal legions returning in full force. The flashing speed of late 80s Helloween meets the bombastic choruses of Queen are at the helm once again, the experimental ventures into more recent Rock conventions of the past two albums are limited, though still present, and the conceptual lyrical approach to album creation has returned, albeit with a historical tinge in line with Labyrinth’s “Sons Of Thunder” rather than the familiar Sci-Fi/Fantasy themes.
There is a solid collection of epic drenched majesty wrapped into several sub-5 minute packages to be found here, aching with hooks that hearken back to classic speed anthems as “Call Of Fame” and “The Eyes Of The World”. Right at the opening of the album, “Out Of The Ruins” just bursts in with a forceful choral intro that listens like a simpler variation on “Metal Invasion”, though the eventual chorus sounds much closer to something heard off of Manowar’s “Fighting The World”, but with a little less force in the lead vocals and keyboards. Other familiar devices pop up on the more technically elaborate “Merlin – Legend Of The Past” and the stubbornly catchy “Remember!” But the real glory is heard on “Tears Of Babylon”, which follows a similar droning horn melody and galloping groove approach to that of “Land Of Light”, but with more changeups and a somewhat deeper memorable delivery. All in all, 75% of this album is geared specifically to appeal to fans of their earlier works, and draws equally from “Crystal Empire” and “Eternity”.
Although more of a throwback than not, this album does some exploration into darker territory and often emulating earlier Speed Metal and USPM bands such as Accept and Crimson Glory, along with a small helping of Industrial elements from the accompanying keyboards. “The Shadowking” sees the largest element of both, drawing heavily upon a very versatile vocal performance out of Chris Bay that is less squeaky clean than his ordinary singing voice and a heavier riff set, though the chorus does somewhat resemble “Heart Of The Rainbow”. Other songs such as “The Darkness” and “Dark Obsession” also rely heavily on a darker, lower end riff set that almost crosses into sludge territory at times, and sees Bay’s voice going far lower than normal. The only song where things don’t quite gel is “Under The Spell Of The Moon”, which almost sounds like a post-Grunge song at times and has a really odd sounding chorus.
I have tended to like just about everything that this band has put out, but “Legend Of The Shadowking” is something that most loyal fans of this genre can appreciate. The only real complaint that can levied at it, as a whole, is a somewhat lackluster drum production that is dry enough to occasionally clash with the heavily reverb soaked vocal tracks. It’s not quite album of the year material, but it is definitely a solid listen that will keep the band’s audience satisfied and maybe even pull back a few who gave up on the band after “The Circle Of Life”.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 4, 2010.
It seemed like only a decade ago that an album bearing the ill-conceived title Stairway to Fairyland arrived in my radar, and I was pleasantly inoculated towards its charms, as a long standing fan of similar German power metal like Helloween or Gamma Ray. Considering the band's own ties to those other acts (Dan Zimmerman drums for both Gamma Ray and Freedom Call, and former guitarist Sascha Gerstner went off to Helloween where he has met with some success), I was impressed by their similar style of happy, positively-charged power metal anthem. And then the years rolled on, with the band releasing four more full-lengths, none of which really stuck its neck very far out, all clinging to that safe, slim, accessible stretch of ground that separates Rhapsody and Helloween.
It's not for a lack of trying, as the members of Freedom Call are all talented within their instruments. In particular, I have always really enjoyed Chris Bay's voice. It's soothing, but at the same time, picks up a lot of bite when he rips off into his higher chorus climaxes. The real issue with Legend of the Shadowking, the band's 6th opus, is that the songs feel so played out that they lack much of the inspiration this style once possessed in spades. It all feels like too well-traveled ground, from the chorus of "Out of the Ruins" which sounds exactly like Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" sped up into a symphonic power metal adaptation, to the screamin' Maiden meets AC/DC "Thunderstruck" melody that inaugurates "Thunder God". As there are 14, full-length tracks on this album, it's a lot of mediocrity to pour through, with only a few surprises tucked within. "Dark Obsession" has a mesmerizing, brooding swell of dark atmosphere compounded by the flourish of operatic vocals and the downt-turn of Bay's vocals in the verse. "The Darkness" puts a pretty mean rhythmic edge to a Helloween style cruiser, and "The Shadowking" and "Kingdom of Madness" both have their moments, if you like a more balls out 80s approach to your metal rooted as much in Saxon or Accept as their more obvious German influence.
Through it all, the band maintains its constant use of synthesizers and Queen-like chorus vocals to add the 'epic' polish to its rather bland conceptual saga and almost painfully cliched lyrics about rainbows and Arthurian legend. Is this some kind of crime in the stagnating power metal universe? Certainly not, and the Legend of the Shadowking is by no means a bad album...it just fails to compel one back into its nearly 60 minutes of acceptable material, from the few songs that are decent to the many near-misses that populate its vaunted halls of myth. I drew the conclusion through my experience with this album that Freedom Call is a band capable of far more...you can hear it in all the spaces here where the interest level wanes to the point of tuning out. So go on and kick our asses next time.
Highlights: Dark Obsession, The Darkness, The Shadowking (basically, any song with a title that implies the opposite of light)