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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.