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Freedom Call has been something of an interesting phenomenon within the melodic power metal umbrella. Although their sound is pretty much German in character, mostly resembling its better known founder Helloween and drummer Dan Zimmerman’s other project Gamma Ray, there isn’t really anyone out there quite like them. Their music is very light and happy sounding, but simultaneously it’s incredibly fast and the guitars often have a good amount of punch to them. Granted, the high and extremely clean sounding vocal work and the strongly present keyboards temper the sound into something that is pretty far removed from US power metal, not to mention that most of their choruses are of such a catchy fanfare nature that they dwarf Dio’s “Sacred Heart” album in this respect.
Of their various works, “Stairway to Fairyland” presents the band as the least confined artistically, and within a very formulaic structure are quite successful at changing things up. Anyone who doubts this should listen to the epic “Tears of Taragon” and the simplistic choral fanfare “Hymn of the Brave” back to back, then tell me that they don’t hear any variation in style. Chris Bay and Dan Zimmerman definitely put a lot of work and likely most of their spare time into this, at times getting as gratuitously fast and melodic as Dragonforce, but also giving us more than just one token ballad as a contrast to keep the entire listen from being one-dimensional.
Although the next two albums would also be concept oriented, this one listens the most like a concept album, putting forward a good amount of thematic similarities between several songs to give the entire listen a sense of unity. There is a recurring pipe organ that marks a couple of significant points in the album, the most memorable of which is an extremely epic sounding prelude that is built right into the opening song “Over the Rainbow”. For a song that is under 6 minutes, they definitely managed to cram a lot of good ideas in, and end up with a solid epic speed metal anthem with one of the most catchy choruses ever conceived. If you feel funny singing along with a song titled “Over the Rainbow”, just remember that in Viking mythology the rainbow held an import role in the lore of some very scary guys, not to mention that one of the forefathers of metal Ronnie Dio sings about them often.
A good amount of the album sees a recurring method of putting together epic speed metal that makes good use of interludes to give Dan Zimmerman a break from thundering away at the double bass. “Shine On”, “Tears Falling” and “Holy Knight” all characterize this approach that would be standardized on the next two albums, each approaching it a little bit differently between the fast and slow sections. “Holy Knight” is the most riff-oriented of the three, while “Shine On” has an effective half ballad approach trading between a slow piano driven intro, a couple of descending swing-like lead breaks, and a solid chunk of speed metal majesty. Meanwhile, “We Are One” doesn’t bother with slow sections at all and just cooks through the whole thing, trading between a verse and chorus that are only separated by a chant and lead vocal response during the chorus highly reminiscent of Helloween’s classic “I want out”.
It’s difficult to pick a highlight out of so many equally powerful and catchy songs, but a couple are so melodically compelling and ambitious that they can’t help but tower over the rest. “Tears of Taragon” doesn’t bother with any double bass pedal madness or any contrapuntal harmonic guitar work and just rocks out at a slower tempo in a cheesy melodic fashion befitting of Saxon during their heyday. The closing epic “Another Day” takes the same epic speed metal approach as “Over the Rainbow”, but elects for an extremely catchy yet simplistic bell theme and a simple 4 chord piano progression that has been reused by the band on every subsequent album since this one. You combine all of this with a nice chunky bottom ended verse riff and some large as hell sounding backup chorus work and you have an instant recipe for success.
Although I’ve been a pretty consistent fan of this band’s work, this album is the best and most varied presentation of their sound. There aren’t any real weak links on here other than maybe a slight bit too prominence of the vocals over the music during a couple of the choruses, which is often an unavoidable pitfall if you play in a genre that calls for 4 musicians to attempt to sound like a full orchestra. If you are not allergic to cheesy, and if you like epic power metal, this album is one of the best and most unique representations of its potential when married with the Queen/Styx ideal of catchy and big sounding choruses to sing along with at either the club or the arena.