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There comes a point in a band's career where they either have to evolve or die. There are some bands like Agent Steel who chose the first one, going from a very adequate and enjoyable Speed Metal sound into a high-octane, unleashed Heavy Metal monster with claws and fangs and a fucking machine gun over its shoulder. Others like Savatage evolved slowly, taking a few albums to really get the sound down pat, and even trudging through a miniature dark age before reaching salvation. And then we have the last category, and if you kids can guess which option Freedom Call chose with this mindfucked aberration of an album...well, you would have just proven that you do indeed have a functioning brain. So, strap in and join me for a festival of destruction and defecation on the face of musical creativity like few others you will ever see, as we enter the horrific realms of the magical faggotry that is Freedom Call's The Circle of Life..
Before you even turn the music on, you'll catch the first thing wrong with this. Most of the song titles are stolen from other bands. Yes, witness the awe-inspiring thought and creativity that went into song titles like "Hero Nation," "Starlight," "Starchild" and "Kings and Queens," all of which had been used by other bands before as either an album title or a song title (Metalium, Helloween, Wintersun and Axel Rudi Pell, for the uninitiated). They also used "Carry On," which was not only used by Stratovarius the same year this came out, but also by both Manowar and Angra in the past, not to mention the countless other bands that have named songs that. I could understand if this were going to be some kind of tribute to the bands from which they've ripped off here, but I can't find any inclination to believe that's what this is. No, I think I can be reasonably sure Freedom Call were just out of ideas and had to resort to ripping off everything in sight. I mean, sure, they're just song titles, but you cannot tell me there weren't other things they could've called their songs. This is beyond ridiculous. And that's not even the worst of it, either, as the band actually had the balls to name a song "Hunting High and Low," just like the awesome Stratovarius song that came out a few years before this. How fucking low can you go, seriously? The chorus melody even sounds similar. Even more astounding, I actually think this is the best song on the album, which is pretty sad.
Otherwise, just marvel at how frighteningly bland everything on this album is. Every chorus just leaves your head right away, and while sometimes it kind of sounds like the old Freedom Call, a lot of this is just fucking weird. They're not quite as off-the-wall as they would be in the band's next horrible rape of the senses, but it's still pretty worthy of a good head scratching. Just look at "Starlight," for instance, and "The Rhythm of Life," with their poppy nature and complete lack of hooks, and then compare them to the complete lack of hooks on opener "Mother Earth" and "Hero Nation," which are more progressive sounding songs that offer more proof of what happens when a band just stops giving a crap. "Hero Nation" actually has a chorus that shows potential, but it's ruined by terrible vomit-inducing chug riffs in between; seriously, what? These songs are so transparent that I'd be surprised if Casper the Friendly Ghost gave them the time of day. The "hooks" seriously just leave your head as quickly as they came, and these songs are as insipid and bland as they come, completely devoid of anything resembling entertainment, completely lacking of anything that would provoke positive enjoyment.
Okay, so "High Enough" is actually pretty interesting, although it does go on a bit too long and it is kind of standard and passable (or it would be on a better Freedom Call album). "Starchild" and "Eternal Flame" are listenable, but I think the problem with this is that the band just sounds so restrained here, like they're not giving it their all. The choruses on here sound like the verses on their previous albums, and I think a lot of the verses there would make better choruses than the ones on this album, on second thought. They were clearly shooting for a more modern and progressive sound here, but either they didn't want to step on anybody's toes or they just don't have the skill necessary to progress in such a manner in the first place. But hey, maybe it isn't so bad. I mean, sure, a lot of these songs are bad, but they aren't horrible...maybe there's some way I can find a...compromise...between these...oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know this album suddenly had turned into one of those beach soundtracks or whatever.
Yes, the title track, I knew I was forgetting something! This song is really only good if you want your favorite Power Metal bands to sound like lame 80s new wave ballads, with some of the worst lyrics I've ever read out of Freedom Call, which is saying quite a lot. So the album ends on a real lowlight, and what are we left with after the credits roll? Nothing good, that's for sure. The Circle of Life is one of those albums that would sound okay if it was hypothetically the only music you had ever heard, but honestly, the only other way this album could possibly be misconstrued as being worth anything is if you are related to one of the band members. This album sucks; one listen to Eternity will help discern that. Stand up for yourself, people, and demand more from your music than "adequacy" or "knowing how to play their instruments." Yes, this isn't unlistenable, but it is pretty much everything short of being that, and if you're seriously going to sit here and tell me this isn't as bad as my score says, then I recommend you raise your standards.
Freedom Call can, or SHOULD be able to do better than this sing-songy, watered down bullshit, but judging by the one that came after this, they can't anymore, and I'm putting my foot down right here. Avoid this with every inch of you.
While clicking my way through countless negative reviews on some of my favorite power metal bands, I must say that I was at a total loss for words. It wasn’t until I sampled these albums for myself that I essentially started to believe that such outlandishly low scores were actually warranted. As much as I hate to admit it, this isn’t shaping up to be too glorious of a year for power metal fans. With highly anticipated releases by Metalium, Crystal Eyes, and the almighty Falconer transpiring as complete departures from expectation, these albums will all sink into the sands of absolute mediocrity along with the disc in question.
Granted, Freedom Call have always been somewhat of a generic and derived power metal act, there have been a handful of instances (namely Eternity) where they succeeded in recreating specific Angra-isms that influenced the songwriting template that they have been exploiting since their formation. Unable to step out from the shadow of said Brazilian legends, Freedom Call have resorted to desperate measures in hopes of finding their own identity; the result is The Circle Of Life. While the band have indeed mostly moved away from the clone label that has plagued them all these years, this attempt at evolving their sound only finds the band backpedaling and mimicking someone else.
At first glance of the disc’s tracklist, it appears that The Circle Of Life is a compilation of covers, but that is not the case at all. Further proving that they can’t come up with their own ideas, Freedom Call lift some already well known song titles from some already well known power metal bands. Borrowing from the home team, “Mother Earth” and “Hero Nation” are both headings used by Metalium, while “Starlight” is a name from Helloween. The most obvious example of theft is Stratovarius’ “Hunting High And Low”, and of course no Freedom Call album would be complete without an Angra title, “Carry On”.
Not only song titles come off as familiar on The Circle Of Life, but also much of the music. That picture of the 80’s that has plainly manifested in your mind is no coincidence. Without an ounce of subtlety, “Kings & Queens” recalls a certain Ozzy Osbourne classic about barking at the moon, while the title track takes a walk down “Baker Street” with Gerry Rafferty and stops to watch the children cry with White Lion. Even with all these memorable moments placed throughout the album, The Circle Of Life is all but completely unmemorable.
With an immaculate production and some fairly impressive musicianship, a few tracks from The Circle Of Life display a potential to be gratifying; unfortunately they are overshadowed by uninteresting and uninspired masses of power metal poo, and essentially forgotten altogether. Only the most rabid and confused Freedom Call fans will deem this album acceptable on any level.
Two years ago I really laid into this album, which to this day I still regard as the weakest album released by Freedom Call so far. However, since that time I’ve developed a sense of perspective that requires me to take another look at this rather troubled opus. One of the things that changed is my view on the score of this album, which was a bit inflated due to my own inexperience as a reviewer at the time. If I held the same view of the album now as I did then, this would have gotten something in the low 60s, but some of the songs that I originally ripped on have since grown on me, though as a whole this album takes the back seat to a lot of power metal works by otherwise lesser bands than this one.
Freedom Call had, until this album, played a very stylized brand of power metal that focused on powerful choruses, flashy guitar and drum work, and a general spirit of hope and triumph. One could venture as far as to label Freedom Call the marriage of Keeper of the Seven Keys era Helloween and late 70s progressive rock ala Styx and Journey. The albums were all tailored as a continuing sci-fi fantasy concept that dealt more with the singular “one hope” theme, as opposed to Iron Savior’s epic struggle between warring worlds and self-aware mechanical beings. “The Circle of Life” represents the end of that era of brilliance into a half-hearted attempt at becoming more progressive, and the results speak for themselves.
Lyrically this album suffers from a sheer lack of consistency. While triumphant anthems such as “Carry On”, “Star Child”, “Hero Nation”, “High Enough” and the ballad “The Eternal Flame” are mostly a throwback to the glory days of Stairway to Fairyland and Crystal Empire, they seem a bit out of place amongst the pseudo-philosophical material that surrounds them. “Mother Earth” and “Hunting High and Low” suffer from the Timo Tolkki syndrome, which is an attempt at socially conscious and philosophical discourse without the poetic finesse to make listen well. “Starlight” is a rather beautiful piece of fluff that is reminiscent of 80s new wave love songs, not something I dislike, but definitely something that many Freedom Call fans are not into. “The Rhythm of Life” and the title track are lyrically the weakest, the former loaded with annoying lyrical clichés, the latter seeming to wander aimlessly in search of a coherent thought.
Musically the major issue is the pacing of the album as a whole. Power metal is not a genre that listens well at a decreased tempo, and there are far too many down tempo songs in the first half that dragged down my enthusiasm. Placing the slow and moderately catchy “Mother Earth” at the beginning alone pushes the enjoyableness of this album far below that of previous releases, to speak nothing for placing the 3 traditional faster songs after track 6. The intro riff is an interesting sounding homage to Gamma Ray, the chorus is catchy enough, but it’s not a song that really fits the Freedom Call experience. “The Rhythm of Life” is the worst song on here, one droning riff and an atmosphere that sounds like a bad Rammstein song. “Starlight” is somewhat similar to “Land of Light”, although with a more 80s pop feel to it, not bad but definitely not indicative of their style.
The rest of the music on here is mostly good, but we lack anything truly astounding to culminate the general theme of the album. The closest taker in this is “Carry On”, which would have fit in quite well on “Crystal Empire”; picture “Hymn of the Brave” but with more energy. “Star Child” is the best high tempo song on here, listening like the classic anthems found on “Eternity”, but unfortunately has a lousy echo/fade out ending that is entirely unnecessary. “High Enough” and “Kings and Queens” are also fast and furious, the former sounds a tiny bit too much like a cover of “Bark at the Moon” at the beginning, the latter sounding like a marriage of their “Stairway to Fairyland” sound with an intro section comparable to Gamma Ray’s mid-90s material. “Hero Nation” and “Eternal Flame” are good, nothing truly spectacular, but nothing offensive either. “Hunting High and Low”, apart from sounding too similar to the Stratovarius song by the same name, is fun and takes my pick for the best guitar solo.
The title track is musically very similar to the closing track of the debut album “Another Day”, which to this day ranks as my favorite Freedom Call song. The classical guitar lines and piano patterns are in good form, the vocal performance is on point, and the general atmosphere is well realized. Unfortunately the rather poorly worded lyrics, particularly the verses, all but destroy the song. When listening I do my best to tune out the words and concentrate on the melody, which is where this song’s charm lay. The final impression of this album is mixed, though not surprising as that is the general feel of its entire duration.
Core fans of Freedom Call, me included, will find some moments of brilliance on here but casual listeners of the Power Metal genre are recommended to pick up “Eternity”, which is this band’s defining album. I am not ashamed of my purchase of this album, as it does enjoy occasional play during my commutes, but I can only attribute a $9 value to it, which is less than what I paid. Freedom Call has suffered the fate that nearly every band fails to avoid, experimenting with their sound and losing the original spirit that made them great. Iron Maiden, Helloween, Judas Priest, Gamma Ray, and even Black Sabbath also fell into this trap. Hopefully the next release will be a return to form, be it another concept album or something else that sees the return of the Freedom Call that gave us the last 3 amazing studio releases.