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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.