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In 1985 I spent every penny I made on metal. I only had a paper route so it wasn't a lot of money, but with my 40-60 dollars every two weeks I bought pretty much every banzai, roadrunner, metal blade cassette tape I found that looked really heavy and underground. Liege Lord "Freedom's Rise" was part of this quest.
Liege Lord had their album written up in a brief review in an issue of Kerrang magazine I had bought soon before I found the tape in a local record store. The review had piqued my interest and clearly this was metal for fans of Maiden and the heavy side of metal (before thrash).
First the vocabulary. It might seem strange to start here, but it is striking, tending towards hard and complicated language, and it completely matches in every way the angularity of the riffs and the complex jagged rhythm section. Check this out:
"Within the walls of captured land freedom's rise begins
Patrons of the lesser man whose lives began to dim
A word or law set to them upon their weary limbs
Then to look back on all their past day's grim."
Lots of varied meter and diction, right? Get a college degree and get back to bangin', son! Seriously though, the effect was strong, and when you hear the commanding tone of the singer in this era, Andy Michaud, there's no doubt it was all part of a overriding proto-power metal vision.
Dual guitar powers McCarthy and Truglio, combative rhythm work of Vinci and Cortese, over the TOP declamatory vocals with eagle screams (post Ian Gillan type falsetto howling, full power lunging it) of the commanding Michaud - it's like Uber Metal for urban warriors and it straddles Maiden and Thrash (in a way that would, regrettably, leave them behind the trend in terms of the upcoming waves of thrash and then death metal that rocked the end of the eighties-out).
But during this fiery and ambitious debut in 1985 Liege Lord were truly masterful and the confidence of this debut is compelling. Liege Lord were like a raw american response to NWOBHM, looking to up-the-heavy and bring an athletic prowess and musical prodigality to this now classic metal sound that was at the time just breaking from the underground into the mainstream. But let me be clear - if Def Leppard were taking NWOBHM in a mainstream direction with synthesizers, high production gloss and sing-along songs, Liege Lord were digging in and getting nasty, moving in the opposite direction. A Rage of Angels is definitely anthemic but the perpetual jostling of the riffs, the bass decorations, and even the opening scream all let you know this isn't about partying or hairdos. If you are going to sing-along you have to adopt the right fanatical attitude.
I should point out, Andy's mid-range singing is quite low pitched. This isn't a tenor screaming, but a hard and rough sounding baritone with super shrieks at the top end (which he hits with impressive precision and power). Liege Lord wrote weirdly complex heavy songs, their exploitation of dynamic contrast is aggressive and they are true geniuses of ferocious dime-turning stomach-churning shiftiness. Liege Lord are, imo, one of the best at creating a chaotic sound while still being tight, essentially dual-guitar driven metal.
This idea of a heavy complexity, at least how it is being played with in the metal underground in the mid 80's, is definitely one of the reasons I love this era of metal. Check out the cool interplay between military majesty of opening introduction Prodigy and proto-thrash heaviness the following song Wielding Iron Fists. It is a great effect. It is as though the ear is tuned and metered in the intro then beaten-up and shaken around in the subsequent track. This album has it all and a punch in the face for you. Check out the tangled thorny wickedry that is Legionnaire. It is 3:45 of domination.
The last impression I have to give you is just to say that I have always loved this album cover. The artwork on the LP is accompanied by a sweet inlay with additional classic artwork. Truly stunning and all of it very much consistent, a package.
This album is worth every dime I paid for it and several times over. "Freedom's Rise" is a true classic of the era and an album of genuine ambition and enduring power. It is its highly collectible in its original formats and fetches big bucks on Ebay. The demo for this album was also released on pic disk on Iron Works/Asra and often sells for over $200 usd. I have heard complaints of the sound on the cut shapes, but my conventionally shaped (round) disk sounds great.
Wielding Iron Fists!
Liege Lord were another of those early US power metal bands in the 80s who seemed to have all the cards in place for success. Solid songwriting, distinct vocals, proficiency and enough buzz through magazines and word of mouth that they would achieve a deal with Metal Blade Records. In a lot of ways, it was a similar story to, oh, Omen. Anvil. Or Lizzy Borden. Not that this band was quite so promising, or nearly at the level of their Connecticut betters Fates Warning, but I heard a lot worse in their day. Freedom's Rise was their debut full-length, with original vocalist Andy Michaud, and he had an edgy, charismatic middle range which he often offset with a shrill falsetto. Personally, I could have done without this screaming, because the lower vox fit the music far better and they seem like an afterthought, to compare with what other power/speed metal acts were unleashing at the time. The riffs were your garden variety Iron Maiden-inspired, power metal trots with dense melodic grace and a steady bass of the Steve Harris variety, but some of the songs have a vibrant energy which resonates even today.
The intro "Prodigy" has a sense for melodic weaving that instantly brought to mind Fates Warning or Omen, the same sensibility for classical guitar amped up into heavy metal, and it moves nicely into "Wielding Iron Fists", a pretty standard mid paced banger which is anchored largely by the vocals. "Dark Tale" is an improvement, with a flurry of solid chords and a catchy, epic feel to the riffs below the verse. "Amnesty" is another middling affair, though the bass is solid and the chords sound good as they introduce the folkish melody. "Rage of Angels" would not have surprised me if it appeared on one of the first three Omen albums, with the exception of Michaud's sharper vocals. It's not a great song, but it's glorious enough to raise one fist to the sky as you slowly bang your head to its neo-Christian dorkiness.
'The smoke is swept away as this encounter slows
The prince of darkness overthrown
The angel's rage has proved victorious as known
The evil underground shall threaten nevermore'
I KICK ASS FOR THE LORD! Sorry. The latter half of the album actually picks up slightly in quality, beginning with the dirty speed of "Vials of Wrath" with its broken rhythms and wild flourishes of lead. "Warriors Farewell" begins with an annoying cry from Michaud, before it starts to rock out like a sea of studded leather gloves shaking at a hooker in a Motley Crue video. "For the King" has a few good riffs, leads, and very busy bass grooving from Matt Vinci, but the vocals pretty much suck to the point of intolerance. "Legionnaire" was fun, especially with Michaud switching ranges from a manly lower pitch to his mid range, evoking a self-parody and much laughter. But the riffs and atmosphere here are solid, and it's one of the better tracks in the end.
Freedom's Rise was not entirely groundbreaking and it wasn't honestly a good album, but it showed what the band might be capable of if they could just reign in the vocals a little and write more towards their strength, that being epic melodies across traditional burning rhythms. I really liked the production, with some good reverb that bounces back at you from the castle walls of its mythical lyrics. I don't enjoy it quite so much as their later work, but if you want some average power metal from the middle of the Golden Age then there are worse examples.
Highlights: Dark Tale, Vials of Wrath, Legionnaire
For me, this is absolutely one of the underground classics of eighties US metal, a formidable debut from a fine band issued on a dinky label. Connecticut’s Liege Lord are certainly a band with plenty of medieval metal majesty in their blood, their sound coming across like Iron Maiden being filtered through the quirky song logic of Cirith Ungol or Manilla Road. That would be enough to set them apart, but as musicians this band were also a breed apart. Bassist Matt Vinci does a stellar job, as do guitarists Tony Truglio and Pete McCarthy with their stout riffs giving way to solos built with ability and style. And then there’s singer Andy Michaud, who despite not having a tremendous range, tops this dungeon metal off with a style that’s full of controlled power and clarity as well.
The record’s contents are uniformly groovy, but a few tracks really take the sword and sorcery cake. “Wielding Iron Fists” possesses a wickedly written charm, “For The King” is as pretentious and noble as it’s title would suggest, and “Dark Tale” has a hero’s structure that Manowar really should have come up with on their own. A classic album of this sorta stuff, Liege Lord would drop another classic in short order and become revered years after their demise for their profound influence on the power metal charge of the late nineties. And by the way…anybody know how much my gatefold vinyl version of this is worth? Not that I’m selling…just curious.
Liege Lord has and pretty much always will be one of the greatest examples of old power metal. Unadulterated with a lot of crunch, demanding rhythms, thunderous drumming, and a dark energy surrounds this style. They're a band that rightfully fits next to old stuff from Jag Panzer, Omen, Attacker, Helstar, Mania, Sanctuary, and so forth. This is nowhere near being the monumental moment they had with their "Master Control" release, but this album still stands high above a lot of stuff out there. Back then this was extremely original, and even to this day there just isn't a lot of stuff out there quite like this.
First off I'll throw in my own two cents about the vocalist, since there seems to be quite a fuss about him with the former reviews. He's not bad, but at the same time I could probably see how people wouldn't enjoy the vocals here. Andy Michaud's vocals and even his voice are extremely comparable to Eric Knutson's vocals on Flotsam and Jetsam's earliest albums (also I think some of his shrieks tend to sound more like King Diamond than anyone else I've ever heard). His pitch does seem pretty inconsistent and random at times, For the King seems to prove this. However if you're a big fan of the stuff I've mentioned above and enjoy a lot of old obscure 80's metal, I don't think there's that much of an issue here. I personally had no problem with adapting to the vocals and enjoyed them quite a bit. He's certainly not Joe Comeau, but Michaud doesn't sound out of place here at all.
More faults are within the production and the length. The sound quality itself seems a step up from say, Attacker's debut, but on the other hand the mixing with some of the instruments does seem a little off at times. The balance seems a little uncontrolled. Often the guitars are a little hard to hear and sound very muffled (this gets more messy during some solo's, harmonies, and so on), the vocals are perhaps up a little too high, and the bass is very bouncy. The drums sound pretty good throughout, though the bass drums could have sounded better. Sometimes the quality seems to jump around from track to track also, its not drastic but not hard to miss either. And the length, well the album is just downright short.
Bad news aside, this album is one major punch. Musically its very consistent and delivers from the beginning and to the end. The intro is passable, but after that its a big slab of solid dark power metal. Wielding Iron Fists starts off as catchy as ever and seems to take a hint from a lot of Mercyful Fate work. Darktale display's and excellent structure that works perfectly with Michaud's vocals. Amnesty is a very diverse rhythm machine with harmonies that seem like they would have come from Running Wild, with some excellent solo'ing towards the end. Rage of Angels is probably one of the best tracks on here topped off with some of Michaud's best vocals too. Although the rhythm's sound a little familar to a lot of other bands of this style [back then mainly], its just a downright awesome track. While the production seems to take a slump on the next track, the musical quality stays strong. Vials of Wrath contains some of their best harmonies, and the drums stand out quite a bit here too. From there on the production twists around a bit for the next few tracks. Warriors Farewell is another track in the vein of Rage of Angels, its just an extremely memorable classically driven song. For the King is probably the only song on here that really bites the dust. The rhythm's often sound too odd for their own good, and Michaud's vocals are definitely way too 'all over the place' here. It just sounds like he's trying too hard to sound like King Diamond on this one. Legionnaire fixes that bruise and explodes out as quite possibly the most epic track on here.
All in all this seems closer to early Attacker than anything else. But certainly would also be something to hear for the fans of Omen, Jag Panzer, Helstar, etc and other bands mentioned throughout my review. It would have been great if it were just a bit longer and the production were reworked here and there, but those factors hardly ruin the experience. The variety is great and the originality is obvious. Yes, "Master Control" isn't only the bands best album but a masterpiece of old power metal, but this one shouldn't be left in the shadows either. Same can also be said for their next release! Highly recommend to fans of this kind of stuff.
I read both reviews before mine and I have to disagree with both. First I do like Freedom Call and I don't see why this one should exclude the other or viceversa, some people have broad taste you know?
Second the vocalist is not annoying at all (which in my case James Rivera is), I found the clean vocals very appealing and Michaud never abuse of high pitches or wailing, although he does fail to put much emotion into an epic like 'Rage Of Angels' and also feel that "lack of passion" in 'Amnesty' and 'Legionaire', but in average he delivers.
As for the music is fast, energetic and pounding. Of course comparisons to Exciter are in order here, not only pretty good 80's metal but good speed metal like it used to be (and not found much these days).
I love the drum work in this album, maybe the production suffers a bit on the guitars, but in general terms is catchy, thunderous and if you are not headbanging after a couple of bars you're dead!
The album delivers but still is a bit immature, so I guess that if it were a college test I'll give it 8/10, hence the rating.