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What would HGH addicted Jesus do? - 95%

hells_unicorn, December 3rd, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Steamhammer (Digipak)

For the sake of posterity, fraternity, country and all things sacred, it must be stated up front that Freedom Call's ninth studio outing sports a true contender for the most ridiculous album art in the history of all things metal. It is unclear whether Chris Bay was throwing back a few too many German lagers while watching the infamous lampooning of Lance Armstrong via South Park and thought to himself, "This would be a funny way to mess with people!" or if the likeness to the steroid injected Jesus turned Incredible Hulk that destroyed the profiteering bracelet company is a sheer coincidence, but one thing is certain, the old adage of not judging a book by its cover probably never saw a clearer example. Following a middle era decline in quality following the closing of the Taragon saga with their third LP Eternity, things were on the uptick with 2014's Beyond, and they reached a veritable fever pitch with the recently released Master Of Light, which despite its slapstick exterior, full recaptures the musical luster of Freedom Call's formative years.

To dispense with the obvious, a return to the conceptual storytelling of the Taragon saga this is not, but musically this riveting collection of melodically charged celebrations are right at home in said era. In no uncertain terms, this is the album that should have followed Eternity, as it is musically closer to said album than anything that has occurred since, and the punchy heaviness that adorned said album actually finds itself ratcheted even further given a brilliant exploitation of a decade of advancement in recording technology. Take the example of the short and groove driven stomping machine "Ghost Ballet", which actually has about three times the pummel factor working in that low end guitar line during the chorus than "Flame In The Night" or the verse section of "The Quest". Even when dealing with the lighter end, celebratory rockers in "Rock The Nation" and "High Up" where the album starts to resemble the fluffier closing of Crystal Empire, the bottom end is much more prominent and the lead guitar lines actually maintain a consistent display of majesty.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this album is how the occasional references to newer trappings manages to come in a way that still keeps one rocking like it's 2002. The mid-paced rocker "Hammer Of The Gods" that served as the lead off single left one with the impression that this album would be a retread of 2007's Dimensions, and it wasn't alone as "Emerald Skies" and the previously mentioned "High Up" exhibit those Stratovarius tendencies that tended to show forth the most at around the same time. But as a whole, this album leans much harder on that high octane, slightly happier take on Helloween's approach that originally made this band a household name, be it the ode to festive metal praise after the heart of "Metal Invasion" in "Metal Is For Everyone", or the nod to olden Freedom Call epics with a greater speed factor "A World Beyond". Perhaps the most auspicious element of this album is Lars Rettkowitz, who along with providing a healthy array of lead guitar breaks, contributes three certified speed metal classics in "Kings Rise And Fall", "Hail The Legend" and "Riders In The Sky", rivaling Bay's masterful composition work on here and putting Cede Dupont's attempt at sharing songwriting duties on The Circle Of Life to absolute shame.

This is the most elaborate, the most riff happy and the most utterly triumphant thing to come out of Freedom Call in 14 years, tattooed and muscle bound reinterpretation of the Methodist Jesus not withstanding. It perfectly bridges the divide between the fantastical songwriting that dominated the first two-thirds of Crystal Empire with the high octane speed and occasional ballad-based serenity of Eternity, all the while still managing to sound perfectly in context with the stronger elements that have come to pass since the end of the Taragon saga. Chock full of fun solos, atmospheric and consonant keyboard lines that rival the brilliance achieved on Stratovarius' Visions, and a massive production that has not been heard on any album by this band in its 18 year history. What would South Park's HGH infused Jesus do? He'd get this album and the t-shirt to go with it, even if his overdeveloped biceps end up ripping the sleeves.