Freedom Call - Beyond - (9/10)
Published on March 23, 2014
The returning vision of a fantastic realm.
Let there be no ambiguity, the author of this review is a shameless power metal junkie who’s initial plunge into the style began with Helloween and Gamma Ray back in that abyssal period of musical mediocrity that was the late 1990s. In keeping with this, one of my ongoing love affairs is with a band that, at their founding, embodied all the greatest elements of both bands at their peak in one hyper-optimistic package. It is in keeping with the conventional wisdom of most fans of said Nuremberg powerhouse that the period between 1999 and 2002 was their zenith, followed by a period of lesser efforts, and while I’m wont to be more forgiving of their middle material than some, I too missed the glory days when the tale of Taragon was the lyrical feature that drove every album.
With the release of Beyond, the seemingly forgotten days when high fantasy and science fiction oriented concept albums were brought back for this band, and with it much of the original sound that largely fell by the wayside in favor of experimentation. Granted, it’s not quite a full out return in line with all epic, all the time character of Stairway To Fairyland, Crystal Empire or Eternity, but it definitely takes most of its cues from the latter two albums than otherwise. Musically, it occasionally flirts with outright self-plagiarism, but the updated production practices and occasional nuances in musicianship that come with a different lead guitarist and drummer on display keep it fresh while making a sorely needed revisiting of former glory.
At its inception, this album makes little secret of which creative well it’s drawing from. The first eight songs are all but a perfect mixture of the speed happy character of Eternity meshed with the anthem-driven, catchy fanfare of Crystal Empire. In particular, “Union Of The Strong, “Knights Of Taragon” and “Heart Of A Warrior” all but kick the listener into a fit of Déjà vu that recalls how this band’s much lauded third album began. Familiar melodies are reworked a bit and the lead guitar work of Lars Rettkowitz is a bit more mellow and methodical than Sascha Gershow’s technical work, but the speed and majestic consonance of each moment begs for a fist to the sky.
As things progress, the band shows the versatility of their older days with a more varied assortment of songs, mostly recalling what went into the iconic Crystal Empire. There’s an obligatory upper mid-tempo rocker with a pop/punk meets arena celebration feel in “Come On Home” that sounds dangerously close to “Farewell” off the same 2001 Freedom Call opus, whereas some of the middle songs shift back and forth between more down tempo marches to battle and some more high flying fun. But the outright pinnacle of the stylistic throwback in progress is the long title song “Beyond”, which is all but a perfect mirror reflection of “The Quest”, arguably the deepest and most impressive song ever to come out of this band. It differs a bit in that there’s more of a speed factor in play at times, but the varied musical story told listens like an expected and welcome sequel to the 2001 original.
However, as stated previously, this album isn’t quite a full return to their old sound, and comes with some remnants of the more experimental era that preceded this album. Leading off this collection of songs and making a massive leap of a style change in the process is “Rhythm Of Light”, which has a bit more of a grooving, heavy character similar to the similarly titled “The Rhythm Of Life”, and occasionally lands in Van Halen territory with a keyboard sound right out of 1984. Granted, this version of the song proves to be much better as it’s a bit less repetitive and guitar oriented, but it’s a far cry from the eight songs before it. Much of what rounds off the listen is a collection of slightly better versions of ideas kicked around on Dimensions and Legend Of The Shadowking, resulting in an album that tapers off a bit at the end, but largely stays strong in spite of itself.
While this falls a tiny bit short of a full return to form, it is a much needed one and definitely bodes well for what may come from this band in the next couple years. The return of bassist Ilker Ersin has definitely had an impact on the direction of things, and newly recruited drummer Ramy Ali of Iron Mask fame manages to meld into the shoes of departed co-founder Dan Zimmerman quite effectively. Those who had hoped for a strong return will definitely find one here, though it doesn’t quite manage to kick Stairway To Fairyland and Eternity off their historic perches. The eyes of the world might look into the world of Taragon a bit more dimly at first, but it’s shining horizons are definitely returning to focus.