FREEDOM CALL has been something of an obsession of mine for over 10 years. Call it fanaticism or by some other pejorative term, something about the light to the point of happy-go-lucky sound that bridges the gap between HELLOWEEN and SAXON just clicks with me every time. They’ve always tended to accent the rock elements of the latter while somewhat avoiding the grittier Speed Metal qualities of the earliest parts of the former (which can be seen in greater concentration with the likes of IRON SAVIOR, PRIMAL FEAR, and GRAVE DIGGER). To put it as plainly possible, this band plays late 80s Power Metal for people not of that generation, and surprisingly they don’t quite garner the same popularity amongst core HELLOWEEN fans from the “Keepers” era, despite the fairly strong similarities.
In the time since their inception, a lot has changed for this Nuremburg outfit. All the original co-founders minus front man and songwriter Chris Bay have exited, including long time drummer and GAMMA RAY kit destroyer Dan Zimmerman, whose function in the band’s overall sound is about as consequential as Thomen Stauch’s was to BLIND GUARDIAN’S. But in spite of this, there has been no consequential shift in overall sound, though the quality of the entire package has ebbed a bit since the closing of the band’s early days. Something, call it a mystique, that was carried in the band’s powerful “Taragon” series was lost since they closed out the story and moved away from conceptual albums (save “Dimensions”, which was completely unrelated yet came off as an attempt to rekindle that old magic with a new line up), and in its place is a still impressive, yet obvious shell of the late 90s when Italy, Finland and Germany brought Power Metal back to prominence on their side of the Atlantic.
Perhaps this mystique that has been lacking can be underscored by a disconnect between the often epic sounding album titles in the mold of “Legend Of The Shadow King” and the character of the lyrics contained in songs that tend to be unrelated to such lofty topics. And this has largely been a pervasive issue with chunks of FREEDOM CALL’S albums going back to the confused STRATOVARIUS-like “The Circle Of Life”. A handful of largely unrelated electronic and lighter, almost Alternative Rock sounding influences start popping up out of an otherwise consistent mesh of blinding speed and soaring choruses. It’s more of a slight Persian flaw than an outright deal breaker, but it is noticeable. The equally lofty sounding title “Land Of The Crimson Dawn” sports a similar story to its 2010 predecessor in many respects, though the drum production is a bit less raucous, and a bit more of the semi-inspired ideas appear to battle the otherwise fully inspired ones.
Make no mistake; this latest incarnation is recognizably a FREEDOM CALL album, despite the lack of any of the original compatriots that molded this band’s formative sound. Familiar feelings of triumph and fist-raising glory permeate the majority of its contents, particularly when things stay on the fast side. Be it the overtly catchy and fairly short “Age Of The Phoenix”, the equally catchy yet longer and more drawn out “Rockstars” and the blast from Power Metal’s late 90s past “Valley Of Kingdom”, the mood is upbeat and celebratory, walking a thin line between the seriousness of “Eagle Fly Free” and the comedy of “Rise And Fall” (“Keepers Part 2” has always been the most influential album on the character of this band’s sound, with some of their latter stuff with Andi Deris having a lesser influence on a couple of select exceptions). These songs do somewhat want for the denser guitar and keyboard dimensions heard during the days when Sascha Gerstner was still handling guitars alongside Chris, but Lars Rettkowitz is definitely not the weak link in this fold and proves to be equally (if not more) capable of cutting loose in a tasteful fashion when his solos take the reins.
The small handful of problems that plague this album are actually quite familiar to anyone who has followed this band since “Crystal Empire”, and it largely deals with an inconsistent balance of humor and seriousness that is similarly found with some of HELLOWEEN’S and GAMMA RAY’S works. When dealing with out and out Rock oriented anthems like “Hero On Video” and “Rockin’ Radio”, an analogy to a number of bluesy, arena oriented pictures comparable to SAXON’S less metallic work come into view, definitely enjoyable but quite different from the band’s signature Power Metal sound. Others like “Sun In The Dark” with its heavy Groove Metal meets SYMPHORCE tendencies and “Power And Glory” with the quirky bagpipe accompaniment come off as confused and fairly skip worthy. The only experiment on here that really pans out well is the longer title song “Crimson Dawn”, which employs elements of this band’s previous works, most specifically “The Quest” in terms of its scope of ideas, but also “Hymn Of The Brave” in terms of its generally upbeat, anthem-like quality. All in all, among the better songs on here, and a nice blast from the band’s past that was lacking on the past 3 albums.
Ultimately this falls into the same category as “Legend Of The Shadow King”. It’s not the greatest thing that the band has put out, but it is definitely a continual up trend from the band’s experimental hiccup “The Circle Of Light”. The only thing holding this back is an avoidance of creating an entire album of really gripping songs in the mold of “66 Warriors” and “Terra Liberty” and insisting on missing in rock radio interludes that would be more suited to a PINK CREAM 69 album. Nothing is outright lousy, but some of the parts in this mostly good puzzle don’t fit well with the rest. Maybe it’s just my continual loyalty to this band, but I still love this band, even if only the central personality remains from what was one of my absolute favorites from the late 90s German Power Metal resurgence.
(Online February 6, 2012)