Released by: SPV/Steamhammer
Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Genre: Power Metal
Chris Bay – Vocals, Guitars
Lars Rettkowitz – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Ilker Ersin – Bass, Backing Vocals
Ramy Ali – Drums, Backing Vocals
- Metal Is for Everyone
- Hammer of Gods
- A World Beyond
- Masters of Light
- Kings Rise and Fall
- Cradle of Angels
- Emerald Skies
- Hail the Legend
- Ghost Ballet
- Rock the Nation
- Riders in the Sky
- High Up.
Power metal has a reputation as being rather light and happy compared to most other metal sub-genres, with some detractors referring to it as “flower metal”. Obviously, as a huge fan of the genre I could easily provide counter examples of bands that play harder edged power metal, but today I’ll be talking about a band that most definitely fits all descriptions such detractors may have, and yet they also happen to be one of the most fun and addictive bands in all of metal.
That would be German band Freedom Call, who stormed onto the scene in 1999 with their impressive debut Stairway to Fairyland, an album which introduced fans to their brand of super epic and very cheerful power metal. With their third release Eternity, they perfected this sound, producing a masterful album full of epic melodies and huge choruses, and while their next few albums featured some experimentation, with not everything working (Legend of the Shadowking, in particular, had some pretty major lows,) the band’s heart and soul were always there. With their previous album Beyond, the band fully embraced everything that made their early albums so special, while maintaining just a tiny bit of their modern experimentation, which resulted in their best album since Eternity, so I was very excited to see if their next release would keep the resurgence going. Well, their ninth full-length release, Master of Light, is nowhere, and I can say right off the bat this thing feels like classic Freedom Call through and through, and it’s not only an improvement over the already awesome Beyond: It may very well be their best release to date!
At their core, Freedom Call sound like a fairly traditional German power metal band, in that their music is mostly fast paced and it tends to be fairly guitar driven, with keyboards and symphonic elements used occasionally for added effect, but their music is exceptionally light and melodic, even as far as their genre goes. They tend to focus more on light melodic guitar leads and rhythms guitars, with riffs mostly used in quick bursts, and their songwriting is heavily focused on huge vocal melodies and choruses. In fact, while lead singer Chris Bay is a solid vocalist in his own right, and does a great job of carrying songs when he has to do, the band tends to use layered vocals more often than not, with a near constant use of choir vocals throughout, and that’s one thing that instantly helps them stand out from the pack. Another thing is that even compared to other bands in the genre, their lyrics tend to be very fun and upbeat in a way that is often cheesy, but combined with how the music sounds it always just feels right. Basically, if you’re having a bad day and need some cheering up, or if you just want some fun, super happy music with just a slight edge to party to, Freedom Call could easily become your go to band.
One area where the band has had ups and downs throughout their careers is in the songwriting, as I alluded to already. While albums like Eternity and Crystal Empire flowed smoothly and were pretty much flawless the whole way through, more recent albums have been less successful at times, mixing in the kind of classic, speedy feel good power metal the band specializes in with some kind of weird attempts at being dark, some overly sugary pop influenced track, or some other kind of weird experiment gone wrong. Their previous album Beyond already showed the band moving away from this trap, as even its few experiments were more successful, and overall it had the same kind of flow their early albums had, and I’m happy to report Master of Light is the same way, as most songs here are upbeat in the kind of way the band always excels at, and even the few slower tracks fit in wonderfully, with only one song initially feeling a bit weird, though even it eventually won me over, as I’ll talk about in a bit.
One thing’s for sure: Opening track “Metal Is for Everyone” wastes no time in creating a fun, positive mood, as it kicks off with some light keyboards and epic choral vocals, before the riffs slowly kick in, and then it turns into the kind of fun, super cheesy yet ultimately addictive kind of power metal the band can always be counted on to deliver, with its verses being fast and fun, and the chorus being insanely catchy and upbeat. Its bridge section is nonsensical and silly but in the kind of way that puts a smile on my face, just the way this band always does at their best. Next up, “Hammer of the Gods” is slightly slower, though still a bit up-tempo, and it’s an even lighter track where the lead melody is quite nice, and it too has an instantly engaging chorus that hooks you in and doesn’t let go.
There are many fast paced tracks here, but they tend to fall into two categories. First up, are the more traditional power metal songs that bring to mind bands like Helloween and Gamma Ray with their guitar leads, blistering fast riffs and choruses. The first of these is “Kings Rise and Fall”, a song which would very much feel at home on an album by either of the aforementioned bands, especially its chorus and solo section, though Freedom Call takes it further with their choir vocals and superb vocal melodies, while “Riders in the Sky” is similar though it has slightly heavier riffs, and if anything it’s an even faster track, with yet another outstanding chorus.
Secondly, we have tracks where the band uses everything they have and go all out, creating some of the most epic, super upbeat and cheesy, yet insanely fun power metal. After the opening track, the next example of this is “A World Beyond”, a track which starts off with some weird distortion effects in the background during an epic open choral section, which also uses some marching drums, and then the track immediately speeds up, with symphonic elements in full effect, and it becomes the kind of light, upbeat track that would have felt at home on Eternity. It has an exceptionally strong chorus, as well as an epic section with choir vocals and a surprisingly heavy section in the middle leading into the solo section, but the highlight of the track is the last run through the chorus, where the guitars sound even more happy than usual, and the whole thing is just unbelievably huge and epic sounding, eventually leading to a nice quiet section that ends the song. That is probably my favorite on the album, though “Emerald Skies” is up there as well, with its excellent use of symphonic elements during the chorus to make for a sweeping score to go along with the full speed attack of the rest of the band, and as is par for the course on this album, the chorus is extremely catchy and fun, with that orchestral score really adding a nice effect, especially during the incredibly epic final run at the end. Lastly, “Hail the Legend” is a fun, keyboard driven track that stays great the whole way through, though it once again shines during the chorus, which starts off at a pretty good pace, before the double bass drums fully kick in halfway through and from there it just becomes insane. That song also has a really cool guitar solo towards the end that sounds fairly unique and is a bit more advanced compared to other solos on the album.
On the slightly slower but still upbeat side of things, we have the title track, which starts off with a nice acoustic guitar led section that would feel at home on an Iron Maiden song, before the choir’s kick in and the song speeds up just a little bit. This track makes especially effectively use of the huge choir vocals during the chorus, and there’s also a brief but very obvious nod to classic Metallica early on, which is pretty neat. The one somewhat odd sounding track I referred to earlier is “Ghost Ballet”, and with a name that sticks out immediately when looking at the track listing, it’s no surprise it sounds a bit different from the rest of the album. It starts off with some weird electronic beats before bringing in the kind of down-tuned guitar work the band occasionally uses on their more experimental work. The song is rather slow, a bit dark and heavy at times, and its odd rhythms initially threw me off, but in the end, its fun chorus ended up winning me over, and the track definitely has that unique charm always found in Freedom Call’s music. On the lighter side of things, “Rock the Nation” is the kind of soft, mid-paced melodic metal track the band is known to bring out from time to time, relying on it’s nice melodic guitar leads and ever happy chorus to deliver something that while not as epic as many tracks on the album, is still a lot of fun and serves as a bit of a breather before the awesomeness of the last two tracks.
Speaking of which, closing track “High Up” begins with a slow preview of the chorus before picking up the pace a bit and turning into something quite similar to “Beyond Eternity” from the last album, in that it’s a very simplistic, somewhat repetitive track which mostly relies on its chorus, but when that chorus is so undeniably catchy and addictive, it all works out. Last but not least, we have the ballad, “Cradle of Angels”, a track mostly dominated by acoustic guitars, which moves nicely through its verses and chorus, before a very nice guitar solo comes in, and then the track ends with, you guessed it, a super epic final run through the chorus, which takes the song to new heights and is certainly one of the highlights of the album.
I’ve talked a lot about amazing choruses in this review, but simply put, if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for in your power metal, to go along with insanely happy lyrics, fast paced songwriting and some insanely epic choir vocals, then Freedom Call never disappoints and Master of Light is no exception. In fact, I’d put it right up there with Eternity as the band’s best, most consistently enjoyable album to date, and it’s certainly one I’d recommend to all fans of lighter power metal, and just anyone looking for an upbeat, insanely fun album to listen to.
Reviewer: Travis Green