Freedom For Us All!
One particular thing of interest that I have noticed growing up during the 90’s is what has happened to Rock and Roll in the United States. The genre that came to define America began a slow decline in the early 90’s, with much of the diversity in the genre getting homogenized by industry executives who were more interested in pushing Alternative Rock over fresh sounds in the other subgenres. By the late 90’s, mainstream modern radio stations across the United States where playing nothing but urban beats (hip hop,) rap, country, and pop. While there was the occasional metal station or classic rock outlet, the genre as it pertained to the mainstream became stagnant; with very few breakout radio hits coming from rock groups for a period of years until the rise of the Indy scene in the mid 00’s. The rock was still there, but by and large it was being ignored by mainstream industry interests.
Now, let’s go back and talk about metal for a bit. Because something very peculiar happened to Rock after it got pushed out of the mainstream in the United States. It went overseas. And it evolved. Today, Europe and Scandinavia are known for their robust metal and rock scenes, which resembles the one America had going in the 1980’s, at least as far as diversity and creativity are concerned. Freedom Call is the starkest example of this that I’ve ever seen. Here is a band that practically screams “American” in name and sound, yet the whole concept was cooked up in Germany.
Drummer Dan Zimmermann, in his spare time between gigs with his main band Gamma Ray, writes short stories – fantasy tales of magic and heroism in the vein of Lord Of The Rings. These he kept largely to himself until Gamma Ray went on a break in 1998. Uniting with his longtime friend Chris Bay, who he played with for a while in the cover band scene, he began to toy with the idea of forming a concept band around his tales of epic fantasy. The excuse was that he wanted to break away from Gamma Ray’s sound for a bit and focus on a straight power-metal sound. Working closely with Chris, the two composed a demo tape, and by the time they had completed the rest of the band’s lineup, they had secured a record deal. Their debut album, “Stairway To Fairyland”, came out in 1999, and the band went on a subsequent tour opening for European metal acts Angra and Edguy.
A sound that screams "awesome!"
If anyone ever asked me to name a band/album that defined power metal or epic metal, this one would be it. Stairway To Fairyland has a classic heavy epic sound that is so awesome it actually brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it. It is completely unlike anything we were getting from domestic bands in the States at the time. This truly heroic metal album introduces us to Zimmermann’s tale of fictional realm Taragon and the darkness descending upon the land, which forces the residents to look to a savior to guide them to a better place. Oddly enough, there is even some Christian allegory here, with the song “Shine On” being practically a Christmas song (though certainly the most kick ass Christmas tune you will ever hear). It gives the tale behind the album kind of a “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” feel, and just like the aforementioned book, it can be easily overlooked if you’d rather just enjoy the fantasy aspect.
To sonically illustrate this fantastical tale, the band makes prominent use of bells, church organs, and choir-style backing vocals. The guitar work is loud, punishing in some passages while soaring in others, and the songs are backed by intricate baselines and drum rolls. Chris Bay sings with a sincere urgency that gives the songs some weight and completes the epic soundtrack feel; his near tenor is distinctive and powerful on the high notes and sounds fun when he almost growls his lyrics as well. All songs are sung in clear English, with no discernable accent. The overall sound is very melodic, hard hitting metal with an underlying energy that makes you want to run headlong into the battle against the forces of evil.
Best songs include: "Over The Rainbow," "Tears Falling", "Fairyland," "We Are One," "Another Day"
Lineup: Chris Bay
Church Choir: Konzert Chor Pankow/Berlin
Track List: 1) "Over The Rainbow"
2) "Tears Falling"
4) "Shine On"
5) "We Are One"
6) "Hymn To The Brave"
7) "Tears Of Taragon"
9) "Holy Knight"
10) "Another Day"
Japanese & Korean exclusive: "Kingdom Come"
Produced by Charlie Bauerfeind