Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Freedom Call - London Review

Despite having been a fan of theirs for a few years now, I had not previously had the chance to see German power metal stalwarts Freedom Call live. As with most European melodic metal acts, their trips to the UK can be scarce and often consist of a single London date. That is why, when a short four-date UK tour was announced by the band towards the end of last year, I jumped at the chance to get tickets for my first Freedom Call live experience. Despite slightly more choice than average when it came to venues, the show in London at the busy Underworld in Camden was the most convenient. The tickets were very reasonably priced, and the evening was made even more appealing when it was announced that the British power metal band Power Quest, who have been going from strength to strength over the past couple of years since reforming with a brand new line-up. The two bands have toured together in the past, and clearly have formed a firm friendship which made this short UK tour a no-brainer for the pair. Both bands are also promoting new albums, with Freedom Call still heavily pushing 2016's Master of Light and Power Quest dining out on the success of last year's excellent Sixth Dimension. Both albums have been extremely well-received by the metal community, which may have accounted for the strong turnout. While crowds at Sunday nights in London are usually fairly healthy, there was still a decent-sized amount of people in the Underworld throughout the night. With the slightly thin crowd that Firewind had watching their set in the same venue just over a month ago in mind, it is fair to say that Freedom Call have done well here. The ticket price was very affordable, which probably helped, but either way it was great to see a healthy crowd.

Up first however was Hanowar who, predictably, are Manowar tribute band. Manowar will never be one of my favourite bands, but I do appreciate many of their famous true metal anthems. As, it turns out, did many other members of the gathering crowd who sung along to every minute of Hanowar's 30 minute. This would have been fun if, however, Hanowar had been good. While not exactly awful, I think it is fair to say that their set was extremely sloppy. It seemed that more thought had gone into their costumes and attempts at pyrotechnics than really honing their craft. Their vocalist sounded more like Alestorm's Christopher Bowes than Eric Adams, and their live sound was extremely dull and lacked the punch that makes Manowar's songs hit the listener between the eyes. In fairness, Hanowar clearly do not take themselves seriously at all, which is fair enough, but it seemed that so much effort went into making everything seem kooky (handing out party poppers and attaching little sparkler-like things to their guitars) that it all just came across as somewhat forced. The songs played were all Manowar classics, it was just a shame that Hanowar did not really do them justice.

Luckily Power Quest were much better and, despite having some trouble with the guitars during the first song, made their seven song set count. It was clear that a large portion of those in attendance were already fans of the band, and sung along to everything the band threw at them. The upbeat opening duo of newbie Lords of Tomorrow and the old classic Temple of Fire saw Power Quest hit the ground running, with Glyn Williams (guitar/vocals) getting his guitar to work just before launching into the first solo of the night. The standout song for me however was the darker, heavier Face the Raven which features a venomous chorus which was perfectly handled by frontman Ashley Edison. This was my third time seeing Power Quest, and each time Edison has been better than at the previous show. He is clearly growing into the role more and more as time goes by, and his performance at the Underworld was excellent. His screaming falsetto in Face the Raven and the AOR tinged chorus in the old classic For Evermore really showed his vocal diversity. He could well be the band's best singer yet, and with the news of a new album already in the works for next year I cannot wait to see how he translates this growing experience into the upcoming new material. Elsewhere, the band's leader and sole founding member Steve Williams (keyboards/vocals) was thankfully pretty high in the mix which allowed the band's epic power metal to really shine live with his sheen of orchestral keyboards and synth leads. This was particularly evident on closing number Far Away which brought the band's set to a rousing and powerful end. The setlist was:

Lords of Tomorrow
Temple of Fire
Face the Raven
Kings and Glory
Coming Home (Sacred Land - Part II)
For Evermore
Far Away

I have to give credit to the on stage crew throughout this show, as all of the changeovers were extremely quick and without any fuss. It was not long after Power Quest finished their set that the lights went down and Freedom Call hit the stage for what was to be an uplifting set packed with their trademark happy heavy metal songs. Chris Bay (vocals/guitar) has been leading this band for twenty years now, and he led the four-piece band through a strong set that contained many of their best-loved anthems. Tears of Babylon and United Alliance got things off to a good start, with Bay beaming as he sung the lyrics to the enthusiastic crowd and Lars Rettkowitz (guitar/vocals) often stole the show with his shredding guitar solos. An early highlight for me was the slightly thrashy Kings Rise and Fall, which was one of the band's best choruses in my opinion. Another great moment was the band's self-titled song, which becomes a true anthem when played live. From the snaking main riff, through the atmospheric verses, to the roof-lifting chorus - this is a true power metal classic. While Freedom Call are well respected band, it is a shame that they have never reached the heights of some of their peers. While maybe their music lacks the diversity required to be considered a classic band, their catchy songwriting and infectious enthusiasm for their craft definitely deserves to be acknowledged by a wider audience.  Those who were in attendance however really lapped up everything that Bay and co. had to offer. There was a particularly good moment when Bay nipped off stage briefly, only to return moments later in a huge comedy hat and silly glasses before belting out a great version of the tongue-in-cheek Mr. Evil. Bay's traditionally deadpan German humour mixed with his smiling personality is a winning combination, and he took great pleasure throughout in cajoling the crowd to sing louder and jump higher. This slightly off-beat humour culminated in a version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, with alternative Freedom Call-inspired lyrics, which got everyone laughing and singing along before the band launched into the last song of the main set, their current single Metal is for Everyone. With big cries for more, the band came back out for a three-song encore that included some real fan-favourites - particularly Warriors and Land of Light. The latter in particular was truly excellent and got everyone off their feet one last time as the evening was brought to a close in a joyous fashion. The setlist was:

Tears of Babylon
United Alliance
Kings Rise and Fall
Union of the Strong
Freedom Call
Hammer of the Gods
Masters of Light
Carry On
Mr. Evil
A Perfect Day
Hallelujah [Leonard Cohen cover]
Metal is for Everyone
Power & Glory
Land of Light

After the show I managed to get my copy of Power Quest's Sixth Dimension signed by some of the members of the band which was great. They will be playing some headline dates of their own towards the end of the year so I will have to see if I can make it to any of those. I was really impressed by Freedom Call too, and will now have to get their rest of their many albums as I only own a few currently. I will definitely be trying to catch them again next time they visit the UK.

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