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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Album Review - Freedom Hawk: Holding On


Earlier this year, Virginia Beach natives Freedom Hawk unleashed Holding On, their third overall album and first for stoner rock mega-label Small Stone Records. For those uninitiated, the band plays a straight forward, riff heavy style of rock that often draws comparisons to Fu Manchu and Ozzy-era Black Sabbath. Now before you start thinking “here we go again”, let me fill you in on what makes these cats a little different from most other bands that fit that description. You see the guys in Freedom Hawk understand something that is extremely important, yet all too often forgotten in today’s rock and roll landscape. That is, they understand the importance of a good hook and more importantly they understand the importance of melody when it comes to songwriting. Because of that…well my friends…because of that, you are in for possibly the most addicting listening experience of 2011.

It all starts with the plodding heaviness of “Thunderfoot” where you’ll immediately notice vocalist/guitarist T.R. Morton’s register, which falls somewhere in between Rob Halford’s operatic wail and Ozzy’s high pitched, pot laced croon. The track is far from the album’s best, but it will certainly get your head nodding about halfway through when Morton and fellow guitarist Matt Cave ditch the lumbering riff and kick the song into overdrive by ramping up the tempo and launching into a couple of hair raising solos. “Living for Days” picks right up where the album opener leaves off with blistering fretwork followed by a hammering drum fill from Lenny Hines. Morton, Cave and bassist Mark Cave (Matt’s brother) join the maelstrom at the same time and the entire ensemble blazes through the song so quickly it’ll leave your head spinning.

“Edge of Destiny” steadies the tempo and the band settles into their groove…the haze moves in…your eyes gloss over…turning red…and Morton casually ruminates “standing on the edge and wondering baby.” This is easily one of the best tracks here. “Her Addiction” keeps the drug induced frenzy upbeat as the vocalist implores “no matter what, I will stay high”. Dig the stop/start action just before the two minute mark where the entire band comes to a screeching halt, only to pick right back up where they left off simultaneously…sweet! “Zelda” is Freedom Hawk’s gift to you, a brief reflection point or breather if you will...an interlude of soft guitar and bass that leads into the impenetrable wall of sound that is “Nomad”. Here the band seems to have popped a few downers as they trudge along to a bluesy riff and steady bass backbone for the first three quarters of the song, at which point Hines signals the oncoming storm by way of a rumbling drum passage and then the band gallops back into a driving rhythm that’ll have heads nodding and asses moving in no time.

And just when you think you’ve got a hold on where this band is heading next, “Nomad” segues right into “Magic Lady” and you’re swept away into an aural realm of pure bluesy, boozy psychedelia. This is Freedom Hawk at their finest...my personal favorite track off of Holding On. You can almost smell the herb wafting your way when Morton sings what is an obvious ode to cannabis…“my magic lady…she gets me by…my magic lady…she gets me high.” And so it only makes sense that once the boys have mellowed you out with that contact high, they follow right on its heels with “Bandito” and its funky ass "wakka-wakka" guitar, which sounds like something straight out of a 1970’s porno flick. “Flat Tire” shifts gears back into straight up stoner rock territory and completely justifies those Fu Manchu references I mentioned earlier. And “North Swell” is Freedom Hawk being like…way too fucking cool for school. It's as if Sabbath moved to California and became surfers or something. Did I already pick a favorite song from Holding On? Because now I think I’ve changed my mind.

The final three tracks find Freedom Hawk branching out…experimenting if you will. “Standing in Line” appears to be a stoner rock love song of all things…how else do you describe a heavy ass riff combined with pummeling drums and lyrics like this…“Walking past your house, miss you without a doubt…I need you…Sunday afternoon, you’re leaving, what am I gonna do without you.” But don’t let that distract you from the virtuosic guitar solo towards the end of the track. And “Faded” sees the band heading into darker, more brooding territory as it begins with a folksy Zeppelin-esque guitar part that transitions into an over the top operatic chorus reminiscent of Scandinavian black metal. And finally, the guys get all retro 80’s thrash metal on your ass with “Indian Summer”, which resurrects the sound of early Anthrax and Testament…nothing like a little punch in the mouth for an album closer.

Holding On is an album that has a lot going for it. For starters, as I’ve already mentioned, these are songs…songs that you’ll want to return to and that’ll have you singing along by your second time through the record. They are both catchy and memorable and in this day and age, that’s to be commended. Also notable is the fact that Freedom Hawk avoids the current trend found on albums by many of their peers to extend songs well beyond a reasonable run time. This is a band who clearly understands that less can in fact be more and that it’s actually a good thing to leave their listeners wanting just that…more. Listen…bands that sound like they’re straight out of the 70’s are a dime a dozen these days, I understand this. But I’m here to tell you that Holding On is thirteen tracks of fist in the air, wind in your hair rock and roll that will make you feel damn good. If you can’t get onboard with that, then son…I can’t help you.

Track Listing:

01 Thunderfoot
02 Living for Days
03 Edge of Destiny
04 Her Addiction
05 Zelda
06 Nomad
07 Magic Lady
08 Bandito
09 Flat Tire
10 North Swell
11 Standing in Line
12 Faded
13 Indian Summer

Band Members:

Lenny Hines – Drums
T.R. Morton – Vocals, Guitar
Matt Cave – Guitar
Mark Cave – Bass

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2 comments :

  1. Great review, great jams! I love the surprises we find at the end of the year and then have the difficult decision of changing our Top 10! Awesome Toby!

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  2. Awesome review, Toby! I thought I had my top ten worked out. I have given thought to expanding to "Top Eleven of '11," but that might be lame. Dug these guys and the read!

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