Band: Freedom Hawk
Title: Beast Remains
Label: Ripple Music
Release date: March 23, 2018
Format reviewed: vinyl LP
I truly dislike molds. Specifically, music made to fit a certain mold or another. Please feel free to substitute style, genre (or subgenre), for molds. Music should be created independent of any molds, and it should be allowed to be categorized after the fact, after it was composed, recorded and released. Trying to make something to fit in a certain mold does a huge detriment to music. A fact that has been proven time and time again. An artist, or a band, should have the ability to create music freely, and not dictated by trends and/or molds. The large record labels are responsible for forcing artists to confine to artificially imposed molds, a fact that became clearly visible in the 80s, and has taken a huge toll on free creativity ever since.
To fully comprehend the heavy rock music behind FREEDOM HAWK’s fifth full-length release “Beast Remains”, time-traveling is required. And since my DeLorean is currently in the shop, we shall employ virtual means to get to the roots of rock, and due to lack of space, a heavily simplified version of events, barely scratching the surface, is hereby presented. While one of most important influences on the contemporary era (post 1980) of heavy metal, lays on the rise in the late 70s of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), with it’s forefronts Iron Maiden and Saxon, and even that scene’s close, mid 70s predecessors, the mighty Judas Priest, Motörhead and Thin Lizzy, the roots of heavy rock music are immensely deeper. Deeper than the enormous contributions to rock from the iconic Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, in the late 60s and early 70s, often credited with the inception of heavy metal as a genre. Factually, both Deep Purple (psychedelic/progressive) and Led Zeppelin (blues rock) were hard rock acts, with Black Sabbath bringing “downer rock” to the table, a proto-doom metal root. All three strongly anchored into the late 60s psychedelic rock (alternatively “acid rock”).A period that immediately brings to mind vivid psychedelic acts such as Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly, and explosive power trios: The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, among others. Also, around the same period of time, rock saw a rise of occult influenced acts: Arthur Brown, Coven and Black Widow – indisputably influencers on the upcoming Black Sabbath. Going further down the rock history rabbit hole, in the early to mid 60s, solidly grounded in the earlier American blues and rock and roll, we found: the forefront of The British Invasion and counterculture rebels – The Rolling Stones, the shrine to three of rock’s most famous guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck – The Yardbirds, and the “bigger-louder-wall-of-Marshalls” – The Who. With the electric guitar at their common core and the liberal use of feedback, loud distortion and fuzz tones, these groups rapidly escalated to stardom status. Since we made it this far back, it begs the question: where all this originated? … On May 14th 1954 – Sun Records released a 45RPM single (#106) of blues performer James Cotton: “Cotton Crop Blues” (“Hold Me In Your Arms” B-side), featuring one Pat Hare and his “grittier, nastier, more ferocious electric guitar sound”. A very worthy mention would also be the late 1950s instrumentals of Link Wray, particularly “Rumble” (1958), and of what was shaping to become the surf rock of the late 50s and early 60s. (As a side note: Jimmy Page plays air guitar to Link Ray’s “Rumble” in the 2009 documentary “It Might Get Loud” – look it up!).
Returning as a four-piece band on “Beast Remains”, their first album on Ripple Music, FREEDOM HAWK delivers one of the best releases of 2018, so far. With the addition of guitarist Brendan O’Neill, the founding core of T.R. Morton (vocals/guitar), Mark Cave (bass) and Lenny Hines (drums), an already excellent band gains full artistic maturity. Their trajectory is in every way comparable to (Ozzy’s era) Black Sabbath, whom themselves reached their artistic maturity, and mainstream acceptance, (also) with the release of their fifth full-length “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” in 1973. And like Black Sabbath before them, FREEDOM HAWK won’t confine to molds! While the 70s (and some early 80s) influences are obvious, the music on “Beast Remains” is in no way “recycled”. The dual-guitar dynamism layered upon the pervasive bass lines, both doubling and bottom filling to the streamlined drumming precision, allowing for an effective vocal delivery. As a whole, the main focus is on the melody and the sound: collectively, the Virginia Beach (VA) band exploits perfectly the inner details in their compositions, resulting in a dynamic, yet melodic flow. The band paints a beautiful canvas of elevated textures using a vibrant palette of colors in every song on the album: from the solid 1-2 opener (“Solid Gold”/“Danger“), instantly gripping the listener, to the very last track (“Champ“). Clocking in at just over forty-one minutes, shorter than the rest of their releases (with the exception of 2009 self-titled), the impactful eight compositions on “Beast Remains” were all written and arranged by the band, with the lyrical content provided by T.R. Morton. The album, recorded and mixed at Master Sound Studios (Virginia Beach) by Rob Ulsh, assisted by David Stillman, mastered by Chris Goosman at Baseline Audio Labs (Ann Arbor, MI), was entirely produced by the band. The beautifully psychedelic cover art is the creation of Sandra Havik.
I’ve seen this album categorized as: stoner, doom, psych, heavy metal, whatever … While nuances of the aforementioned styles are present, “Beast Remains” is a heavy rock record. I see no point to the growing trends of over-categorizing and listing every shade of musical influence and crossover styles, on most newer releases. Also, I don’t see any gains in steering a potential listener towards one style or another. FREEDOM HAWK has rightfully landed on Ripple Music’s roster: the San Ramon, California, independent label that keeps charming the rock & metal congregation with one great album release after another.
I encourage any potential listeners to discover on their own the music and where any influences might lay. These reviews are hopefully a source of inspiration to discover something new and musically exciting. Other than that, any review is just an opinion, and those are as many as are people. Let FREEDOM HAWK elevate your mind and spirit, within and beyond the amazing journey that “Beast Remains” is.
I shall leave you with a David Stillman quote, printed on the LP’s insert: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not found of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things.” Utterly recommended! 9/10 UHF