Winterkill - Freedom

Year of Release: 1998
Label: Wild Fire Music
Catalog Number: I8U4ATATT2 [*]
Format: CD
Total Time: 63:30:00

Winterkill opened the first ProgPowerUSA festival in February 2001, and based on what they played that night, I liked their music. However, I cannot say I like everything on their debut album Freedom which was released in 1998. But, I do like most of it. You probably can see by the paragraphs of text below that this is a rather lengthy review ? one of Daglierian proportions, I dare say, though I'm no stranger to lengthy -- [edited for that length - merciful ed.]

So, based in Calumet City (at least when this was released), the band is not that far from JJ Kelley's in Lansing, the bar where the festival was held. While folks were still shuffling in when Winterkill took the stage, it wasn't very long before a crowd gathered in front of the stage. At least two of the tracks that the band played were from Freedom - the title track and "Carnevil."

"Freedom" the song (and album) begins with dialog from the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart, where Gibson, as Scotland's hero William Wallace, is rallying his countrymen to battle, to fight for their freedom from the English. Now, given the patriotic (though twisted) cover, and some of the lyrics in title track, you gather that lyricist/vocalist Randy Barron is, in part, equating the American colonies' fight for freedom with the Scots'. Except that the imagery - Uncle Sam pointing at you - dates from 1813 (37 years after the signing of the Declaration Of Independence). Ah, but the colonists were battling the British again in the years 1812 to 1814 (the "Battle Of 1812," as it is known). And where were they fighting? Canada and the territories of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and ? Illinois (though events of that war also included the eastern seaboard and along the Gulf of Mexico).

Having given you that little bit of American history, I have to tell you that the track itself is making reference to the Revolutionary War. But this isn't really a historical piece, but rather a cry for Americans to return to the core values, to remember what the patriots fought for. And although the defeat of the British wasn't overwhelming -- the American army, made up of both "regulars" (full-time soldiers) and militia (part-time soldiers), was outnumbered by the British but won by virtue of their tenacity, a surrender by Lord Cornwallis at Saratoga, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783 -- the outcome does form the core of what Americans enjoy today. But what Barron is getting at is that in our current clime those core values seem to be eroding. "What the hell gives you the right / to burn the flag while we go fight." The underlying theme and message isn't really all that different from Metallica's 1991 "Don't Tread On Me" While the latter was saber rattling to Hussein and Iraq (and those who view the US in the same way), "Freedom" is speaking more to the citizens of the US.**

"Freedom" also shares more than a general theme with Metallica, as musically the band has a similar sound. The track opens (after the monologue) with a juicy bass line before the rapid fire drums and searing guitar come galloping in. Barron spits out the lyrics in a very aggressive way, sounding like a cross between many vocalists, but mainly in a gruff manner like Hetfield. The backing vocals of the chorus are typically bullish. Guitarist Jeffrey West and bassist Brent Sullivan play especially heavy here - more than galloping, they are downright abusive and overpowering?they'll beat you into submission.

Winterkill mix thematically rich tracks with more generic love/relationship songs, though it's the former that I find much more interesting. "Carnevil" is the power metal version of the ELP classic - well, at least thematically?to some degree. Whereas "Karn Evil 9" was about the over-mechanization of society (at least in part), "Carnevil" is really about?well, evil. The evil that we do to each other, but also all the "evil" things that happen to people - disease, natural disasters, etc. Musically, the track is very much in line with Metallica, as this very well could have been on any of that band's albums (up to 1991). "Thee Awakening" is more blues based rock, though it isn't without the metal heaviness. The pre-chorus sounds more like something from Royal Hunt - and given the religious undertones, perhaps that comparison isn't out of place. But what might seem out of place is that Barron sounds more like Eddie Vedder here (such that during the chorus I found myself thinking of "Jeremy." Barron's voice doesn't flutter as much as Vedder's, but?the similarities are uncanny, given that a lot of the time he sounds like Hetfield. West plays an almost typical power solo, places just where you'd expect it to be.

"Tokyo's Burning" has, as you might expect, a bit of an Asian influence instrumentally, though it begins with a very loose bass line, very fat. Tony Rios' drumming here is the other point of interest - such that an instrumental between the two could be something quite interesting to hear. The intro is a bit arty, but is otherwise rather typical metal for the genre. West's leads are quick and well played? Bree Eidner is co-vocalist here with Barron; I find her voice is very much like Terri Nunn's (Berlin) though she belts out her lines like Lana Lane, Pat Benatar, Ann Wilson, etc.

A song that I've liked for a long time is this album's cover tune - Sugarloaf's "Green Eyed Lady." For me there was something so unique about that bass line, something so different from what other stuff I was hearing at the time. Winterkill preserves a lot of the original, except that bass line though it's rhythmic aspect is here. That isn't to say that they haven't provided a rockin' version of the classic track. It has quite a different character, of course, losing some of the sultriness that the original had, but gaining quite a bit of power. West wails away on guitar, Rios bashes away drums, and Sullivan tries to keep up on bass - though I wish he had that looser sound from earlier in the album - here he is just too tight. The best performance is from Barron, as his voice is well suited to the song ? except for the moments where he tries to stretch it a little bit.

"Heir To The Throne" begins like they're about to give us their rendition of Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz," even down to the sing-speak of the intro verse. Thematically, it is one part Dead Man Walking and one part Metallica's "Ride The Lightning" - but unlike "Ride?" the song isn't as vehemently anti-capital punishment ? though it is, in it's own way, anti-capital punishment. The protagonist here comes across more as an arrogant martyr, however. And, I detect that there are some vague references to Jesus' crucifixion.

"The Storm," is the weakest track on the album, rather routine and has a rather subpar vocal performance from Barron. "Danielle" is a nice, though short, guitar piece. "You Anger Me" is sexist arrogance, something that wouldn't seem out of place coming out of David Lee Roth's mouth, if he made music with the pummeling power of dark metal. Oh, this is the kind of shallow excess that surely has made people look at metal askance, then turn to something else. Lyric theme aside - woman teases man, man gets angry and blustery, gets revenge. About the only thing missing, I suppose (thankfully), is the protagonist resorting to violence. "Equilibrium" is the whiny observations of a drug addict. Barron's got the tenor of the voice right for the character, but it is less than an impressive performance. Musically, it isn't bad though it is rather typical. "Time (Is Of The Essence)" sees a return to their Metallica-influenced metal and it is here where they seem at their best. This track could easily have been on Master Of Puppets?and, in fact, is reminiscent of that album's title track (though here and there I also think of White Zombie).

The album closes with the live track "Leavn'," which features a melancholy sax by Mike Haney, gentle percussion and bass. This is a slow bluesy number written for their agent Phil Paulos who passed away. It is one man's goodbye to all that he knows. But for a bit of awkwardness at the start of the chorus, this is a terrific song, Barron's delivery filled with just the right amount of emotion.

So, in Daglierian fashion, I'll render here my final verdict: Freedom is a promising debut; the band is better with their crunchy Metallica-influenced tracks than?well, than with those that are not - excepting the closer. They do have a follow up album out called Feast For A Beggar, so it will be interesting to see which direction it has gone in, as the band said to me (in response to a little message I left at CDBaby when ordering this CD): "[I]t's the kick ass CD that you'll probably enjoy more."

*many a man was killed for less; **It is also interesting note, at least to me, that Mel Gibson also starred in a film about the Revolutionary War, The Patriot.
Freedom (4:41) / Tokyo's Burning (6:15) / Carnevil (7:31) / Thee Awakening (6:00) / Green Eyed Lady (5:29) / Heir To The Throne (4:35) / The Storm (5:08) / Danielle (1:09) / You Anger Me (5:27) / Equilibrium (5:42) / Time (Is Of The Essence) (3:46) / Leavn' (7:44)

Randy Barron - vocals
Brent Sullivan - bass
Jeffrey West - guitars
Tony Rios - drums
Russell Barron - backing vocals
Bree Eidner - vocals (2)
Mike Giordano - theremin (10)
Mike Haney - sax (12)

Freedom (1998)
Feast For A Beggar (2000)

Genre: Traditional Metal

Origin US

Added: March 27th 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Hits: 724
Language: english


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