It’s nice to see melodic Euro power metal having a bit of a resurgence these days. After its heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the style has been beaten up, beaten down and largely overlooked. So many things in music (like life) are cyclical, and now new bands like Hopes of Freedom are exploring the melodic power metal sound and breathing new life into what had been a moribund genre. I do not have much information about the band, but I do know they hail from the Upper Normandy area of France and formed back in 2007. They released in EP in 2010 and a self-titled full-length in 2010, before returning this spring with ‘Burning Skyfall,’ their first release on their homeland’s Brennus Records.
The album is being marketed as folk/power metal and I do see the basis for description, but in fairness Hopes of Freedom are much more in the “power” bucket than the “folk” category. I guess the reasons for the “folk” tag are the occasional use of traditional instrumentation (bagpipe, tin whistle, uilleann pipe, etc.) and the melodies that sometimes have that Blind Guardian / Falconer / ‘Lord of the Rings’ folky lilt to them. Let me put it this way: Hopes of Freedom are folk metal in the same way that Galloglass or Isengard were, so much more a melodic power metal band with folk touches than the other way around. In fact, the ‘Burning Skyfall’ album as a whole puts me in mind of some of the better bands on the LMP roster during its glory years, acts like Galloglass or Human Fortress or early Mob Rules. Of course, the usual genre tropes and conventions are represented here in full force. The lyrics are steeped in fantasy, telling the story of a struggle between men and Dragon Gods, with one rebellious god turning on his brothers and seeking intervention from a Mother Firedrake, and so on. Everything is epic and larger than life, with an 11-minute track (“Mother Firedrake”), a couple of solemn voiceovers, and scads of choirs. It’s the kind of album that would prompt a long-exiled Euro melodic power metal genre aficionado to exclaim with a lopsided smile, “Chewie, we’re home.”
Happily, I can report that Hopes of Freedom have executed their mission well, as there’s a lot to like about ‘Burning Skyfall.’ Most importantly, Hopes of Freedom have penned some captivating melodies and strong riffs on cuts like standout “In Agony,” “Hearts in Unison,” or “Human Era.” Also, the lads have largely avoided the common genre pitfall of drowning their songs in faux orchestration, layers of soggy keys or gimmicky folk instruments. The album is guitar-oriented for the most part, which serves Hopes of Freedom well and gives the tracks a nice metallic bite. Really the only time the band gets bogged down in bloated arrangements that are too ambitious for their own good is “Mother Firedrake,” the 11-minute tune; otherwise, the album has a nice flow and does not overstay its welcome. What may prove to be the make-or-break factor for many listeners is the vocals. Singer Lucas Lambert has a fairly thick French accent, as one might expect, which carries over into the choirs as well. The real issue is that neither lead vocals nor choirs have a great deal of power. A more commanding voice could really make the strong material shine, but Lambert and the choirs sometimes sound a little too laidback. That said, on spots like the main part of “My Shattering Burden,” Lambert puts enough oomph and emotion into his voice to pull it off effectively.
The bottom line is that Hopes of Freedom have given us a fine example of the Euro melodic power metal style on ‘Burning Skyfall.’ If the style appeals to you, the disc will likely find favor in your collection because it is well done, despite its limitations. I’ll look forward to seeing what Hopes of Freedom do next because they’ve showcased some real talent and glimpses of something special on ‘Burning Skyfall.’ If they can take the next step forward with album number 3, it’s no exaggeration to think that Hopes of Freedom might lead the charge for the forthcoming wave of melodic power metal.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~