Freedom Hawk is:
T.R. Morton: Vocals, Guitars, Organ
Lenny Hines: Drums
Matt Cave: Leads, Guitars
Mark Cave: Bass
All songs written and performed by Freedom Hawk
Published by Small Stone Records (ASCAP)
Produced by Freedom Hawk
Recorded and Co-Produced by Vince Burke at Sniper Studios Moyock, NC
Mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios Allston, MA
Mastered by Chris Goosman at Basline Audio Labs Ann Arbor, MI
Illustration & album artwork by Alexander von Wieding, zeichentier.com
Well here’s a pleasant surprise, when you get the amount of stuff to sift through that we do yet another riff heavy rock outfit isn’t guaranteed to make a reviewer stick a CD in his/her review pouch (we’re all like kangaroos you know). But this Virginia based quartet immediately bring to mind Black Sabbath when they were still good (that would be the first five albums), in fact if you are a fan of the latter releases (Vol 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, when the monster riffs became sprightly rather than sludgy), then you’ll very likely love this to death, unashamedly retro and all the better for it.
- Ray Harper
Freedom Hawk is a four piece stoner rock band hailing from Tidewater, Virginia in the USA. According to their press release Freedom Hawk’s sound is categorised by their blend of heavy riffs, rolling groove, and soulful guitar melodies to produce the sound that is Freedom Hawk. Formed in 2003, Holding On is their 3rd full length release, having previously released an EP called Universal and a split with The Crimson Electric in 2007. They also released a 4 song EP in 2005, although I am not certain about an official release
The four piece line up consists of
T. R. Morton: Vocals, Guitars and Organ
Lenny Hines: Drums
Matt Cave: Guitars
Mark Cave: Bass
Monster Magnet, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, 3 bands who immediately spring to mind when you’re thinking of stoner or desert rock. Synonymous with the scene for over 20 years, they been the catalyst for many bands seeking to emulate or copy their sound, sometimes producing music of quality and others time not.
For that reason, I often feel a sense of apprehension when exposed to new bands in the genre, due in no small part to an over saturation in the market of poor quality music and perhaps for reasons that some bands, are intent on trying to be the next Monster Magnet, Kyuss or Fu Manchu. Having never heard of Freedom Hawk before this record, the usual feelings started to stir. Thankfully, Freedom Hawk, here with their third official release Holding On, have produced an album of impeccable quality.
What you have, is what you expect from stoner/desert rock, bucket loads of riffs and that trademark fuzzy bass groove in spades!! Whilst listening to this record, I couldn’t help feeling that I was being transported back to 1970’s America; peace and love, warm summers, driving in your convertible and heading down to the beach. Think Cheech & Chong, and their ‘fiberweed’ van and you’ll get the general idea.
Having been labelled "the East Coast's answer to Fu Manchu", you might expect a band to flounder perhaps sacrificing originality in favour of being a nostalgia act; however Holding On is a headstrong, full throttle adrenaline ride, with a tank full of groovy riffs, blistering guitar solos and enough swagger to make their contemporaries green (no pun intended) with envy.
Holding On resonates with the influence of Dio era Black Sabbath, and also the solo career of Ozzy Osborne, specifically Blizzard of Oz. Indeed T.R. Morton’s voice has an uncanny resemblance to Ozzy, yet retains originality. More importantly, the exemplary vocals only serve to make this album such fantastic fun. The band SHeavy also springs to mind when I listened to this record. Is it any wonder this record is awesome?
Since their inception in 1995, Small Stone Records’ have an exemplary track record of producing bands and releasing music of superior quality and Holding On continues that great tradition.
"Thunderfoot, ‘Living for Days’, ’Edge of Destiny’ and ‘Her Addiction’ fused with powerful chords, Iommi-esque guitar solos and an impressive use of ambience, creates the aesthetic of psychedelia and fuzziness, giving you that warm tripped out feeling and infecting your psyche to it’s core. The sporadic use of organ’s provide the album with a spaced out / out of body sensation, all of which set them apart in their own right from the aforementioned Fu Manchu. I couldn’t help thinking on ‘Her Addiction’ that it had just a whiff of The Ramones influence on it, giving it that punchy attitude and up tempo ‘punk’ vibe.
Throughout the album T.R. Morton's Ozzy influenced vocals add supreme quality to the record and it infuses well with the bands fuzzed up sound and further cementing their ‘70s rock sound. Slower more experimental detours on the album such as "Zelda", which could be their ‘Planet Caravan’, add definition and texture to the album. Plan and simple, Holding On is just downright impressive.
During the 13 tracks on offer here, Freedom Hawk provide the listener with the sweetest grooves imaginable, yet offers something truly unique. The band has the uncanny knack of producing polished melodies with beefy riffs, giving substance and vigour to the album. Tracks like ‘Bandito’ are catchy as hell and take you on rollercoaster ride, leaving you disorientated and bewildered, by what has just happened.
Freedom Hawk have fair and flamboyance in their sound, most importantly the ability to write memorable tunes. This skill intertwined with an unyielding production from Vince Burke (Beaten Back to Pure) gives the album a classic sound of days gone by, when albums were recorded in 7 days and you were excited to open your gatefold vinyl for the first time.
Holding On is an album which adds further credibility and quality to the genre, and of classic albums we have grown up with. The album is a grower and the more listen, the more you grasp the depth of influences which have inspired this band to write it. I can only hope that Freedom Hawk continue to produce albums of this quality, because if they do, Holding On is the beginning of very bright future for them. This album is choc full of hooks, groove and muscular riff and to top it off, excellent vocals. To quote Cheech Marin, ‘Holy sheep shit! It’s guitar Heaven! I can’t recommend this album highly enough. Go buy it!
Big thanks to Scott Hamilton of SS Recordings for allowing us to review their music. There will be more to come from this incredible label over the coming weeks. Check out the links below for more info on the band and where to buy their music. I have also posted a video below to their outstanding song 'Edge Of Destiny'.
Holding On is the third album from US Stoner merchants Freedom Hawk. Now this is a band that I have heard good things about, and when this release alighted at CackBlabbath I made sure that I got my name down to review it before anyone else could.
There are some advantages to being the boss :-)
It’s an album opens as it means to go on, Thunderfoot walking that fine line between a laid back stoner vibe and heavy, downtuned Doom, before upping the tempo and rocking along at a fair old pace.
The tempo stays high for my favourite track here, Living For Days which may not offer anything that you haven’t heard before but has such an incredible buzz about it that you can’t help but get involved.
It’s an album with a surprising amount of variety, even slipping in a neat little acoustic instrumental half way through. Clearly this is a band not afraid to flex their musical muscles and that is, for me, the album’s main strength (or maybe weakness, depending on your point of view). This is definitely not a monotonous (or mono-paced) collection of songs where everything sounds the same, instead it rocks along brilliantly with the distinctive vocals providing the necessary thread that binds everything together.
Even after a few listens I’m still not sure about the track Bandito though, a fuzz and wah driven ZZ-Top-esque rocker that doesn’t seem to fit entirely with the rest of the album. It’s not bad by any means, it just strikes me as being a little out of place.
Only lasts 3 minutes though, and normal service is soon resumed with the awesome blues-boogie of Flat Tire :-)
This genre is one that is becoming increasingly crowded, but Freedom Hawk certainly exhibit enough energy, originality and songwriting skill to make them much more than just another generic rock band, and while Holding On may not win legions of new converts to the downtuned stoner cause, it’s certainly something that aficionados of the genre will enjoy.
It was with great sadness that the rock community recently became aware of Tony Iommi’s battle with cancer. I’m not alone in wishing him well and hoping he makes a full and speedy recovery. The hotly anticipated Black Sabbath reunion summer 2012 was further jeopardised by disagreements between drummer Bill Ward and the rest of the band over contracts for a possible new album and the tour dates they had lined up. The fact that there’s so much love from fans young and old for a band that formed over 40 years ago is a testament to Black Sabbath’s spectacularly heavy sound. Even today it still has that edginess and sense of danger.
If the Sabs reunion doesn’t go ahead we can always console ourselves by listening to Holding On, the latest long player from Virginia’s Freedom Hawk. This album has been in my listening pile for some time now. I’ve put off writing a review for the simple reason that I could carry on listening to it. They’ve taken the Sabbath sound as their basic template, given it a modern production sheen, and made sure their songs are full of heavy and memorable riffs. The result is a mighty fine album, full of ’70s style riffing and hard driving beats, perfectly complimented by T.R. Morton’s uniquely pitched vocals. The lyrics it has to be said are occasionally a tad embarrassing and veer towards the self important deepness that was commonplace among patchouli oil wearers back in the day. Though I’m inclined to believe Morton’s tongue may be firmly in his cheek. In which case they’re genius. Check out “Magic Lady” and you’ll see what I mean.
A lot of bands are heavy. Let’s face it, it’s not difficult to be heavy. Where most band fail is a lack of substance and decent songs. That’s not an issue here, all the tracks stands up, are memorable, and across the album there’s little sense of any filler. Opening track “Thunderfoot” and late album rocker “North Swell” are the most Sabbath-esque tracks on offer, though my personal favourite is “Standing On The Edge of Destiny”, which manages to be both majestically daft, (in a good way), catchy, and perhaps the best new “old school” rock song you’ll hear all year. I like this a lot and my guess is that you will too.
- Duncan Fletcher
These Virginians mine stoner-doom waddle for hot momentum, melancholy warmth and sticky tunes galore. T.R. Morton's high, Ozzyesque vibrato helps a lot, but so do twin axes that balance delectably dirty tone with heaven-bound uplift, and the dynamics that suddenly switch into bulldozer Budgie beats. "Zelda" is some gorgeously wordless rustic psych, too. But stick around for the border dope-trade Zappabilly of "Bandito," the whinnying guitar break of "Flat Tire," the Gregorian-dirged early-Aerosmith space-metal of "Faded," and the supremely confident and climactic speed-closer "Indian Summer."
- Chuck Eddy
This quartet's material owes a bit to '70s stalwarts like Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep, but with fresh arrangements and tight song structures in fairly complex patterns. Crisp guitar leads and driving percussion propel the proceedings, and the sound is full even with few guitar overdubs. Standouts include "Edge Of Destiny" and "Standing In Line" which both offer a hummable chorus.
Wh-what's this I'm hearing? No...it can't be. Has the new recording from Black Sabbath already been leaked?
Oh, wait...this is Freedom Hawk's new album from Small Stone Records. Now I remember - and I love everything about it. I think these guys are dope and they have to be one of the best early-Sabbath-sounding rock bands out there right now, other than the newly-reunited legends, of course. I mean, just play these songs I've included from Freedom Hawk's, Holding On, and I'm pretty sure you'll agree.
First, there's vocalist/guitarist T.R. Morton , whose voice can sound exactly like a young and lively, hand-clapping Ozzy, only more powerful. There hasn't been one other rock singer I can remember who sounds so much like Ozzy to me. He's so spot-on and I think I'm listening the Prince of Darkness himself. Really. And that's not a bad thing at all, at least for me. It doesn't hurt that the riffs flow effortlessly from his fingers, either.
Matt Cave completes Freedom Hawk's twin-guitar assault and, along with his brother, Mark Cave (bass), and Lenny Hines (drums), the members produce such thick, rich, 70's-inspired rock music that you just have to hear it. And own it.
The songs, "Edge of Destiny" (link below) and "Nomad", are two of my favorites and they're prime examples of the strong, solid Sabbath aura that Freedom Hawk invokes throughout Holding On. "Zelda" is a short instrumental near the middle of the 13-track album which reminds me of "Planet Caravan". Bongo drums are the only things missing, if you ask me. "Flat Tire" is another gem, but hell, I think they all are. Believe me, I could go on and on.
From their bio: "Hailing from a beach town in Virginia, this quartet blends heavy riffs, a rolling groove, and soulful guitar melodies to produce the sound that is Freedom Hawk. Their brand of rock coupled with a high energy live show, leaves many wondering if they’ve stepped through a time warp, which has taken them to rock’s heyday in the 70’s."
I didn't listen to 70's hard rock until the 80's, when I was a young teenager. Like many others, I started with bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, the earliest Judas Priest and....Sabbath. If you're like me and you can't wait until the Black Sabbath reunion album, then Freedom Hawk are just the band to tide you over. Once you listen to Holding On, though, they'll probably become one of your current favorite bands like they did for me.
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.
This latest offering from FREEDOM HAWK impressed me a lot. Their sound is very reminiscent of BLACK SABBATH, and this is most certainly not a bad thing. My fingers were drumming along to every track of “Holding On”. If I could drive, this album would be perfect to take along with me on a long journey.
The first song, “Thunderfoot”, starts off quite slowly with Morton’s vocals hooking you in almost instantly. Then the guitars and drums move in for the kill to ensure that you are going to want to listen to the album the entire way through. “Holding On” is a very strong album, every song offering something different to the listener, but coming together as one to form a brilliant final package. The short interlude, “Zelda”, is a break from the ‘meatiness’ of the rest of the album but it’s nice. Every other song is based around awesome riffs, really showing off the quality of the fretwork.
Morton’s vocals are very similar to Ozzy Osbourne’s style, and although many people have tried this style before, his is the best I’ve heard. But that’s not to say you’ll listen to this and think ‘oh, this is just a tribute to BLACK SABBATH’ because T.R. still has a very distinctive and powerful voice. The guitar skills of Morton, Matt Cave and Mark Cave (the 2 Cave’s are brothers) are very impressive, as is the quality of Lenny Hines’s drumming. The four musicians come together very well to produce a sound that will remind you of the heyday of Hard Rock, with some soulful guitar work thrown in for good measure.
“Holding On” is an exceptionally good album and one that I would definitely recommend to anyone. There is a lot of talent on show here and it’s obvious how much work went into producing this album. It’s very unassuming, it doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not, and it’s somewhat comforting that there is still a band out there that can produce an excellent Hard Rock offering.
- Rebecca Miller
Their 2009’s s/t album was more like a fuzz-based classic stoner and it made Freedom Hawk earn the reputation of the Fu Manchu rip offs. This year they return and now the band looks determined to do something about it! No! The band doesn’t do anything “progressive” and they certainly don’t invent anything new! In “Holding On” the band comes back to the more “appropriate” for them paths of “Sunlight”. And my heart is put into its place.
Here we are dealing with less fuzzy more doom laden side of Freedom Hawk. As always bass is dominant and super loud, guitars are heavy and on the job of delivering memorable riffs one after another. The first thing someone will notice is that the weird work on the vocals the previous album had is gone! Yeah, T. R. Morton sounds Ozzier than ever. If haters had a reason for calling Freedom Hawk Fu Manchu rip offs well now they’ll focus their comparisons to Black Sabbath. Personally, I am one of those who don’t really have any problem if a new band resembles another monster band of the past as long as there is good material to justify the resemblance. And this is where “Holding On” shines.
The record is packed with 13 dynamites. Catchy riffs, lead to catchy songs! The kind of songs you wanna sing along! This is a bit of a lost art these days ha? The album is quite addictive too. Although I have a stack full of new albums to review this one made wanna come back for more. And really…I find a “new-favorite-song” of the record every time I listen to it.
I will be honest here! “Holding On” DOES remind Black Sabbath a lot! Actually, I think the band tried hard to sound like it at some points. It also reminds a bunch of other cool stuff after Black Sabbath. But if some people can’t see what’s the deal beyond that then they should just seat back and enjoy to some of the most inspired rock tunes of 2011! Simple as that! Back to roots of all evil baby!!! Rowk!!!
Freedom Hawk is often compared to Fu Manchu. A comparison that makes sense, but ignores the far more logical comparison to Ozzy Osbourne / Black Sabbath Of course it is stating the obvious, can we even guess how many bands want to be just like the Mighty Sabbath? How many guitarists would give a few fingertips in order to be able to summon the same licks out of their guitars as Mr. Iommi?
Freedom Hawk is not like those bands. They are far better and they have a secret weapon: guitarist-singer T.R. Morton, whose vocals resemble those of Ozzy Osbourne remarkably. Added to this is the strong support by fellow guitarist Matt Cave, his brother Mark on bass and drumming animal Lenny Hines, and the conclusion is that this is a golden combination. Freedom Hawk sounds just like Black Sabbath with Eddie van Halen as solo guitarist and John Bonham on drums. Classic heavy rock in other words, with expert guitarplaying and a drummer who beats the hell out of his kit. ‘Edge Of Destiny’ is a fine example of the thunderous almost tribal rolls Hines draws out of his and also showcases some fine guitar neck acrobatics. But in each song it is Morton’s voice, put right in front of the mix by Small Stone house-engineer Benny Grotto, that grabs all of the attention. Morton wails, screams and hollers with a vengeance.
But we would pay Freedom Hawk short by putting them down as just a Sabbath/Osbourne clone playing with the energy and speed of Fu Manchu. Especially in the second half of ‘Holding On’ display much more than just stoner. The quiet interlude ‘Zelda’ may sound very Sabbathian, a few tracks later one suddenly hears the very funky wah-wah ballad ‘Bandito’. Yes, Clutch also masters that genre, but Freedom Hawk manage to bring it in a way the comparison is not made immediately. An even bigger excursion is made in ‘Faded’, a viking metal number in the ancient Bathory tradition, complete with the oo-ah-ah chanting that is so typical of the genre. The closing track ‘Indian Summer’ starts off with twin guitar work and then gets going in one of the most awesome riffs of the cd. From start to finish filled with power riffs and viciouus soloing, it is a worthy end to an exceptionally good album. “Alright now!”
Score one for Small Stone. Freedom Hawk’s self-titled debut, which came out a couple years back on MeteorCity, was one of my favourite MC records since they refreshed that imprint in ‘07. (If you look hard enough, you might even find where I gave it an 8.5 on this site in January of last year.) Looks like the Motor City heavy rock label won the bidding war for album number two.
Well, I’m gonna hafta go and revisit their first record, which I quite liked, but Holding On sounds like a big departure for these guys in the early going. Gone is the slow, lazy, southern/stoner vibe, replaced by uptempo tunes and high-pitched, nasal, Ozzy-wannabe singing. The first two cuts on this one wouldn’t sound outta place on The Sword’s latest, IMO.
“Edge of Destiny” is still a killer tune, slower than the first two, though it does speed up a bit. Even with the nasal vocals, it still kicks serious tail. “Her Addiction” on the other hand, is not what you’d expect from a drug tune—it’s a seriously speedy number, but not without groove, coming off like newer Nebula on Dexedrine.
Eighth track “Bandito” comes the closest to the Freedom Hawk I remember. A slow, wah-wah riff with some deeper vocals gives way to a heavy, balls-out chorus. I like this one a lot. “Flat Tire” also works well, sounding kinda like one of the faster Black Sabbath tunes—if Sabbath had hailed from the D.C. area. And the intro to “North Swell” just screams “Electric Funeral!” This is getting better as we go along…
“Standing In Line” is like a back-to-basics blueprint of how to write a stoner rock song. Most bands who can’t quite get it right should take notes. This is how they do it in the Doom Capital. Nuff said!
I actually did pull out their first album after all, and my initial thoughts were confirmed. There has been a significant evolution from their initial release to this one. I actually think my grade for the s/t was a little generous, in hindsight, but this one is well deserved. 8.5 / 10
- Gruesome Greg
It’s high summer, 1973, you’re making the long drive through the Californian wastelands to pick up a consignment of weed in LA. You stop at a run down gas station in the middle of nowhere and while the attendant fills your tank, washes the dust from the windscreen and checks the oil, you grab a coke and sneak a quick spliff before grinding the used butt into the sand. Before long you’re back on that lonely highway with nothing but the radio for company but you’re getting sick of hearing “Stairway To Heaven” and you’ve never really got The Eagles so you fumble through the 8 tracks stashed in the glove box and come across one you’ve never heard before…Freedom Hawk…so you stick it on.
Yes folks, Freedom Hawk lay down some syrupy grooves that come rising from the ashes of days gone by. More so than the majority of Small Stone’s current roster, Freedom Hawk look to the 70’s to fuel their fuzzy tones with a captivating vintage vibe rather than the usual stoner clichés. If anything it sounds like these guys have been getting some direct blow backs from Sabbath themselves, particularly as guitarist T. R. Morton’s voice occupies that spectral acidic zone that Ozzy set up home in during his hey day.
Tracks such as “Living For Days” and “Her Addiction” blast buy in a sulphate addled blur, the latter tipping a nod to some prime Judas Priest along the way complete with twin guitar harmonies. Elsewhere “Edge Of Destiny” pulls off a more epic sound that, dare I say it, has shades of Wolfmother in its grandiose tapestry. “Zelda” is a smoky “Planet Caravan” style instrumental that leads into the rich and harmonious “Nomad”. Here Morton’s vocal is prime Ozzy but the track has a more restrained groove that shows off some very tasty guitar wailing. I’m going to stick my neck out and note a touch of UFO here…and if more bands took UFO as an influence the world would be a better place!!!
“Magic Lady” has a definite Sabbath vibe but Freedom Hawk have the ability to craft some killer choruses, something that Sabbath rarely did…you don’t believe me, go back and listen and try to find the choruses in Sabbath’s tunes!!! This is a track that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on any classic rock radio show blending slick melodies with muscular riffing.
If the funky grooves that herald the arrival of “Bandito” don’t have you grinning from ear to ear and moving your ass then you are moments away from needing resuscitation!!! When the riff kicks in then the beer’s going flying on this little sucker!!! Just as you’ve got your groove on, “Flat Tire” comes on sounding like it’s going to burst into Uriah Heep’s “Easy Livin’” complete with organ…it doesn’t but all the same this is kind of like going on a drunken rampage in a Camaro at full tilt!!!
Unlike a lot of so called stoner bands, Freedom Hawk show a classic knack for writing economical, punchy and most importantly catchy songs as opposed to bunches of drawn out riffs. They know the power of dynamics in a song…when to pick it up and drop it down a notch or two…and also know how to hold a song back from outstaying its welcome. That skill married up with a tight, warm production that boasts a smoking, vintage guitar tone…you can almost smell the valves burning…makes for yet another top notch release from the Small Stone label…can they really do no wrong???
Virginian four-piece Freedom Hawk began to carve their name on the American riffy consciousness with 2009’s self-titled full-length, released by MeteorCity. That album earned generally favorable comparisons to Fu Manchu (from me as well), and on the follow-up, Holding On, the double-guitar unit maintain that smoothly-grooved sensibility, adding to it more memorable songwriting and a vocal approach from guitarist T.R. Morton that inherently reminds of Ozzy Osbourne’s early solo work in both cadence and tone. On first listen, that’s going to be what most stands out about Holding On. The production of Vince Burke (Beaten Back to Pure), who also helmed the self-titled, and the mix of Small Stone’s house engineer Benny Grotto of Mad Oak Studios push Morton’s vocals to the fore, and whether it’s “Faded” bringing to mind “Diary of a Madman” with its backing track later on the album or the earlier “Living for Days” copping a feel off “Bark at the Moon,” Freedom Hawk have a clarity of purpose in their use of the Ozzy influence that’s hard to ignore. It’s a twist on, “Well, if it was good enough for Sabbath,” and to Morton’s credit, he’s able to pull off the style better than anyone I’ve heard in the genre since Sheavy’s Steve Hennessey, and able to do it while also busting out a slew of quality riffs on which Holding On’s 13 tracks are based.
It’s a rock album in the tradition of rock albums. Nine of the 13 cuts are between four and five minutes long, and all of them – the exception being the 1:50 interlude “Zelda” – have a classic rock accessibility that will no doubt set many to bemoaning the state of rock radio. Morton and fellow guitarist Matt Cave work well off each other in terms of riffs and solos, and lead the way through straightforward heavy rock the diversity of which isn’t immediate, but which works nonetheless in a variety of moods, from the mid-paced stomp of opener “Thunder Foot” to the barn-burning “Living for Days” (the shortest non-interlude at 2:50), which follows immediately. The rhythm section of bassist Mark Cave (brother to Matt) and drummer Lenny Hines provides stability beneath the riffs, but the songs have an innate sense of structure as well, so it’s not like they’d fall off the rails otherwise. Not to say Hines and Mark don’t contribute – the tonal thickness of the latter is essential and Hines’ pulsating kick is like the floor on which the wah-infused boogie of “Bandito” plays out – just that the material on Holding On is built around solid verses and choruses, not meandering jams that require the bass and drums to ground them in order to establish some rapport with the listener.
With “Edge of Destiny,” the pace cuts somewhat from “Living for Days,” but Freedom Hawk’s ability to write the noted solid choruses comes to the fore. I’ve found in sitting with Holding On that the songs are not so much breaking new stylistic ground as they are digging into what’s already been done in order to create something memorable and distinct from it. The album is a grower in the sense that the more you listen to its tracks – and like a lot of Small Stone’s output over the last few years, it is very much a collection of tracks despite an accomplished flow between them – the more they leave an imprint on you, so that the grown-up punk of “Her Addiction” (a highlight for Hines in showing off his endurance) doesn’t stand itself out from the rest of Holding On until you’ve been through the album a few times, but ultimately proves worth the several listens it takes to get to that point. Morton, the Cave brothers and Hines have a lack of pretense that’s pervasive, and as “Zelda” – which is probably their most Sabbathian moment, with piano and guitar interplay that could’ve set up any number of Master of Reality’s heavy groovers – gives way to the album’s strongest movement in its midsection, Freedom Hawk have only just begun to show off what they can do within the parameters of their genre.
As unhip as it is to say in this day and age, a vinyl release of Holding On is bound to lose something of the listening experience in that the divide between sides of the album will (presumably) break up the flow between “Nomad,” “Magic Lady,” “Bandito” and “Flat Tire” – essentially the meat of the album. Each song has something about it that it does best of all the tracks, whether it’s the bluesy lead flourishes and Cave’s bass work on “Nomad,” the chorus of “Magic Lady,” the divergence from Morton’s Ozzy vocal into almost-cartoonishly deep spoken word for the verses of the pun-titled “Bandito” – a song that later features the line “god damn smoking ban,” as if just to remind that Freedom Hawk aren’t taking themselves too seriously – or the chugging shuffle into the guitar flange chorus of “Flat Tire.” As the centerpiece of Holding On, “Magic Lady” earns its position and might be the band’s strongest inclusion overall, blending many of the elements that make the other songs stand out into a potent brew that’s unabashedly treading stoner rock ground without also being overly derivative, and the subtle shift in sound of “Bandito” comes on precisely as needed – something notable on CD or digital sequencing that’s lost with the Side A/B split LPs require.
I wasn’t convinced initially that every track on the album served its purpose, but “North Swell,” which begins Holding On’s closing third (if we count “Zelda” in with the first four), eventually won me over with its classic ‘80s metal riffing and solo interplay between Morton and Cave. That said, the song does seem to end at 3:15 before reviving the chorus for another go that could be read as superfluous but is ultimately harmless nonetheless. If the tradeoff is ending with the title line and giving the audience some sense of Freedom Hawk’s Tidewater, Virginia, home, it’s worth it. The case is harder to make for “Standing in Line,” but though the riffing feels generic, it nonetheless shows the band as willing to play In Search Of-style stoner rock the way few American bands will dare in 2011 – and doing it well. Holding On’s momentum picks up again with “Faded,” which adds the flourish of echoing acoustic guitars to its intro and shifts into the already-noted “Diary of a Madman” vibe; considerably darker than the rest of the album. “Faded” is primed for singing along, with its memorable repetition of the title (offset with “Jaded!” and another rhyme) and Viking-style backing chants and rhythm. This kind of divergence from Freedom Hawk’s methodology is welcome, as are the shredding solos, and again, it shows the band’s penchant for structure that they included one of the record’s most interesting songs so close to the finale.
The stage thusly set for grandeur, all that remains is for closer “Indian Summer” to round out Holding On in style, and not to spoil the surprise, but it does. Like “Faded,” “Indian Summer” makes the most of its title, Morton repeating it over a solo in the final section as if Freedom Hawk were trying to cram every bit of song they could into the album before it’s finished. Another strong hook makes it a suitable end for the band’s third album, and as much as Freedom Hawk signaled their arrival (the preceding self-release, Sunlight, helped generate the buzz to get them to that point), Holding On shows them as more than ready to build within a niche. Being a fan of songcraft and tight performances, there are several exceptional examples to choose from here, be it “Magic Lady” or “Living for Days” or “Bandito,” and however they manage to grow from this point, they’re already well on their way to a reputation as contenders in American heavy rock. Recommended.
- H.P. Taskmaster
Freedom Hawk's third official release, 2011's Holding On, alights upon planet stoner rock with abnormally tall expectations, and justifiably so, since even the praise singling out the band as "the East Coast's answer to Fu Manchu" doesn't do full justice to the diversity of their songwriting gifts. Yes, the Virginia Beach residents traffic in the same turbo-powered grooves as the desert rock stalwarts, but they embellish thrilling highlights like "Thunderfoot," "Living for Days", and "Magic Lady" with incremental ingredients ranging from doom-like power chords, sinuous guitar leads, psychedelic melodies, and sporadic, softer dynamics when called for -- all of which easily set them apart in their own right (no disrespect meant to Fu Manchu). Another calling card that may not rub everyone the right way is T.R. Morton's high-pitched, obviously Ozzy-inspired nasal wail (tracks like "Edge of Destiny" and "North Swell" owe much to Black Sabbath in general, actually), but once the initial surprise subsides, this quality, too, meshes quite well with the group's authentic ‘70s rock aesthetic -- which can't be said, incidentally, about Sheavy's much more histrionic Steve Hennessey (no knock on Hennessey and Sheavy, though; they rock hard, too!). And even though Holding On‘s occasional stylistic detours, such as the gentle interlude "Zelda" or the wah-wah-assisted, ZZ Top boogie of "Bandito" don't exactly measure up to the surrounding groove-driven comfort zone, they're hardly distracting or forced-sounding experiments, as might be heard from, for example, Queens of the Stone Age. In sum, Freedom Hawk are just plain impressive on this here album, and perhaps the biggest compliment one can pay them is that it'll likely send listeners scurrying to grab copies of their prior efforts, looking for more where this came from.
- Eduardo Rivadavia
It is almost impossible to write a review about FREEDOM HAWK without mentioning Ozzy Osbourne. This is due primarily to the lead vocals of guitarist T.R. Morton whose style reminds you immediately to the first frontman of Black Sabbath. Therefore, he is in good company with Sheavy vocalist Steve Hennessey or Dan Fondelius of Count Raven. But also in other areas, early Black Sabbath left behind traces that cannot be missed. Early Black Sabbath means in this context the 1975 - 1978 period, by the way. These are exactly the components of FREEDOM HAWK that I really appreciate instead of complaining about the obvious similarities. Why? Because FREEDOM HAWK manage to add their own personality to their heavy fuzzed-out 1970's-infected Sabbathian rock. For that reason, it would not be accurate to call them a rip-off.
Also, the band has developed in the right direction since their self-titled debut for Meteor City Records. 'Holding On' (which is their 2011 debut for Small Stone Records) is backed by a subliminal dose of early 1980's heavy metal which leads to a harder edge in their sound. Additionally, these cats have a knack for writing irresistible melodies that also maintain enough intensity and emotional depth. This is mainly due to Morton's striking vocal style, but also lead guitarist Matt Cave cranks out a lot of thick, heavy riffs and tasteful solos. He shows off his versatility without being obtrusive or annoying. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of Lenny Hines and Mark Cave keeps up an infectious power groove in the background. There are also moments when FREEDOM HAWK bring an organ into play which makes the music a bit more trippy. Apart from that, the band has managed to come up with a few surprises.
One of them is the eighth track, 'Bandito', where they have linked their heavy rock with a bit psych-tinged country, whereas the short instrumental 'Zelda' is pure Sabbath worship, but in a good way. For the most part the album is packed with good tracks, but especially 'Faded' and 'Indian Summer' are two of my favourites. This album won't change the musical world, but that is of course not the intention of FREEDOM HAWK. 'Holding On' flows very seamlessly and offers 51:48 minutes of timeless heavy rock. Elaborated song writing, a great production and an overall great atmospheric feel have been created here by FREEDOM HAWK. As one can see, I really can't say anything bad about this album. Even the album artwork from Alexander von Wieding is exceptionally pretty. But be careful: You might become addicted to 'Holding On'!
You know, I thought sHEAVY’s Steve Hennessey had the Ozzy-sound-a-like market cornered, but Freedom Hawk’s T.R. Morton has every bit the bat head-biting chords Hennessey does. But where sHEAVY is cosmically monolithic, Freedom Hawk is demonically earthy, blazing a path of accelerated doom-groove on dirty wheels of steel, thus drawing a more staunch comparison to Black Sabbath and solo-era Ozzy. I mean, it’s nothing new for a stoner rock band to sound like Sabbath, but Holding On, the Virginia band’s second full-length album, takes it one step beyond, greasing the riffs up with just enough metal melody to give ‘em a commercially viable hard rock sound. That’s not to say it doesn’t deserve your particular attention, because it does; what it means is that Freedom Hawk is better and heavier than, say, a Fireball Ministry or Big Rig, and flexes every single musical muscle they have on songs like “Thunderfoot,” “Living for Days,” “North Swell,” and “Indian Summer,” which command your attention, like an iron grip ’round your throat, with that aforementioned Sabbath power, and some Fu Manchu gusto and Generous Maria electricism, too. When they’re not sounding like Cluth (“Bandito”) or Candlemass (“Faded”), that is. Pure POWER is what is, man, plain and simple.
- Jeff Warren
Holding On (Small Stone) is the new record from Freedom Hawk and the first of two releases this week from local stoner label Small Stone Records. The Virginia-based band sound as much like solo-era Ozzy as they do Sabbath, which is no bad thing. This is simply a great rock ’n’ roll record.
- Brett Callwood
Small Stone Records Deliver The Goods, Again.
I have to admit I have been waiting for this record since I heard the news that Virginia Beach’s Freedom Hawk had signed with Small Stone. I hadn’t heard of the band before that, but the preview trailer of their new album really caught my attention. I always welcome a band into my music collection that has killer vocals and lays down a heavy groove. Freedom Hawk fits the profile. You are going to want to hear this one.
On first listen, it is impossible to avoid connecting the golden era of Black Sabbath’s first four records to Freedom Hawk’s sound. Of course, that is how you know you are probably in for a kick ass rock record. T.R. Morton’s vocals could easily be a dead ringer for Ozzy at his peak. Can I get an “Alright now!!!” Echoes of Sabbath abound on this record, literally. The song “North Swell” kicks off with the same uptempo riff that is in “Into the Void”. Obviously, its a tribute. Not every band could get away with it, but I think it is appropriate. While not as obvious, I also hear a nod to “Embryo” from Master of Reality, in “Faded”. I also hear a lot of Thin Lizzy, T-rex, and ZZ Top in their sound, so I think it is safe to say that these four southern gents have done their homework when it comes to kick ass 70′s rock and roll.
The album’s opening track “Thunderfoot” starts with a slow and phasey guitar intro that morphes into a nice mid-tempo doomy number complete with an upbeat tempo change to allow for some nice lead guitar work from Matt Cave. The album quickly percolates into track after track of riff heavy 70′s proto metal throwbacks, all performed with a modern edge, complete with harmonized guitars taking charge and the thundering rhythm section of Marck Cave and Lenny Hines holding it down for them. There isn’t a bad track on this album. However, the middle of the record is when “Holding On” kicks it up a notch. The spacey interlude of “Zelda”, which is probably your best bet to pack one up for the rest of the ride, sets up the crushing “Nomad” which nicely roll’s right into “Magic Lady”. The album then takes a detour into the shake-your-booty zone with “Bandito” which begs to be compared with fellow East Coast natives, Clutch. It’s clean toned funky wah-wah riff is a nice break from the headbanging guitar punishment. It’s definetly my favorite track. Closing the album is another heavy handed metal tinged track featuring a galloping thrash inspired riff by the name of “Indian Summer”. Of course, it rocks hard and nicely caps of this fine sonic offering to the gods of rock and roll.
I think that the that strike me the most about Freedom Hawk is that they could potentially be *GASP* “hard rock radio friendly”. That is of course if the world ends and someone gives both of the barrels to Clear Channel’s monopoly of the airwaves. Small Stone records have put out a few records this year that could potentially do just that and I hope that if any labels breaks through that it is them. For now, if the suits in charge of the radio don’t know, we ain’t telling.. and that’s the way it should be.
Holding On will be available on ITunes August 16 and the CD is set for a release October 11 with a vinyl release to follow.
- Ian Gerber