Freeways are finally here with their debut full length and I was anxious to hear it after I’ve listened to their Cold Front (2017) extended play way too many times. For those unfamiliar with the Canadian band, it was formed by the two key members of progressive thrashers Droid (worth checking out if you’re into Voivod, Mekong Delta, or Vektor) but they explore something entirely different with Freeways.
Based on what I know of Jacob Montgomery (vocals, guitar) and Sebastian Alcamo (drums), they’re true metal/rock connoisseurs and they know their stuff very well. It’s definitely reflected in the way the album is composed as it’s able to incorporate a lot of different influences in a seamless manner. Joined by Domenic Innocente (guitar) and Amar Amrith (bass), Freeways is a complete unit ready to rock your socks. Even though they’re definitely not exploring untamed musical areas, the Brampton, Ontario quartet are able to distinguish themselves from the pack by their picks of influences. Not a lot of twenty-something dudes are ready to show their love for Thin Lizzy, Blue Öyster Cult, or Budgie, they’re usually more prone to worship Black Sabbath and call it a day…
The big difference between Cold Front and True Bearings is that the band has lost some of the urgency and compact tightness the EP had in favor of a more detailed and smooth sort of songwriting. The EP was a tight affair with songs ranging from 3:30 to 4:15 minutes but they unleashed some longer numbers on the LP – “Time is No Excuse” is almost 7 minutes and it’s excellent.
I’m usually all for grand and epic songwriting (my favourite Rush record is still 2112, you know) but it took me a while to get on board that slight style change. Freeways still had the same heart and catchiness so I finally still fell in love with them again. They took risks and it was a good move. Cold Front has an 18 wheeler on the cover, it’s a fast and strong vehicle while True Bearings has a RV/camper on it, it’s more subtle and it’s perhaps more comfortable in the long run! That’s perhaps the last time I’ll use trucks to make a musical comparison, thanks Freeways!
The guitars are written exceptionally well and played with unparalleled talent for the genre. From the classical guitar bits of “Battered & Bruised” to the metallesque opening riffs of “Eternal Light, Eternal Night”. The instrumentation is rich and varied for such a genre (great keys on “Sorrow (Was Her Name)” and the production is able to compromise between a modern and a retro approach to great success. It’s dynamic, melodic and it’s just damn memorable. It takes you on a ride of feels and different moods, from soulful to driven, to dark and light. I do think they could be even more epic and unleash ten plus minutes songs but that’s perhaps best kept for the future or for bands like Syrinx.
Montgomery also sounds more confident in his clean vocals abilities here. While he’s not the most powerful singer and he’s a guitarist first and foremost if I remember correctly, he’s able to convey many emotions through his voice and doesn’t sound like most people. He’s also very capable live, I have great memories of seeing Freeways during the Trapped Under Ice tour alongside the top of Canadian trad metal (Barrow Wight, Cauchemar, Metalian, Occult Burial) and for me, they were the second best band of that evening as well (I’m insanely in love with Cauchemar).
I’d say that the main strength of Freeways is the ability to be a “retro” band and doesn’t sound like one of them in particular. There’s no pale copying here, just well written original homages to their 70s heroes. I feel Freeways are apt at bringing their blend of enthusiastic and melancholic hard rock to metal fans who are craving some AOR to go with their current black/death/thrash/doom diet. Alongside a band like Hällas, Freeways are ready to make us love vintage rock again.
Album rating: 85/100
Favorite track: Time is No Excuse