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Thursday, March 04, 2010

CD Review: Free Reign - Tragedy EP

Free Reign - Tragedy EP
2010 Riot! Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Those Dallas Cowboys... They have the richest clientele, they have the most visible brand in the NFL, rudimentary as their star logo may be. Their cheerleading squad forever remains the Rockettes of the industry. Their owner is the secret puppet master behind the entire league. They have the biggest jumbotron the world's yet seen inside a modern coliseum. No broadcast about football can air without mentioning their names. Hell, the Cowboys even enjoy the benefit of J.R. Ewing-fried testimonials courtesy of Dallas reruns on DVD.

Now they have their own metal band.

Free Reign is a band that can provide their own security as three-fourths of the members set up shop in their day posts on the offensive line for the Cowboys. Trying to protect Tony Romo and open up gaps for explosive running plays are the reasons you normally hear the names of Marc Colombo, Cory Procter and Leonard Davis called on Fox. Trading their pads and jerseys for stone-washed jeans and designer Affliction t-shirts (these days Affliction is as popular as Under Armor with professional jocks and millions of UFC junkies trying to look both metal and agro chic), Colombo, Procter, Davis and guitarist/songwriter Justin Chapman plug into the amps and wreck havoc with amplitude as Free Reign.

Who says jocks and headbangers can't co-habitate? I personally recommend my younger metal readers to have a go with weightlifting in high school and pound at it with absolute focus if you want to enjoy your metal lifestyle with the highest reduction of harassment. I speak from experience, plus music can only release "x" amount of aggression, so pump iron, metalheads!

Already the recurring joke swirling behind Colombo and company in Free Reign is how they can't be any worse than the '84 Chicago Bears with their inexcusable barf-o-rama "Super Bowl Shuffle." Well, yeah, Free Reign can't be any worse, but the cool news is they're pretty damned good, actually!

Pop metal for the modern gladiator is what's at stake with Free Reign on their debut EP Tragedy. Expect to see pro wrasslers and pit mongrels stamping down aisles towards their meat-grinding business with Free Reign's "In Your Head" or "Rise Up." Hell, Free Reign just missed a golden opportunity to theme up the remake of Clash of the Titans, but no doubt some shrewd movie studio has caught wind of these guys by now. Perhaps you'll yet see gleaming broadswords and severed limbs twirling in tandem to "Rise Up" in an inevitable Conan the Barbarian redo. Forget the meathead chorus; it's the raucous breakdown Arnold's successor is going to cleave Cimmerian mayhem to.

The riffs of these songs lend constitution to raging hormones and fisticuffs, quite what you'd expect from a gridiron gang. Yet there's whiffs of surprising sensitivity and subvert melody beneath the punishment Free Reign sets loose like the first veterans scrimmage against newbies during training camp. "Tragedy" and "Last Goodbye" fuse sequences of lamenting melody lines in the vein of Mudvayne, Soil, Staind and Disturbed, done with sharp commercial sense without being overly squalid in the wuss department. The vocal-backing vocal response outlays on the chorus of "Last Goodbye" is particularly impressive.

Colombo's vocals range from stringent to strained, and "In Your Head" is betrayed by a handful of transition squibs. At times Tragedy is stocked with a few penalizing chop blocks. Still, you have to applaud these guys for their metal acumen, particularly knowing how to use a breakdown properly, i.e. to serve their loud 'n crashing tunes instead of skidding them to no avail.

For all intents and purposes, Tragedy is a dry-run experiment for four songs with mostly pleasant results. However, it's the last song "All in Vain" where Free Reign gels fabulously with a triumphant march ode filled with Mastodon crunches and a shackles-are-off mentality. "All in Vain" literally screams, even without Colombo ripping his sternum to pieces, while the choruses are genuinely memorable. I'll go on record and say I sang this beast to myself for nearly half an hour after taking the disc out.

Thus we can conclude Free Reign may still be a work in progress, but who rightly expected something that cruises this confidently from football stars? Jim McMahon and Fridge, eat all of our shorts, but if we see Jerry Jones flicking horns from his skybox, I'm crying foul all over again...

Rating: ***1/2


DPTH International said...

I've seen this album around, but have been wary BECAUSE of the Dallas Cowboy tie in. I have made the assuption that this would be simply a mediocre novelty.

But alas, Ray, I shalt give them a try. You've never steered me wrong before.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

lol...don't set me up for a fall, bro! It's worth checking out, at least. Choppy in spots and definitely more work to go as a band, yet surprisingly tight for the most part. So long as you're comfortable with AOR rock played heavier, it's a fun listen.

The Klepto said...

Not bad ...not great, but it's way better then you would think. I forwarded it to a friend who is a huge Dallas fan, I'm sure he'd get a kick out of it

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