No question that Into Your Mind is, in its songwriting and construction and in the stylistic breadth it covers, a step forward for Virginia Beach heavy rockers Freedom Hawk. Named perhaps for being where the songs go, it’s their fourth outing overall and second for Small Stone behind 2011’s Moving On (review here), its 10-track/52-minute run reinforces the classic metal and heavy rock influences under which they’ve been working all along (Ozzy, Fu Manchu, etc.) while also pushing ahead into new ground, subtly psychedelic but still woven around earthy and traditional structures. Perhaps the biggest change of all is that the band are now a trio, having parted ways with guitarist Matt Cave since their last time out and continued to operate as the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist T.R. Morton, bassist Mark Cave and drummer Lenny Hines.
Where the band might have been in the writing for Into Your Mind when that split occurred, I don’t know, but Matt is given a writing credit on opener “Blood Red Sky,” “Journey Home,” “Waterfall” and side B’s “Beyond Our Reach” — the tracklisting broken into sides even on back of the CD and very much operating in that kind of structure despite the format — though he doesn’t seem to have participated in the actual recording, the trio tracking the instrumental portion of the LP live with producer/engineer/mixer Jim Woodling with Morton handling the vocals afterward. Their chemistry comes through what’s still a crisp production across the board, though, and while there still sounds like a layer of rhythm guitar under the solo in “Blood Red Sky,” their operation with their new lineup configuration is fluid and the momentum they build over the course of the first two tracks, that opener and “Journey Home,” carries through to some of the more stylistically expansive material that follows.
One thing to get straight, we’re not talking about leaps and bounds here, but natural, incremental stylistic progression. Reasonable. It begins on side A, though the let’s-get-to-it-ness of “Blood Red Sky” and “Journey Home”‘s hooks signals business as usual from Freedom Hawk, “Lost in Space,” with its more patient intro from all three and keys from Morton, brings a turn that presages some of side B’s more adventurous moments. At its heart, it’s still catchy and largely straightforward, but the shift in atmosphere is palpable from the first two cuts and it begins a broadening process that continues later. The lead on “On Your Knees” is a standout, though more so the turn in approach of the vocals, which will later get a fuller exploration on the title-track, and Hines‘ drumming proves able to push the material along at whatever pace is set or direction it might be headed.
He holds a tension in “Lost in Space” and the later “The Line” and is forward-minded, but definitely not without a sense of swing to coincide. “Journey Home” showcases that and he begins side A closer “Waterfall” with snare work that sets up the song’s more laid-back vibe, the verse arriving later, a few lines tossed out as a precursor to a relatively stripped down chorus compared to that of “Lost in Space” or “Blood Red Sky,” the trio ready and willing to let their chemistry do the talking when it suits them. Side B’s launch, “Radar,” is more of a riff-rocker, but it picks up in its midsection to find more of a rush in which the band seems utterly at home for the bridge before they turn back to the chorus, chugging central nod and surprisingly airy finish. With the shifts that the second half of Into Your Mind brings about, the beginning of that half is still pretty much in line with the cuts preceding. It’s not really until “Beyond Our Reach” kicks in that they fully show their hand.
A jazzy start like something Fatso Jetson might conjure begins “Beyond Our Reach,” and that rhythm holds after the riff and a NWOBHM-style lead progression commence to give an alternate vision of Freedom Hawk‘s brand of heavy rock. Layered vocals seem to mirror guitar harmonies and while the effect is still heavy and a shuffle is present, once again the context has changed. The previously-alluded-to vocal turn on “Into Your Mind” pushes further against expectation — Morton‘s compression-on higher-register vocals are as much a signature as the band has — and they’re not completely gone, but even changing into and out of the chorus establishes a dynamic in an unanticipated way, and “Into Your Mind” also proves to be Cave‘s best performance on bass, his presence in the pocket just behind the guitar only helps in setting that righteous tone.
At 6:51, the penultimate “The Line” is the longest inclusion by nearly a full minute, and they use that extra time for an instrumental drive, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “jam,” since though it finds Hines on his ride, there always seems to be a plotted course being followed. Keys or layered-in background leads pepper the pre-chorus and return later during the extended instrumental part, which is also how they finish before bringing things back to earth for “All Because of You,” a more hook-based start-stopper that seems to be geared toward bookending with “Blood Red Sky,” but honestly, by the time they get there, the opener’s straight-ahead thrust feels like a long time ago and a long ways away. That feeling itself is evidence of the growth Freedom Hawk have undertaken despite losing a player, and though Into Your Mind finds them branching out, it also serves to reinforce the aspects of their sonic personality that have been their hallmarks up to this point in their career. They’re still Freedom Hawk, they’re just working to expand the definition of what that means.