By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A leading light on the American hard-rock scene for going on two decades, Virgina Beach-based crew Freedom Hawk pays a rare visit to the Bay Area, headlining Urbani Cellar in Santa Cruz with a slate of like-minded bands Thursday.

Singer/guitarist T.R. Morton and bassist Mark Cave had been developing their mix of Sabbath-tinged riffs and modern hard-rock sensibilities for some time when they met drummer Lenny Hines in 2003 and officially formed Freedom Hawk. The addition of Mark’s brother Matt on second guitar the following year would add heft to the band’s sound as they refined their approach.

The group had build a solid local following by the time they self-released their debut effort Sunlight in 2008. While there was no mistaking the similarities between Morton’s keening lead vocals and the delivery of Ozzy Osbourne, the songs on the album showed the band to be far from simple Sabbath disciples. The well-crafted tunes featured relentless grooves and catchy melodies that earned Freedom Hawk comparisons to ’90s stoner-rock favorites Fu Manchu, Clutch and Queens of the Stone Age, with some songs delving into psychedelia and even dub reggae influences.

The album also caught the ear of stoner-rock purveyors Meteor City, an online shop/label that would release the band’s self-titled sophomore disc the next year. It would take more time to produce a follow-up to that acclaimed effort, but the group eventually landed a deal with Small Stone Records and issued another stellar collection, 2011’s Holding On.

By the time they released Into Your Mind in 2015, the band’s reputation had extended overseas, leading to invitations to perform at European hard-rock festivals as Roadburn in the Netherlands and Germany’s Freak Valley Festival. Though back to operating as a trio, Freedom Hawk continues to prove itself to be one of the most potent heavy acts on the underground scene today.

Three years ago, the group  arranged to reissue its first two albums on vinyl through San Ramon-based hard-rock imprint Ripple Music. The partnership with the label would continue the following year with the release of the band’s fifth album, Beast Remains. Showcasing the kind of soulful, hard-hitting material that has become the group’s trademark, the effort is the first from the band to feature contributions from new second guitarist Brendan O’Neil.

For this show at Urbani Cellar in Santa Cruz Thursday night, Freedom Hawk will be joined by Santa Cruz stoner-metal power trios Doors to Nowhere and Supernaut along with opening act Devil’s Sliders, a threesome of talented teenagers inspired by punk and metal bands like Black Sabbath, Red Fang, Excel, Slayer and local hardcore heroes Bl’ast.

Freedom Hawk
Thursday, March 12, 7 p.m. $6-$8
Urbani Cellar