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This will be a short review, but it's not hard to justify a really low rating for this. Very simply put, the main problem with Van Canto isn't the vocals (although it is a bit laughable that the one instrument that's hard to do (drums) is done by the actual instrument). It's that the music is shit. If the music was this incredibly acrobatic, unique power metal or something, then you'd probably hear this praised to the skies by near on everyone.
But when you get bad euro-power metal- and the music here is real bottom of the barrel, sub-sub-sub-late-era-Stratovarius euro PM, you shouldn't expect praise, no matter the instrument that performs it. No one would have anything amazing to say if, for example, someone covered Carly Rae Jepson on a tuba, or a kazoo-heavy take on Owlcity's Fireflies. The music here isn't significantly different from that sort of stuff, really- the arrangements probably less sophisticated, if anything, and the music equally trite. This isn't original music by a long stretch.
The gimmick factor, the all vocal idea, isn't really all that impressive either when we think of it. A few years ago I watched a bunch of acappella be-bop jazz people do weird solos all over some super fast Dizzy Gillespie type stuff (I'm not a jazz expert), and the difference was remarkable- it still didn't sound that great, but fark it looked hard to pull off, these two "soloists" going through a crazy amount of different octaves, huge changes in pitch on the drop of a dime, etc. There's nothing in the way of hard-to-do vocals here- it's people going tuggatuggatuggatugga through staid chord progressions, it's a lead vocalist staying in the same register almost the entire way through, it's a complete lack of the one thing that could make this good- worthwhile vocal acrobatics.
There's nothing here for anyone, simply put. The actual music- terrible. The vocal parts- awful. Fuck Germany man.
Prior to hearing A Storm to Come, I was prepared to affirm my having written Van Canto off as a silly novelty band. However, to my surprise and delight, the album stands on it's own as a decent set of Euro-styled power 'metal'. It's fun gawking at a capella guitar soloing, the layered, guitar-mimicking vocals weaved into a metal sound, and musing how they might have replaced their drummer with more a capella. But once the novelty wears off, the songs do hold their own for the most part.
If Van Canto played these songs with a regular instrument line up, one would find some extremely catchy, light-hearted power metal. I really cannot overstate how catchy the choruses are. That is either a warning or enticement! A Storm to Come is pretty simple material to be sure, but the conviction of the heroic, somewhat pompous melodies offsets what negativity the poppiness might have brought (such as predictability and boredom). And the simplicity is logical, since something like neoclassical shredding would make the already-challenging task of "a cappella-zation" overwhelming! The male lead singer is somewhere in between typical slick rock and typical operatic power metal vocals, with a dash of James Hetfield grating.
My main disappointment, besides one pointless track, is that the album isn't even. While it doesn't taunt with a couple great singles surrounded with filler, the best songs (besides "I Stand Alone") are in the first half. The weakest song (and only filler song) is "She's Alive"- even when judged against the first track, "Stora Rövardansen" (which is one of those superfluous intros that doesn't really go anywhere, just lends a mediocre glimpse of what's to come). "She's Alive" lacks any of that bright melodic catchiness that won me over. The last song is a cover of Metallica's "Battery" and stands out as the odd one. It's an enjoyable cover that took a few listens to grow on me because the break in sound initially irked me. I appreciate that they chose a less obvious song to cover. I also find it amusing how well Sly can imitate James Hetfield. "I Stand Alone" is the ballad and succeeds in living beyond being the "token ballad". It is undeniably cheesy, but I dig that.
Basically, A Storm to Come competently gives you what you came for: catchy, simple tunes brimming with uplifting, joyful melodies that can satisfy fans of Euro fantasy-themed power metal. What more could one expect from an a capella power outfit? I think this album's appeal definitely crosses outside of metal, and I'd recommend it for fans of any very melodic, upbeat music.
Favorite tracks: Rain, King, The Mission, I Stand Alone, Lifetime.
Van Canto do something I've honestly never thought possible, namely combining power metal with acapella singing. Well, not strictly acapella, as they feature real drums, but every other sound on this album is provided by the human voice.
The idea struck me as a potential gimmick before I heard the band the first time. After all, we have bands singing in Latin and other dead languages, dressing up as Tolkien characters and doing all sorts of other weird things in the world today. A great many of these bands are memorable only for the gimmick, and I was concerned that Van Canto would be "that acapella band", rather than being memorable for good music.
"A Storm to Come" focuses slightly more on the acapella side of the band than the power metal one, although all the songs (with the possible exception of their finale, covering Metallica's "Battery") are clearly performed with a power metal attitude. The other full-length tracks are all original compositions, a good move as it allows the vocalists to show their skills and in a sense "get used to" the format.
The lineup of the band - in general - has a male and female pairing taking the "lead" parts, with three other vocalists in the wings. These three men provide the sounds of the rhythm and lead guitars, as well as the bass. It's not always so simple here, as Inga (female vocals) often disappears into a "guitar" solo as well, while some of the "instrument" vocalists appear singing real words at times. At its best, this creates a surprisingly "thick" sound that those who've listened to acapella music in other settings will recognise immediately, albeit with the twist being provided by the power metal attitude and subject matter.
To be brutally honest, some sections of this album do tend to drag. The lyrics don't often move beyond the cliches we all know and love (or know and hate, depending) of power metal - riding off on incredible quests, discovering beautiful maidens, standing alone in the face of unspeakable trials and the like. A number of the arrangements, too, are rather uninspired, although they do showcase the unusual talents of this project. The blandness is mitigated somewhat by the genuine enthusiasm the band has for what they're doing. I simply can't believe that grown men would sing "rakatakatakataka-BUM-DUM-BUM" if they didn't believe in what they were doing, for example.
Still, as debut albums go, this provides some serious hope for their second release. Van Canto may never move beyond being a footnote in the annals of heavy metal, but they'll almost certainly become a footnote well worth checking out.
This is easily one of my favorite conceptual metal bands ever. This combines two of my musical loves, metal and a cappella music. Not only does Van Canto take the best of both styles and mixes it into a completely original sound, they do it fantastically. Basically Van Canto comprised of five singers (four guys and a girl) and a drummer. They use their vocals, some distortion on the vocals, and drums to create a unique power metal sound. Their goal is to be as epic and glorious as possible. And gosh darn, they do a fantastic job of it! I mean, a cappella power metal! One might say, "hey, if they have a drummer, isn't it not completely a cappella?" They would be right, but doing the double bass drum thing a cappella isn't easy. Especially live! (yes yes, I suppose they would be even more impressive if they did a cappella double bass drum, but you know the real drums adds something awesome to their sound) How do they do the distorted guitar sound? They have three guys who sing "rakka-takka" at various pitches, with just a touch of distortion, to give it that power chord feel. The distortion is light, that way you get the idea without loosing the idea that it's human voices creating the sound. Personally if the distortion was heavier, it wouldn't work as well. Then again, I'm curious what they're going to come up with next. Now all these aspects wouldn't work as well if the music itself was awful, but Van Canto has this amazing talent in creating really catchy songs with hooks and choruses that most power metal bands would kill to be able to make. I literally can't stop listening to it! I suppose they are an acquired taste for some. Some metalheads will be like "this is awful and too light for me." But if you have an open mind, you're going to get a lot out of Van Canto!
It is hard to do a review of something that is so irregular but I will try anyway. Van Canto is a band from Germany who decided to use the most primitive and natural instrument available: human voice. There are no guitars, keyboards or basses. It’s about five people (two of them work as the ‘lead’ vocals but this task is also a bit random through the album) and a drummer.
So, what do these guys do? A capella metal… “What?” I hear you say. Well, yes, they call it “Hero Metal A Capella”. Now I hear you say that if this isn’t the gayest and lamest proposal ever then it’s close! Hero Metal... what the hell? I certainly don’t want to know the true reasons behind the “hero” thing but, well, I praise them for daring to do this and not screwing it up.
Anyway, against all prejudices and misconceptions, what we get here is a strange and catchy album that comes to refresh a saturated environment where only a few manage to stand out. Ok, this type of metal with female vocals and a lot of high-pitched stuff isn’t something that really appeals me but “A Storm to Come” is an amazing example of how to make good songs that are not overly long and conform a nicely done album! It’s not something breathtaking, it’s not a revolution. It’s an attempt to do something different and refreshing.
Leaving the whole epic, power metal feeling aside, I guess this delirium (as I heard many people called this album) has a great pace. After a short intro that works as a vocal test (it doesn’t really prepare you for what is coming), “King” kicks in and, man, what a great song! It’s not catchy; it’s brutally catchy and varied enough to avoid being catalogued as pure cliché. The chorus will stick on your head for a while and that might be bad if you hate this type of metal.
At this point you will start noticing the infamous “Rakka-Takka” used to represent the rhythm of the guitar. This will be present in most of the songs along with other sounds (“Pom”/ “Pum”, “aaaaaaaah”, “oooooh”, usual stuff present in a capella compositions) that practically hide the fact that there are no instruments aside from the drums and the voices.
I have no complaints regarding the voices, they are all equally good (especially the guy that makes the low tones), even the chick seems to make an effort to avoid sounding like the generic metal-girl of so many other bands.
The promotional clip featured “The Mission”, which is the next song and is also another high point. This one is powerful! It obviously features a catchy chorus, but also lets you hear most of the voices that compose Van Canto. I’m quite impressed by the great low tones of the guy that plays the ‘bass’ and I wished he could’ve got at least one song for him. Maybe in the next album.
The rest of the songs are equally good, though “She’s alive” and “Starlight” are especially remarkable due to the vocal ‘duel’ between the female (Inga) and male (Dennis) lead singers.
“I stand alone” is a particularly nice piece, watered down by the fact that the beginning is extremely promising (“DanDan!” From the low voice, while the others form a choir to complement it) and epic but then it goes into a ballad. It is good, but the first seconds really deceived me. The song ends the same way it begins, which also makes it quite repetitive.
There is another cover here (the first one was the intro song, taken from a movie soundtrack): Battery from Metallica. While I feel this one manages to surpass the original (not that hard if you ask me...), the lyrics, courtesy of Metallica, are terrible, as well as the sound of the ‘guitars’ when the lead vocals keep repeating “Battery, Battery” over and over. At moments it feels like the opening song from Happy Tree Friends and that is ludicrously tragic. Go watch one episode of that crap and you will understand what I’m talking about here.
Hopefully, the guys of Van Canto are skilled enough to pull it off pretty well, even when the closer isn’t as strong as one may think.
What is remarkable is the fact that at times you can’t tell these guys are playing without guitars, basses or keyboards. There are ‘solos’ sung through guitar amplifiers and Inga’s most operatic times feel like a keyboardist is assisting the band (yes, it’s that weird) so I’m amazed at the huge amount of stuff people can get by using the proper voices and an assisting drummer to provide further background noise and style. I would be inclined to think metal can be metal even without electricity... Though that may sound extremely risky.
Speaking of the drumming, it’s the typical power metal drumming with speed and energy but nothing out of the ordinary or truly remarkable. However, it is needed to point out that it helps a lot at providing a deeper background for the voices so you hardly get a feeling of “empty room” or sudden silences that quickly demolish the effect Van Canto seems to build.
Lyrics are quite above average yet not superb. As everything here, they serve they purpose, though I think this was either a print mistake or a gross linguistic bug because in “The Mission”, they sing “we have the right to be ourself again” (should be “ourselves”) and that type of english butchering is not acceptable in such a good album. As usual I’ve seen worse stuff.
I think I’m not the only one who is relieved by the fact that this thing is metal even when there are no real instruments besides the drums. It could’ve ended up being some sort of abominable N’Sync ‘metal’, Back Street Maiden or Judas Spears (oh my, for all the gods of metal, I don’t even want to spend an extra second thinking about that!).
It is still unclear if they will be able to relay on this idea for more than three albums without many variations. I assume Van Canto will need to explore different vocal manifestations (perhaps bringing a Gregorian chant choir or a regular choir to add more background content or ‘strength’ to the songs) to avoid tiring the listener. So far, so good.
Give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised by this refreshing premise or incredibly scared by the overall cheesiness of this Rakka-Takka Hero Metal A Capella.
Van Canto are a fairly young band from good ol' Germany who've only just released their debut album last year. Unlike so many metal bands nowadays, they have a quite distinguishing quality that definitely sets them apart from the rest: of their six band members, only one (the drummer) plays an actual instrument. The rest are vocalists, or to put it more broadly perhaps: their voices are their instruments. In other words, what we have here is a largely a capella metal band, and one that has (perhaps unsurprisingly) chosen to perform Power Metal at that.
If your initial reaction to this premise was "sounds hell of gay", I don't blame you; mine was rather similar. I was fully prepared to dismiss Van Canto as gimmicky crap, because c'mon, how could it be anything else, right? Well, wrong actually. Not only have they taken a concept previously (as far as I know) unheard of in Metal, but they've actually made it work rather well.
One "word" you will hear quite a bit on A Storm to Come is "rakkatakka". It is what the guitar-vocalists generally use to represent the sound of riffing, although you will also hear "nededede", "ranntanntann" and various other utterances. Their goal, contrary to what one might expect, is not to accurately represent the sound of a guitar (though they come damn close at times); it's more the general feeling of rhythm they are after, and they pull it off well. Boasting three singers that exclusively recreate the guitar/bass department (who occasionally sing through guitar amps and even "play" solos), they weave an exceptionally tight fabric of rhythm and sound that does succeed in making you forget you are listening to "singing", as it were. Even if you don't enjoy this particular style of music, you'll invariably be impressed by the intricacy and tightness of the vocal harmonies found here.
Featuring both a male and a female lead vocalist each, Van Canto further vary their sound where other bands would have to fall short. The male singer has a rather pleasant mid-range voice that is not very typical of Power Metal (I was reminded of Falconer's Mathias Blad a few times), while his female equivalent has a bit of an operatic thing going -- not usually my cup of tea, but it works well enough here. They don't solely provide "regular" vocals, but also join in the a capella fun when the song calls for it. Again, the complexity of the intertwining vocal lines on A Storm to Come is astounding; it's really a quite technical album if you look at it like this.
Van Canto wisely decided not to rely on the "voice gone guitar" effect all the way through. Much of the time, they sing in a more classical a capella fashion, with "oooohs" and "aaaahs". This may sound like it distracts from and ruins the flow of the music, but it doesn't. If anything, it improves it; an entire album of "rakkatakkatakkadunndunning" would get old before long, I imagine. This way, things remain fresh and interesting throughout.
As the band state on their websites, they were unable to find a "beatboxing" drummer that could keep up with the rest of the band. It would have been interesting for sure if they'd been able to perform 100% a capella (possibly using several people as "drummers"), but even so they sound all right. Perhaps, after all, it does take an actual drummer to lend a sense of speed and heaviness to this kind of music. There is not much to say about the drumming itself; as is par for the course when it comes to most Power Metal, it's solid but unremarkable.
However, technical proficiency and whatnot aside, it would be a boring and un-worthwhile album if the songwriting was bad. Thankfully, it isn't. The six original songs found on this album are Power Metal virtually all the way through, with plenty of double bass, speed, soaring choruses and tons of catchiness. They also don't necessarily follow a simple verse-chorus-verse pattern, often featuring interludes and bridges that mix things up a bit (listen to "King" for a nice example of this) and keep things interesting and unpredictable. It's not avant-garde by any means, but it's absolutely above-average music that is catchy without being so dumbed down as to be borderline offensive.
A Storm to Come begins and ends with a cover song. The first, incidentally also the opener, is an adaptation of "Stora Rövardansen", written by Björn Isfält, from the soundtrack to "Ronia the Robber's Daughter". Not being familiar with the original piece, I can't say if Van Canto have done it justice, but it certainly makes for a great first track, introducing the concept behind this music and segueing flawlessly into the second song.
The other cover is none other than "Battery" by Metallica, of course. It turned out utterly awesome, retaining the aggressive spirit of the original (with vocalist Dennis Schunke sounding surprisingly similar to Hetfield) even after having been transfigured into a quasi-a capella song. For sure one of the album's highlights.
There's not much in the way of bad things to say about this CD. I found it to be lacking "punch" at times, purely in regards to its sound/production. Of course Power Metal (or "Hero-Metal", as the band call their music) isn't supposed to split open your guts and send entrails spilling across the floor, but it'd be nice if the low-end were a bit juicier. The same may be said for the drums, but that's about the extent of possible criticism, really, as far as I am concerned anyway. If Power Metal is not your cup of coffee (it usually isn't mine, either), you very likely won't like this -- barring an appreciation for the quality vocal harmonics -- but it's hard to consider this a flaw of the album itself. Different strokes for different folks.
Metal listeners like to complain that the genre is stagnating, that nothing new is being attempted. Here we have a band who are doing just that, not as much by doing something different musically but rather by approaching music in a different fashion. It remains to be hoped that they will find genuine acceptance and stick around for a while rather than going down amidst the cries of "gimmick!" and "only novelty value!". How well their a capella approach will hold up for another album or two is a different story, but as long as their songwriting and skill at vocal arrangements remain on such a high level as they are here, I don't doubt that they'll continue to be well received by those with an open mind.