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Enchanting 21st Century White Collar USPM - 93%

Jophelerx, June 19th, 2021

It's pretty rare to see pure "white collar" USPM in the modern era (i.e. post-2000), and while perhaps Ice Vinland is a bit meatier than a totally "pure" white collar band, it comes pretty damn close, alongside fellow Canadians Antiquus as basically the only modern examples of the genre I can think of. Most modern USPM acts opt to either combine the two halves of the genre or be blue collar; white collar USPM seems to have been more or less what progressive metal was in its early days, before Dream Theater and their ilk popularized the slicker, more poppy sound that most modern bands seem to adhere to. Of course early progressive metal and white collar USPM aren't entirely synonymous, as there are examples of outliers like Psychotic Waltz and Brothers Grimm, but Fates Warning and Queensryche seemed to have provided the blueprint for most into the very early 90s, so stylistically most progressive metal bands emulated one or both of them. For whatever reason, this style has largely fallen out of favor since then, but Ice Vinland continued to carry the torch as recently as 2007, at least. (They do have a 2018 album, but as of the time I'm writing this, I have yet to hear it).

In Ice Vilnland's case, I'd say they're much more inspired by Fates Warning than Queensryche, which for my tastes is certainly a good thing as I've never been a terribly big fan of the latter band. However, they're much more along the lines of Enchanter, with an axe-wielding approach to much of their songs while still retaining an overall progressive and arcane tinge to their sound. There are frequent riff changes; long, sprawling song structures; and frequent keyboard use throughout; though in a way that adds to the overall atmosphere nicely. In fact, I fail to see how any fan of Enchanter wouldn't simply gobble this album up. Though it fails to live all the way up to Enchanter's compilation, that's hardly a fair comparison since that compilation is in my top five USPM albums of all time (probably second to Fates Warning's Awaken the Guardian, in fact, though perhaps tied for third with Slauter Xstroyes' Winter Kill). Vinland Saga is still a very, very strong album, with the only major complaint I have being that it perhaps feels a bit one-dimensional, without as much variety between more straightforward and more ambitious, progressive tracks, with the band generally trying to cram both aspects into every single track. Still, individually, there are really no weak numbers, and the fact that the album is around in hour long may contribute to getting just a tad impatient towards the end.

The vocalist is definitely a key piece here, sounding quite a bit like David Louden from the second Cauldron Born album, though in my opinion with a bit more charisma than Louden, as well as better diction (Louden could sometimes be hard to understand when he hit high notes or just got really intense, though that's a pretty minor quip in the grand scheme of things). Ice Vinland's Damien Leif is certainly a commanding presence regardless of comparisons, and his shrieking is top-notch. He also doubles up as keyboardist, which is pretty impressive as, when the keyboards appear, they're definitely not just wanking around. The guitarists also have a strong chemistry, creating some nice interplay during many of the solos, a prime example being in "The Cosmic Rules." The centerpiece of the album, though, is "Secrets of the Gods," which, clocking in at nearly 11 minutes, is one of the longest USPM songs of all time, though beaten out (twice!) by fellow Canadians Antiquus with two epics that both clock in at 11:13. Still, "Secrets of the Gods" is incredibly ambitious and has a great buildup throughout the duration of the song, with multiple sections that are all fantastic, an epic worthy to sit at the table with Enchanter's "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier." Event he drumming in this song shakes things up, with a militaristic roll towards the middle of the song that really contributes to the overall atmosphere.

All in all, Vinland Saga is one of the strongest USPM albums of the last twenty years, and can even go toe-to-toe with many of the 80s classics. The time of its release is likely almost entirely to blame for its unknown status, but hopefully that will begin to change once enough people listen to it. It's an album I've been meaning to review for a few years now, though perhaps the band is at least on a few people's radars given their more recent album. This is an album any fan of USPM really ought to hear, both on its own merits and for the fact that it really breathed life in a scene that was at its lowest in the 2000s, before becoming at least a bit more reinvigorated in the 2010s, with acts like Satan's Host and Attacker returning to the scene in a big way. Alongside Crescent Shield and Steel Assassin, Ice Vinland was an important band to the genre in the mid-to-late 2000s, and perhaps one day will finally be recognized as such.