Van Canto

Tribe of Force

Written by: PK on 18/02/2010 13:06:41

Have you ever been listening to a heavy metal band and thought to yourself "I wonder what this would sound like if every instrument except the drums was replaced by voices"? No, me neither. But anyway, German band Van Canto provides you with just that with their brand of "A Capella Metal". "Tribe of Force" is their third album and is certainly one of the most unconventional albums that will be released this year. Normally the band line up will include guitarists, a bassist and perhaps a keyboard player. However the line up of Van Canto includes members responsible for "lower and higher rakkatakka vocals" and "low dandan vocals". It may look ridiculous but they are the literal sounds made by the band to create the sound of instruments, which becomes apparent once you begin to listen to "Tribe of Force".

Now I have to admit, having not heard of the band before, I did not know what they were about. So when I sat down and started listening to the first track on the album, "Lost Forever", I was impressed with the layers of vocals and the catchy melody. It wasn't until about 45 seconds into the song after a quick read of the press release that I realised the guitars were not going to be coming. Despite this, "Lost Forever" is a great song. The many vocal layers combine brilliantly and there is even a (very convincing) vocal wahwah guitar solo part way through. "My Voice" is another superbly written track. The two lead singers Dennis Schunke and Inga Scharf use their considerable vocal talents to full effect and the choral backing gives a thick sound to compensate for the lack of guitar or bass. It is hard though not to wonder if this song would sound even better if, drums aside, there was some sort of instrumental backing in the mix too. Other notable moments on the album include "Hearted", which features Sonata Arctica vocalist Tony Kakko, and "One to Ten" featuring Rage guitarist Victor Smolski. This guest appearance slightly confused me seeing as Smolski apparently plays the guitar solo on this track, which seems to rather conflict with the whole idea of the band...but what do I know!

Van Canto also have a habit of including cover songs on their albums. They have previously covered such tracks as "Battery" by Metallica and Manowar's "Kings of Metal". Their latest album sees them tackling "Rebellion" by Grave Digger (which features Grave Digger vocalist Chris Boltendahl) and another Metallica classic, "Master of Puppets". And sadly for them, it just does not really work. Part of the problem is that you are so used to hearing the songs played with instruments that it becomes far more noticeable that they are missing. With Van Canto's own compositions, they were able to tailor the songs far more to sound as good as they could without instruments. The familiarity with these cover songs also means that it becomes more apparent that you are listening to a bunch of people making funny noises with their mouths to try and sound like guitars.

Van Canto have managed to divide opinion, even in my own mind. They impress and frustrate me all at the same time. Part of me wanted to give the album a brilliant score for being so inventive and different from the vast numbers of standard melodic heavy metal bands out there. But at the same time as being inventive, the whole concept of replacing instruments with voices just seemed pointless and the novelty of hearing songs like “Master of Puppets” performed in a slightly wacky way soon wears off. What were they trying to achieve? There is a great deal of evidence on the album to suggest they are excellent song writers, so why not do the songs justice by playing them properly using instruments and just using a couple of singers instead of having a guy with a low voice repeatedly going "dandan dandan dandan" trying to sound like a bass guitar? I guess you could argue that their unique take on metal is what has got them recognition, and so it has worked for them so far. Just how far they can get with it though is yet to be seen.


Download: Lost Forever, My Voice, One to Ten
For the fans of: Edguy, Sonata Arctica, Nightwish (minus the instruments)

Release Date 26.02.2010
Napalm Records

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