Van Canto – Tribe Of Force (2010, Napalm Records)
- Lost Forever
- To Sing A Metal Song
- One To Ten (featuring Victor Smolski from Rage)
- I Am Human
- My Voice
- Rebellion (featuring Chris Boltendahl from Grave Digger)
- Last Night Of The Kings
- The Tribe Of Force
- Water Fire Heaven Earth
- Master Of Puppets
- Magic Taborea
- Hearted (featuring Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica)
- Frodo’s Dream
Inga Scharf – Lead Vocals
Philip Dennis “Sly” Schunke – Lead Vocals
Stefan Schmidt – Lower “Rakkatakka” Guitar Vocals, “Wahwah” Solo Guitar Vocals
Ross Thompson – Higher “Rakkatakka” Guitar Vocals
Ingo “Ike” Sterzinger – Lowest “Dandan” Voice Chords (Bass Vocals)
Bastian Emig – Drums
Producers: Stefan Schmidt & Charlie Bauerfeind
Total Time = 55:13
Every once in a while something unique comes along and grabs my attention. A few weeks ago, I received a press release promoting Van Canto’s third album, TRIBE OF FORCE, and the band’s innovative style of A Capella Metal. A Capella music is group vocal music and/or singing without musical accompaniment from instruments…..the first thing that comes to mind is barber shop quartets, doo-wop groups and choirs. A Capella singing in Heavy Metal? No instruments? I was skeptical but I read the press release and saw that it included a link to a video of the band covering Manowar’s ‘Kings Of Metal’ (from their second record HERO). I was impressed with the cover, especially with how I forgot that the only instrument used was the drums!
Based on their ‘Kings Of Metal’ cover, and their cover of Metallica’s ‘Battery’, I decided to give TRIBE OF FORCE a try figuring that at least it would be a change of pace if the concept of vocalizing the guitars, bass and keyboards didn’t work. The first single from the new album is ‘Lost Forever’ and it is a perfect way to kick start the album with it’s Power Metal style and superb vocal harmonies. At first I wasn’t too sure because the harmonized vocal intro had me thinking that this was going to be a less aggressive project but, once the drums kicked in, Van Canto really go for it! Frist the lead vocal trade-off between Philip and Inga is excellent, both have great voices with plenty of range, and the male/female co-lead vocal adds an extra dimension. Inga’s operatic style easily puts her right up there with some other female vocal heavyweights in Metal like Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and Simone Simons (Epica). The cool thing is you can also hear some Medieval/Rennaissance style like Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night) in her delivery as well. What is most impressive is the guys doing the bass and guitars…..Stefan, Ross and Ingo do one hell of a job sounding like their instrument counterparts that you sometimes forget that it’s really just singing. Listen to the guitar solo, that’s Stefan singing the solo, not a guitar!
Needless to say, I was impressed. Van Canto continues in the same Gothic/Power Metal direction with ‘To Sing A Metal Song’, ‘One To Ten’ (featuring Victor Smolski of Rage), and ‘I Am Human’. The vocals are excellent and the vocal instrumentation is excellent but it’s at ‘My Voice’ where I start to get that “I’ve heard it before” feeling. ‘My Voice’ is a good original song with plenty of layers and tempo changes but I get the point and I am now listening for the guitars. Track six is a cover of Grave Digger’s ‘Rebellion’ (from 1996’s TUNES OF WAR) and features Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl on lead vocals. Normally I don’t welcome covers but this is a nice way to break the album up, especially with Boltendahl guesting. If you compare this version to the original, it’s a pretty good rendition and it is amazing to hear the band vocalize the instruments. Listen again for the guitar solo by Stefan! The second single and video is ‘Last Night Of The Kings’ and it is a ballad with a Medieval/Rennaissance sound. This song could easily fit on the first two Blackmore’s Night albums and the a capella singing fits perfectly.
The title track sounds a little more laid back, more commercial but ‘Water Fire Heaven Earth’ stands out with Inga’s operatic vocals. It’s more of a Gothic Metal mid-tempo song and it’s very good due to the beauty of the lead vocal, Inga rivals her peers and is definitely a superb operatic vocalist. I wouldn’t mind hearing more of a spotlight on Inga in the future, although Philip has a great voice too and the vocal trade-off is a perfect match. The second cover on TRIBE OF FORCE is Metallica’s ‘Master Of Puppets’…..it’s not a bad cover and I actually like Van Canto’s interpretation, I prefer the original but it’s a fun comparison piece. ‘Magic Taborea’ starts off kind of slow and subdued but, as the song progresses, the tempo picks up and it has an epic sound to it. What impresses me here is the quick keyboard vocalizations, they are like the guitar solos, very impressive. Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica guests on the faster ‘Hearted’ and I like Van Canto’s addition of some harsh vocals to the arrangement to make things more interesting. Last song is ‘Frodo’s Dream’ and it’s another epic sounding song but I’m just not getting into this one at all.
I have to admit that I was skeptical that Van Canto could pull off an A Capella album of heavy Metal songs but they are all talented vocalists and they do a superb job on each and every song. Let me add that drummer Bastiam Emig puts in a stellar performance over the entire record and really drives the songs. Being the only person playing an instrument, his performance needed to be great and it was. Overall, I liked the album, even the cover songs but, after multiple listens, I started to lose some interest. I have played TRIBE OF FORCE to death so I could really focus on those layers of vocals and the vocal instrumentation but I found that I was looking for the real thing after a while so I needed to give myself a break and come back to it with fresh ears. That doesn’t diminish the talent and solid performances because there is a lot of quality work on this album and Van Canto isn’t the novelty act that people might mistake them to be. These musicians are all extremely gifted and they do a great job creating interesting and enjoyable songs. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this somewhere in my year’s best list for 2010 and I am definitely going to check out the band’s first two records.
‘Lost Forever’, ‘To Sing A Metal Song’, ‘Rebellion’, ‘Last Night Of The Kings’, ‘Water Fire Heaven Earth’