Review: Vultures Vengeance – The Knightlore
Vultures Vengeance burst out the the gates with some amazing USPM on The Knightlore.
Italy has been a hotspot for melodic metal ever since the 80’s though its prominence for power metal specifically came to a head with the rise of the modern European school of the genre in the late 90’s. Bands like Rhapsody of Fire, Secret Sphere, Labyrinth, and Vision Divine quickly put the country on the world map as a superpower of the recently reinvented genre. In years to come however it would also gain a reputation as a stronghold for older forms of the genre with bands recent and old such as Doomsword, Dark Quarterer, Epitaph, and Ruler making it clear the nation had more to it than neoclassical pyrotechnics and film score keyboard arrangements. Formed in 2009, Vultures Vengeance continues this proud tradition with a take on power metal hearkening back to both the barbarity and sense of adventure that guided it in its earliest incarnations. After a solid demo and two EP’s, their sound has shifted its focus somewhat towards a more melodic and comparatively lush approach and away from the axe-swinging savagery of their origins. However one shouldn’t think they’ve joined the nonstop 16th note dragons-and-elves camp as much as they’ve found an unusually harmonious and graceful take on a normally ruthless, lawless form of power metal.
On The Knightlore, a specific form of the original American form of power metal (frequently abbreviated as USPM) is present. Namely, the earlier form closer to its British roots and lacking the speed/thrash influence that began to pervade the genre notably after 1986. You could say it’s what happened when the ideas of bands such as Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Judas Priest, Saxon, and Cloven Hoof were taken up by the Americans and given an injection of raw steroids, upping the overall intensity and shifting away from high flying acrobatics in exchange for muscular force. It’s mostly set at a midpaced, energetic jog but unlike Omen, Griffin, Dark Age, and Jag Panzer there’s a strangely serene approach to their melodic sensibility. During the choruses and the bridges leading to them, they’ll layer these highly expressionist and just slightly strained melodies over them, sometimes even implementing clean guitar playing, that causes the songs to go between more subdued sections and those of flourishing, elegant intensity.
The actual riffing isn’t slouching either, sounding like a beefier continuation of NWOBHM but also retaining the same careful and surprisingly melancholic, reflective sense of melody with an at times quasi-neoclassical vibe to it. It’s not as elegant and stringent as say, Nosferatu era Helstar but it does an immense job of adding to the mystical, forlorn atmsphere. By and far the most in your face part of their sound is the voice of Tony T. Steele (also one of the axemen), combining a good deal of gritty, throaty howl with a soaring, defiantly melodic tone. I’ve seen him compared to 80’s Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) though his timbre isn’t quite as beefy and there’s a considerably more prominent sense of strain in how he holds his notes, leading to an incredibly impassioned performance. It definitely does rough and at times *just* holding it together but for many that’s part of the magic.
Songwriting wise, the album takes familiar genre tropes but gives them this strangely graceful spin. Right out of the gate, “A Great Spark from the Dark” from its slowly unfurling opening solo and its verses subtly inserting subtle upper register riffs that whisper and dance over its steady tempo, even including these cleanly picked semi-acoustic sounding plucking and strained single-note guitar wails. It’s a great example of taking simple enough ideas but building on them with something as simple as “more lead guitar” and getting far more than you bargained for. The title cut is another stellar number, riding on an infectiously winding quickly picked riff mutating into a flourishing fretboard scorcher of solo, but then comes its latter half, turning down the speed and allowing for just a wonderous interplay of cleanly picked guitar and dreamy 70’s esque semi-bluesy soloing. “Dead Men and Blind Fates” further continues this theme of being at once subdued and introspective yet capable of moments of enthralling melody, its mood augmented by lyrics that while a bit on the ESL side, add this sense of open-ended mysticism to their sound.
Lines like “And as the flesh aged/my light became shineless/another life is lost/in a world that watches, cold” definitely are products of non native English speakers but it’s hard not to feel swept up in the air of the unknown and the mythic that they conjure, doubly so when paired with their half heroic half gloomy take on USPM. Yet at times it can be quite unambiguous and uplifting even; “Pathfinder’s Call” weaves the intrapersonal with the extraordinary with a lone soul battling against his own mental abyss, crafting an anthem of resilience against demons inner and outer, the “rise and shine” of Steele’s calling voice coinciding perfectly with a few clean notes amid the ringing of chords. “Eyes of a Stranger” has a surprisingly catchy sound with a semi hard rocking stop-and-go riff that serves as a platform for additional melodies to be woven between. However its lyrics are surprisingly ominous with a sense of forlorn resignation to some unknown, dreadful fate that reaches a fever pitch intensity for its shrieking sky-pitch chorus. It’s not very overt or immediate lyrics and while perhaps not as ambiguous or mythic as say, Dio era Black Sabbath or Fates Warning, it does play a huge part in adding to the same vast sense of majesty and mystery that even the album’s cover art implies.
Crafted from an understanding of a hallowed style once thought to be extinct, Vultures Vengeance weave tales of lurking danger and exalting triumph through a realm of hardened riffing and soaring command of melody. It is as 80’s as it gets and even recent newcomers to USPM will find it welcoming to their ears. However the focus of the album is far from Battle Cry or Flight of the Griffin in its deliberate sense of inward gazing voyages, turning the raw sword-bearing bravery of its predecessors to battle demons as esoteric as they are innately human. It’s unusual in that sense and very much a product of a contemporary mindset, one looking into the past for a way to the future. USPM is a field that’s not often explored even in an age of old school maniacs looking to archive each and every aspect of the perceived golden era of heavy metal and Vultures Vengeance don’t just capture its strength but also present their own particular take on it. It’s free from much of the sugary melody of more commercially known classic heavy metal and while off the beaten path, it strides forth with an enviable confidence that many could learn from. One of the year’s finest.
You can preorder Vultures Vengeance’s debut album and enjoy their earlier releases on their official bandcamp.
4.5 out of 5 mythical toilets at the end of a long journey