Power metal is a strange fruit. I was around 12 years old when I heard Helloween’s ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’ (parts I and II) and flabbergasted comes to mind when I think back to my first reaction. The late 80’s and early 90’s truly defined and shaped the sound of Power Metal, but towards the late 90’s and early 2000’s something changed. No longer was it about story telling or composing incredible melodies, no, it was more about outdoing the competition in technical ability. It all became too sanitised, far too much guitar twiddling, with lyrics, composition and to a great extent originality taking the back seat – I lost interest.
Fast forward a decade or so and sadly not much has changed.T he Power Metal landscape is still littered with pompous bands racing at 100 miles per hour, drowning their composition with the shrieks. wails and a guitar cacophony. As much as I try to get back into the genre, it all seems too formulaic, too predictable, too… perfect.
So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across Van Canto’s ‘Dawn of the Brave’.
“Acapella Power Metal” is how Van Canto was the description of their genre and the main reason why I thought I’d part with the 7 odd pounds to download this from iTunes. I must admit I’d not heard of Van Canto before and can only attribute this to my general avoidance of all that is “power” metal. ‘Dawn of the Brave’ is the 5th album from this German six-piece band made up of five singers and one drummer – that’s right, no twin guitars, no bass, no lead no rhythm, just the sheer vocal ability of four men and one woman. The result is staggering, so much so, I actually purchased their entire back catalogue based on the viewing of one YouTube video. At times I couldn’t actually believe there were no guitars and while I’m sure these guys apply some very clever (knob twiddling) production techniques to achieve this polished result, it never feels too clinical.
‘Dawn of the Brave’ features the staple of Power Metal themes of fantasy and takes it a step further by incorporating comic book heroes, a recurring theme with many of their albums and the main reason for the somewhat bonkers looking cover. According to sources, the band actually recruited some two hundred backing vocalists for the making of parts of the album, most of who were actual Van Canto fans.
The band certainly displays an impressive amount of reverence and close connection with its fan-base. ‘Van Cantians For Van Cantians’ is a scheme employed by the band’s fanclub and which aims to get fans from countries where the band doesn’t perform, e.g. anywhere outside Germany, to enjoy a show. Effectively it’s a lottery concept, with fans winning anything from t-shirts to signed memorabilia and presumably some very lucky fans might actually win and see the band perform live. Whether it works or not, hats off to these guys for their entrepreneurial spirit.