Tribe Of Force
1 March 2010
by Tom Dare
To say that Van Canto are set to divide opinions yet again would be somewhat akin to describing a Cannibal Corpse album sleeve as “a tad bloody” – in other words, an understatement of galactic proportions, even before mentioning their latest Metallica cover.
If Van Canto have passed you by, they are metal’s première a cappella band – apart from the drummer, all the parts are vocal. Three men with improbably low vocal registers use their voices to simulate bass and guitar parts, over which the more conventional vocals are sung. The voices replacing the instruments are put through distortion to produce the right effect – even convincingly when performing “guitar solos” with their voices. Their previous albums have included a smattering of covers- most famously Metallica’s ‘Battery, Iron Maiden’s ‘Fear Of The Dark’ and Nightwish’s ‘Wishmaster’ – and a smattering of original material. For Tribe Of Force, Van Canto’s third album, the band have cut the number of covers to focus on their own songs, delivering eleven original tracks and just the two rather striking covers. And after the novelty factor wears off, it is the original material that Van Canto must be judged on.
This record shouldn’t work – quite the contrary, it should fall flat on its arse in a heap of buffoonery and ridicule. The simulation of riffs initially sounds very silly. Much of the work is so low in the vocal register that a lot of the tone and power is lost, and the strength of bass expected from heavy metal simply cannot be replicated by the human voice. I am quite certain many listeners will switch off in the first fifteen seconds, put off with how ludicrous it sounds initially. Quite frankly however, this is all bollocks when you have hooks as huge as those on Tribe Of Force.
For all the problems, one key fact remains: Van Canto write seriously catchy, enjoyable songs. The silliness rapidly fades away from awareness and the hooks on anthems such as ‘Lost Forever’ or ‘One to Ten’ (which features a guest slot by Rage’s Victor Smolski for a duelling “guitar” solo) are simply too huge to ignore, and even after only one or two listens can are instantly recognisable.
Musically, this is essentially heavily Helloween-influenced power metal – and the songs are strong and consistent enough to survive comparisons with that great German institution. The harmonies add a lush richness to the obvious hooks, and however farcical the first impressions may be, all the singers have top-notch voices that compliment each other perfectly.
The covers are, inevitably, going to get Van Canto more attention than anything they have written themselves, which is a shame given how good their own work is. Having said that, the first, a version of Grave Digger’s ‘Rebellion’ (which features frontman Chris Boltendahl himself) is worthy of attention, but unlikely to cause too many ripples outside of the band’s native Germany. The second is a different matter. Why? you ask. It’s ‘Master Of Puppets’. Yes, that ‘Master Of Puppets’, the title track of one of the greatest albums of all time. Doubtless, the majority of Metallica fans are going to give themselves hernias venting spleen about how terrible it is. It is, however, a loving and faithful rendition that is clearly performed by fans wanting to put a twist on a classic, not defile it for attention, and if approached with an open mind it is great.
Watch the video to ‘Lost Forever’ by Van Canto
Tribe Of Force is great fun, hook-laden and varied, from anthems through ballads to the stunningly symphonic ‘Magic Taborea’, certain to get untold amounts of hate, but well worth a listen if you can avoid pre-judgement.
Sounds like: Helloween performed a cappella (go listen, it’ll make more sense)
Top tracks: Lost Forever, Master Of Puppets, Magic Taborea
Van Canto- Tribe Of Force tracklisting:
To Sing a Metal Song
One To Ten (ft. Victor Smolski of Rage)
I Am Human
Rebellion (Grave Digger cover ft. Chris Boltendahl of Grave Digger)
Last Night of the Kings
Tribe of Force
Water. Fire. Heaven. Earth.
Master of Puppets (Metallica cover)
Hearted (ft. Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica)