Van Canto: Dawn of the Brave

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Van Canto: Dawn of the Brave
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Van Canto: Dawn of the Brave
A Cappella, Power Metal
Napalm Records
February 7th, 2014
Release length: 51:24
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Van Canto first came together in 2006, and over the years continued their quest of revitalizing the A Cappella style with a hint of Metal. After two full-lengths on smaller labels, the group’s signature sound attracted the attention of the folks at Napalm Records, picking them up for 2010’s Tribe of Force and 2011’s break-out effort Break the Silence. It’s been three years and Van Canto return with their anxiously awaited fifth studio album, Dawn of the Brave. With mixed reactions towards their lead single “Badaboom,” many are worried that the group may have crossed the fine line that separates serious expression and cheesy gimmicks. But is Dawn of the Brave the Manowar of A Cappella, or is it just a vocal mess all around?

Dawn of the Brave starts with your typical war-themed instrumental titled “Dawn of the Brave,” a fairly strong piece that works well with the vocal instruments matching the simple yet effective marching drum beat to establish a slightly ominous fantastic atmosphere. Sadly, “Fight for your Life” isn’t quite as impressive and shows off one of the biggest flaws of this release. Van Canto clearly tried to increase the epic levels on this album. At times it works, other times it doesn’t. The chorus is infectious and the “bom bom bom bom” sound really stand out. But then you get rather large chunks that end up really thin, like around the two minute mark, where the band loses its cohesiveness and just sounds like a bunch of kids making random noises with their mouths out of boredomn. One of the main reasons is that the audio and effects used come off pretty weak, making the vocal instruments sound way more obvious than before.

But aside the technical flaws, there’s also a few songs that leave you scratching your head. “Steel Breaker” is a solid performance that throws things back to an eighties Hard Rock era instead of sticking with the established Power Metal sound. Sadly it’s right in the middle of the album, breaking the flow by being completely out of place. It would make sense if it were a bonus track or a cover, which it definitely comes across as but apparently isn’t. Either way the most logical place for this black sheep is at the end to prevent Dawn of the Brave jumping from epic fantasy to gritty eighties Hard Rock with no warning or transition whatsoever. Then there’s the interesting cover of Europe‘s “The Final Countdown.” Again, it isn’t bad, in fact the way the noises in the background at the start of the song are replicated well enough, though the keyboards that Inga performs are laugh out loud horrible. Why they couldn’t use a vocal effect like the one for the solos is mind boggling as it would have sounded far more professional instead of how amateurish it comes across every time they hit. Even Sly’s vocals in the main verses are atrocious, but let’s face it, they sound terrible there in the source material as well.

Female vocalist Inga Scharf winds up sounding rather weak much of the time, making her seem a bit uninterested in many spots. This is a shame since most of “To the Mountains” is a solid performance, even though the start is a bit rough due to the problems already outlined. The chorus finds some additional layering and enthusiasm, which really does help to spark interest in the overall track, as well as many other tracks. “The Awakening” has a strong drum presence to help fill the music in the verses, though the singing outside the chorus again comes off a bit bland, and at times seems like some auto-tuning was used. If not, it may just be a fault of the audio itself either from the studio end, or from mastering. Again, it’s a major let down given how strong the chorus is and Inga’s powerful vocal presence there. Compare these two to the richer “Badaboom” and the various layers that fill the thin audio quality and it’s impossible to ignore the ball someone dropped somewhere along the lines. If the music video had put you off this song, or the album in general, the long gap of silence in it is not on the track itself, which makes the performance a lot more fluid and enjoyable.

But all hope is not lost. The power ballad “The Other Ones” has some rich vocal harmonies in the background that fill the song nicely, giving it a Blind Guardian vibe circa-Nightfall in Middle-Earth that is just captivating right from the start that is carried into the cover of Bonnie Tyler‘s “Holding Out for a Hero,” which is just fantastic. Inga’s vocal performance perfectly matches that Rock attitude of the original, and Sly’s contributions add some extra range to the moving and infectious performance that thankfully turns the album around, paving the way for a catchy, less over-the-top set of tracks that show the band at their strongest. “My Utopia” has some of the most energetic vocals all around next to “Holding Out for a Hero,” and “Into the West” is another somber ballad-style track that makes for a great finale if you consider the cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid” a bonus cover track. The start sounds a bit out there, but this performance is actually pretty spot on to the original, boasting a louder presence with a nice echo effect on the rough lead vocals that asserts a commanding presence not typically found in the group’s traditional music foundation.

Dawn of the Brave is a mixed bag of sons that unfortunately isn’t always a good thing. Van Canto try to up the ante with this album, making it much more spectacular and epic than their previous offerings, and it really suffers from it. Most of the verses end up really thin, bland, and sometimes sounds amateurish. Some of the singing and vocal instruments end up unimpressive, and even the softer effects make those very instruments sound like a group of kids trying to emulate the instruments instead of a talented cohesive unit that Van Canto has proven themselves to be over the years. Thankfully this is mostly during the first half, and once you hit “The Other Ones” the band kind of drops the shenanigans and goes back to the far less cheesy Power Metal performances that put them on the map in the first place. Unless you’re a die hard fan, you should definitely sample Dawn of the Brave a few times before running out to buy it. While it does grow on you after a few spins, it’s far from an impressive representation of what this unique group has to offer.

01. Dawn of the Brave – 1:11
02. Fight for your Life – 4:06
03. To the Mountains – 4:12
04. Badaboom – 3:38
05. The Final Countdown (Europe cover) – 5:04
06. Steelbreaker – 3:47
07. The Awakening – 4:20
08. The Other Ones – 4:26
09. Holding Out for a Hero (Bonnie Tyler cover) – 3:58
10. Unholy – 3:35
11. My Utopia – 5:23
12. Into the West (Loud of the Rings Soundtrack cover) – 4:33
13. Paranoid (Black Sabbath cover) – 3:11
Initial Pressing Score: 5.5/10

Van Canto
Van Canto

Digital review copy of this release provided by Napalm Records via Freeman Promotions.