Ice Vinland - Vinland saga 3/5

Reviewed: 4-10-09


1. Battlefield
2. Vinland saga
3. Cosmic rules
4. Secrets of the gods
5. Fate is done
6. The plague
7. Upcoming foresight
8. Armistice

I don't know why so few French Canadian bands have emerged over the years, given the amazing reputation enjoyed by cities like Quebec City and Montreal have for hosting metal gigs. Sure, Hanker and Forgotten Tales come to mind, but it's a very short list. You can now add Ice Vinland to it. While they are a new band to me, these gents have been plugging away for more than a decade, and released a debut CD called 'Masters of the sea' way back in 1998. 3/5 of the 'Masters of the sea' line-up, including guitarist/main songwriter Richie Blacksmith (ummm, why does that name sound vaguely familiar? Perhaps I should look over the Rainbow to find out.) and fur-and-helmet-bedecked vocalist/lyricist Damian Leif, are back with their self-released 'Vinland saga' opus (not to be confused with the Leaves' Eyes CD of the same name).

This is European styled epic power/heavy metal that is not for the faint of heart. The 8 tracks clock in at a hefty 59 minutes, with 5 songs exceeding 7 minutes in length and 2 surpassing the 9-minute mark. Musically, there's a whole lot to like about 'Vinland saga', including a plethora of killer twin-guitar lines, abundant speed, and even the occasional triumphant 'Vainglory opera' type keyboard trill. I hear bands like late 80s Iron Maiden and prime Steel Prophet in the music, but the overall presentation reminds me of Skullview and Last Empire. Unfortunately, that comparison is both a positive and a negative. It's a plus in the sense that the music is uncompromising, unapologetic true heavy metal through and through, with strong, fast riffs stockpiled all over the place. But it's a minus in a pair of critical areas: vocals and songwriting. Singer Damian Leif is a tough listen, because he stays in the upper register all the time, wailing and screaming at full tilt (think Skullview, Last Empire or Rick Mythiasin at his very screechiest). Sometimes he's effective, but 59 minutes of screaming, high-pitched, indecipherable vocals with a French-Canadian accent have the effect of battering the listener into submission or even reaching for the stop button. It's even worse in "The plague", where an annoying robotic vocal effect ruins the mood altogether. And, again in similarity to Skullview and Last Empire, the songwriting mostly eschews catchy choruses and memorable repeated parts, opting instead for a labyrinthine web where most of the songs overstay their welcome while offering the listener little to latch onto.

I don't want this review to sound too negative, because 'Vinland saga' has tons of cool parts where the melodic, ripping guitars blaze away, the rhythm section pounds everything into dust, and the listener is transported to heavy metal Valhalla. Those moments make 'Vinland saga' a keeper and reward repeated listens. And I have the utmost respect for the DIY, self-reliant approach of Ice Vinland, whose liner notes reflect that this CD "has been started from scratch and finished without any exterior help," and with "no re-amping, no drum samples, basically sound of our instruments recorded." If Ice Vinland would tighten up the songwriting and bring Leif down from the stratosphere, they could become a formidable force on the Keep It True/Play It Loud/Headbangers Open Air circuit. Of course, if they did those things then they might lose the character and sound that makes them a somewhat unique entity in the underground metal scene.




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