Remember a few years back when Jørn Lande and Trond Holter released a kickass super melodramatic and ridiculously infectious album about Dracula? It had a ton of twists and ingenuitive songwriting, great guitar festivities and some of Lande’s greatest vocal performances to date? Well they recently got a divorce, and Holter got to keep the house. Then he invited Nils K Rue to a party and renamed the manor after just himself. I’ve no idea where I’m really going with this analogy, but this album is the follow up to 2015’s Dracula: Swing of Death, except it has no Jørn Lande (because they’re not talking, it’s a whole high school drama for another time) and no Lena Fløitmoen. Instead it has Nils K Rue and Eve Iselin Erichsen. So far so good, Rue has proven one of the great vocalists of power metal and handling it all with progressive might in main band Pagan’s Mind.
Except Vlad the Impaler has none of the gravity and none of the cheesy luster that made Swing of Death such an enjoyable listen. The songwriting has been scaled back, not just a notch, but several and what’s presented is your average power metal album with three-four minute songs. The great duets of the first album have also been tossed aside, with Rue and Erichsen mostly taking turns between songs, and the lackluster songwriting gives Rue very little opportunity to do what he does so well. Don’t get me wrong, the man has some great power building in a few tracks and a great presence that arguably rivals that of his predecessor, but his vocals just fails to match the music and it helps little that the music isn’t up to par. Holter himself aims to carry the album, and if what he did on stellar tracks like Walking on Water and Queen of the Dead on the first album is anything to go by, he needs no vocalist to help him. But, as with everything else, the guitars here are merely a shadow of their former self. Some good riffing can be found in tracks like Awakening or Drums of Doom, and cool melodic pieces and soloing across the album, but nothing that really stands out above average.
Save Me Part II is the best track on here. And get this, it’s not just a continuation or a new chapter of Save Me from the first album. It’s a slightly different retelling that’s mostly the same as the original. On here, Holter gets as heavy and gritty as the legend put on paper would demand and Rue shows why he’s a force to be reckoned with, and the duet works so fucking well. Even though it’s not really a “new” song, this is what the album would have needed more of - it arguably even beats the original, thanks to that long solo where Holter shines like a madman. On the whole though, there is little to save the album in a single really standout track and a couple of good ones. Even taken as is, without comparing it to its predecessor, it’s just horribly average in every way and ends up boring; from mediocre single I’ll Die For You to the average and forgettable title track, it’s just not very interesting. It doesn’t have the epic size that it’s going for, and Holter, having a history of great theatrical songwriting that’s both catchy and melodramatic at once, fails to deliver.
Standout tracks: Awakening, Save Me Part II