Gothenburgian five piece Vandor is a newcomer on the power metal scene, aiming for an epic scope but with a classic scaled back approach that’s more focused on the music than the embellishment. With their debut full length In the Land of Vandor, Vandor dare to try an experimental route, and not just go to the places you’d normally expect with some tricky and challenging songwriting, and that’s certainly commendable. There are however some big un-ignorable buts to the album that take away from the experience. First of all, the mix isn’t all there. Alve Bjerde’s bass lines are certainly one of the best elements on the album, but he’s way high in the mix, making the bass more prominent than the guitars and lead elements, taking away the spotlight from some of the badass moments where lead guitarist Jack L Stroem shines brightly, like for instance the first part of Beneath the Sky.
Certainly, the album starts off sweet enough, with a mood setting intro and then Wrath of the Night comes on like an adrenalin rush. Then the song ultimately fails to lead anywhere, with no discernable chorus and with bass solos and twists that lead to nowhere. Possessive Eyes is one of the best songs on here, giving vibes in the songwriting of Magnus Karlsson’s (Primal Fear, Kiske/Somerville) work, and really fleshing out the basslines to emphasize them while the flashy guitar also stays on top. It also has the best and most outlined and emphasized chorus on the album, and it shows the guys are capable of writing some really good ones. The album seems sometimes like a mishmash of ideas that have been put together into songs but never fully fleshed out to reflect the promise of those ideas. A lot of the elements here are eyebrow raisers in the best sense, but then something hinders them from fully materializing.
The closest thing might be the title track; another highlight that should probably have served as the opener instead of the closer (excluding the outro and the bonus song). Here we can see Vandor really belting out the style they’re going for; a Sammetian piece de restistance that should deserve a reworking with the guitars and epic keyboards in focus. So there’s plenty of promise to the album, and by no means should my criticism be construed as a “don’t listen to this”, but as a “definitely listen to it, but don’t expect a world shattering experience”. Choruses could use layered vocals, and the production could be tighter, more dynamic, but there’s definitely something special on here, even with the un-ignorable buts. It is said that the chorus is the most important part of a power metal song, and in the vein of the particular style Vandor venture that is especially true. I would however argue that flashy, epic melodic pieces – be it through masterful guitar antics from the likes of Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray) or big sounding keyboard battling a la Staropoli (Rhapsody). Unfortunately Vandor as yet lacks both. Oh, and that dragon on the cover is totally stoned, by the way.
Standout tracks: Possessive Eyes, Warriors of Time, The Land of Vandor