There is only one depressing thing about this 3 piece Icelandic band’s second release. The band appear so young that it looks like if you added their ages together they would still be younger than me – and I’m 20 years younger than any member of Black Sabbath! Actually, they aren’t quite the schoolboys they look though and the band’s sound totally belies their apparently meagre years – it’s pretty obvious right from the start why Nuclear Blast have snapped this lot up – They Grooooooooooooooooooooooooove!!!!
TVC will certainly fit nicely on a bill with label-mates Orchid, Freefall, Witchcraft or Graveyard, but they really do have a sound of their own. It’s retro, yes, but the first thing to stand out is the fullness of their sound. The drums aren’t the usual authentic Bill Ward-certified dead tubs that many of the retro band’s have plumped for, they are a touch “bigger”, which I really like. The Bass is right up there too, with a nice hint of distortion, playing the part of second guitar as well as bass, leaving a touch less space for the main guitar and vocals to have to carry. They are an incredibly tight unit – massively talented too! There is clearly bugger-all else to do in Iceland as a musician except practice!
Vocally, Óskar Logi has a really easy voice to listen to. None of your slightly nasal Ozzy-ness here, he has a great range, note perfect, and sings in styles not a million miles away from Terra Firma, Blue Oyster Cult, or Graveyard, but can chuck in a bit of Horisont-style higher stuff if the song requires it (like in the fantastic Paranoid-esque ‘Midnight Meditation’ which also includes – joy upon joys – that much maligned percussive gem, the cowbell!!!). Musically they have retro Groove Metal sussed, but they aren’t afraid to mix in a bit of psychedelia when the riffs ease back…or a touch of NWOBHM either (the first half of ‘Winterland’ reminds me a little of Maiden’s ‘Remember Tomorrow’ or ‘Strange World’ before TVC well and truly stamp their own riff-laden identity on it!) which is a nice touch. TVC are coming at this Retro lark from their own angle – and it works!
If I was to narrow them down to a base point, think a Hard Rock/Metal version of Cream, then cherry-picking all the experiences and influences that have happened since, and processing it all with young ears and enthusiasm…so therefore it has everything from Zeppelin and Yardbirds to Cathedral and Monster Magnet thrown in.
‘Craving’ is a great up-tempo opener, drawing on all the influences listed above and ‘Let Me Be’ keeps up the pace, continuing the quest for the album’s grooviest riff (a competition which the winner seems to change with each listen – there are SO many to choose from) and also gives us a very respectable guitar solo. Couple this with the wah-wah guitar solo in ‘Craving’ and it’s obvious that the solos, like the riffs, arrangements and song-writing, are also going to be top notch. Echoed by the fabulous bass solo (there’s a phrase a drummer rarely uses!) in the brilliant 7 minute ‘Expand Your Mind’ (check out the tongue in cheek video clip online – excellent!) Great riffs, drums and lead-work are all exploited too as is almost expected by this stage. But I’m getting ahead of myself, there is the blues-ballad of ‘Do You Remember’ first. This is nice enough, but might not be to everyone’s taste. There is a strong Clapton or Bad Company vibe, which the band certainly pull off, but it takes a couple of listens for it to really gel with the rest of the album. Simon and Garfunkel get a name-check in the lyrics too, which is apt as the song closes with a nah-nah vocal line that they would have been proud of. The aforementioned groove-fest of ‘Expand Your Mind’ is next, before ‘M.A.R.S.W.A.T.T.’ takes us on an up-tempo Free-style (not freestyle…) blues-rock journey, with emphasis on the catchy and showcasing more quirky, slightly trippy lyrics. ‘Cocaine Sally’ follows a similar vein, but with a more Cream/Ten Years After/Yardbirds feel – all wrapped up in that TVC sound that unifies each song no matter how diverse the main influence. I mentioned the next track, the nicely mellow ‘Winterland’ earlier, as I also did with ‘Midnight Meditation’, which along with ‘Expand Your Mind’, are probably my favourite tracks at the moment. I know the main riff is VERY ‘Paranoid’, but if it’s OK for Orchid then why can’t someone else get a look in? The groove-ometer gets maxed out one final time on the last track ‘The King’s Voyage’. A Doom-intro’d 12 minute epic which includes plenty of proggy nods to King Crimson and some Pink Floyd/Hawkwind shenanigans as well as the usual cohorts – a perfect coda to the album (if you pardon the obvious Zeppelin pun).
You can take each of the songs on “Voyage” individually and most will stand well alone, but put them together and The Vintage Caravan have you hooked. They set a scene, a mood…a groove! Each song has it to varying degrees and guises. This band have plenty of years ahead of them and many more behind them in musical influences. So much to draw from, and if The Vintage Caravan keep turning out releases of this quality, I and many others will be very happy indeed. That’s 2014 off to a bloody good start!
(9/10 – Andy Barker)