Vanguard XNeptune Fragrance? Hmm, smells a bit fishy to me! Hahahahaha – Oh come on, like I’m the only reviewer who’s going to use THAT line? Besides, I reviewed VXM’s debut at the beginning of last year, so I feel I know them, so maybe I can get away with it. The continuity from that debut is a welcome familiarity too, and both vocals and music have grown in confidence – things are really starting to gel nicely.

It’s another self-released job, and the band continue to do good work on such a limited budget. They still incorporate many of the bands I listed in that review of their debut – The Sins Of Thy Beloved, early Tristania, Dakrua, Flowing Tears and Dreams Of Sanity are all still in evidence. But while the band have broadened their horizons a little, incorporating some Neo-classical Power Metal (never to greater effect than in the instrumental middle section of the title track – which incidentally also includes a short passage of violin that I would have loved the band to have utilised more), this album also has a more unified, directional feel. The debut at times felt like the band were out to prove a point, show what they could do, but having got that partially out of their system I think they are starting to find their own niche.

Dark Symphonic Progressive Metal is still the order of the day, but the ‘Dark’ is being brought forward a little more in their attitude. ‘Shrine For Peace’ even incorporates low male vocals as well as the usual harsh male vocal, giving it a full-on Gothic Metal feel, backed up by the Vision Bleak style guitar line. And it really works! If you take this track as one end of the spectrum, the band’s sound kind of fans out into the symphonic, progressive and Neo-classical from here…yet always seems to keep a slight sinister edge to each individual song.

Vanguard X Mortem are a band heading in the right direction. They aren’t following trends, just crafting songs that suit their style. The scope they have to expand their field of vision is huge and they aren’t short of imagination in the song-writing department. If I have any criticism at all, it’s that some songs lack a real melody to hook the listener in. Closing track ‘Venus Visage’ gets it right, having vocal AND musical hooks (I especially like the King Diamond style creepy keyboard parts), but sometimes the songs can get lost in amongst the virtuoso guitar playing and complex arrangements. But it’s personal taste, and this is far from a negative. Nope, Vanguard X Mortem are a band I am happy to keep checking in with, and certainly a band worth a bit of record company investment in the future.

(7/10 Andy Barker )