Formidable: that’s an interesting word. Fans of heavy music know that one of the finest attributes is the respect paid to the originators of the style. Sometimes the influences overshadow the originality and we slide into “retro” territory. Then bands like Vintage Caravan come along, full of energy and passion to restore faith and stoke the embers. Earlier album “Voyage” turned heads with its strut, unbridled enthusiasm and their ability to take influences and craft them into something vital sounding and contemporary. Four albums and many gigs into their career they have stepped things up a notch with “Gateways”. Live, the band have an energy that they have consistently managed to capture on record so interest is high for the Icelandic trio’s latest offering.

Sounding very much like it was birthed in another era, opening stomper “Set Your Sights” is a Led Zeppelin meets Deep Purple belter. There’s a new found bigness to their sound with Óskar Logi Ágústsson’s vocals now having a slightly lower register and more mature edge. The blues rock swagger is attention grabbing with tight, impassioned Free styled power. The band’s influences continue to come into play on “Reflections” with its’ progressive perspective on the introduction before a Mk II Deep Purple infused funk rock blast that starts to leap into the sound you’d find latterly in Black Country Communion. The lyricism has continued to evolve as well; the story telling stylings of Phil Lynott coming to the fore on the grandeur of “On The Run” with a spaghetti western styled acoustic introduction builds into a track full of retrospection and a good example of the vocals showing more control and being more poignant for their restraint.

Driving rhythms are never in short supply. Swinging between a Jimmy Page arrogance and a Jack White raw slab of energy, tracks like “All This Time” and “Reset” have an addictive power held aloft by the combination of Alexander Örn Númson on bass and Stefán Ari Stefánsson’s sometimes furious drum work. They rock hard but also display moments of psychedelic tinged beauty on “Nebula” which floats effortlessly on acoustic guitar and fluttering percussive explorations. Likewise, the slow burning “Tune Out” with its’ soft, late era Hendrix inspired notes that float about a steady tribal beat build to circular sounding guitar lines that expand to a big, inspiring finish that songs and indeed albums in the genre are revered for.

Combining with some gloriously enveloping artwork that reflects the album’s contents, The Vintage Caravan continues its’ ever more vast journey. Their growing reputation is hard earned and fully deserved. A band still quite young have the sound of one of far greater years and experience. Using their influences intelligently they have crafted an infectious work that is as thoughtful as it is hard rocking. Formidable indeed.

(8/10 Johnny Zed)