Review by Rick Ossian
A veritable cornucopia of psych, prog, blues and classic rock elements assaults the ears of the listener whilst hearing the latest recording from Alftanes’ (Iceland) The Vintage Caravan. As often as it happens nowadays, one would think that taking a page from the 60’s/70’s stalwarts’ books would be old hat. Not so in this particular case, I would posit. Among these elements, you might ask? Why, there is feedback, wah/crybaby (amongst other FX pedals, no doubt), pounding, slamming, HAMMERING drums, slinky, sneaky, snaky and FUNKY bass lines, not to mention Uriah Heep-ish moments, Deep Purple-esque moments and definite Black Sabbath-y sequences! There are moments of pure bliss. There are moments of fingerpicking. There are some exquisite guitar solos, and some all-around sublime jamming. There are lots of musical moments that take one back to those halcyon days of yore when concert tickets were only a few bucks, and t-shirts and concert programmes weren’t much more…or less. There are fantastic pieces of timing and doom-laden, scary intros, creepy guitar lines, and earth-shattering drum roll finishes – in short, pure metal/rock paradise!
My only complaint(s), if any, are as per usual, the fact that the tracks are far too short, or, conversely, interminably long. For example, the fade-out at the end of closer Winter Queen seems to go on forever. At the other end of the spectrum, I found myself wishing that Monolith and Crazy Horses would have been stretched out a bit. Let us dispense with the particulars and get on with the tunes, then, shall we? The Vintage Caravan similarly assaulted our ears just a year or so ago with their Voyage LP, one that had already been released on an Icelandic label as their 2nd recording, only to be picked up not long after by Nuclear Blast Records. Their members are Oskar Logi (guitars, vocals), Alexander Orn (bass, backing vocals) and Stefan Ari Stefansson (drums), and they began life around 2006. According to their bio, they got serious during 2009. Their current locale is Sonderborg, Denmark, and they are evidently from the greater Reykjavik area. Their influences are Barbara Streisand (??), amongst obvious others.
Opener Last Day of Light features wicked bass runs (and drums and strums) on the intro, and is a medium-tempo classic rock number with sweet little lead guitar fills here and there for our sonic pleasure. The main riff is a very cool one, and the vocals haunt us from blues-rock’s vaulted past. There is a big burst of lead guitar solo (complete with wah/crybaby FX) at the 4:20 mark, appropriately enough! This particular feast of fretwork lasts for almost an entire minute, and then we are treated to an instrumental breakdown of sorts (5:45) and a big wham/end slam at around the 6-minute mark. This is one of the longer tracks, but quite frankly it could have been much longer, in my humble opinion.
Next up is the comparatively short-but-sweet Monolith, with its enormously big, fat bottom end-absolutely slamming bass and drums and occasional spacey blues moments. It is good, even great, but as I mentioned above, I wish it had gone on for a bit longer. I realized early on here that this is one of those tracks where we can’t have everything, and I’ve moved on. Sort of.
Babylon, for which there is a video featured on YouTube, is five-and-a-half minute blast of MORE slamming bass and drums (gargantuan bottom end). It is also a heavy toe-tapper with the neatest little lead guitar bursts imaginable. Lots of wah/crybaby (not to mention a lead guitar solo from 3:30 to 4:15) and just basic blues rock with that Vintage Caravan twist from the 21st century. Somehow these blokes have managed to hijack a TARDIS and travel regularly between zones.
Take a look:
Eclipsed is another long track (just short of 7 minutes), and includes a sweet psych intro with some nice guitar echo FX on board. There is a BIG main riff (think Sabbath or Zeppelin), and some interesting lyrical moments: “The calm before the storm/familiar tone flows/Thought I’d been here before/the eclipse still grows“. So, a bit of musical deja-vu, perhaps? Indeed so. Also featured is an amazing upshift in tempo (3:35) and a righteous lead guitar solo (5:55) towards the inevitable end.
Shaken Beliefs is another shorter number, but it is full of exciting stuff, such as the sneaky/snaky lead guitar intro, even MORE slamming bass and drums (leviathan bottom end), decidedly uptempo 70’s riffing – HUGE stuff from Riff City, even, and handclaps (??). We also have the obligatory guitar solo at about 4 minutes in. Smiles all around from this scribe, I can tell you that. Wish it were longer…
Crazy Horses, as mentioned above, is far too short, and is more of a punk blast then anything else. Certainly, there are elements of blues and ‘regular’ rock as well, with a big bassline and heavy and fast beats, but the overwhelming sentiment for me was late-70’s punk (Ramones, Pistols, etc.).
Sandwalker features a cool shuffle with snippets of lead at the outset. This is STRAIGHT out of the 70’s psych-rock playbook, so of course head-banging/bobbing ensued almost immediately, even upon my first listen. The wah comes in at 2:25, and there is a blues breakdown with heavy bass and drums at about the 3-minute mark. Starting to sound familiar? Perhaps so, but if there is indeed a formula here, it does not wear out its welcome – at least it didn’t for me.
Innerverse is another of the blessed longer tracks, again clocking in at just under 7 minutes, and is a very neat, melodic slightly mellower piece of work with curling leads, instrumental breakdowns and a bluesy ending. It is both mystical and atmospheric simultaneously (of course), and is the only track I noticed that featured keyboards, so naturally I sort of lumped it in with Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. It actually leans a bit towards both, but in a good way. At three minutes in there is a slight shift to fingerpicking, but only briefly. Only moments later we are slammed back in our chairs by heavy riffs and guitar soloing (sort of – it goes with the main riff) (4:00). The keys make a slight return at the 5-minute mark, and there is another instrumental breakdown (5:15) for our aural pleasure. The bluesy close at the end is marvelous, and bears repeating – that must be why I repeated myself!
Carousel is another of the shorter tracks – anybody notice how they interspersed shorter numbers with longer ones? Positive genius, and a mark of good writing/sequencing, as my professorial mate Martin would say. There is a big main riff, positively pounding bass and drums and coming at you heavy, hard and fast! This is another in the vein of the psych-style heavy metal rock numbers tradition, with the bluesy refrains and all. Some soaring bursts of lead guitar (3:00-3:45) and a false finish with an amazingly overdone drum roll towards the end, and before we know it things have drawn to a close – almost.
Closing tune Winter Queen has its good and bad, as closing numbers often do. It is an enormously sprawling (8:45) psych exercise in taking us on that almost cliche ‘journey’, if you will. It is good, even great at times, but there are some things that just could have been left off. The almost over-bearingly long fade-out at the close could have been cut short or even left behind on the cutting room floor, for example. Winter Queen features everything, and runs the gamut of the rock field; there is blues, there is rock, there is psych/prog, and HAMMERING metal – all in one track. There are big drums, and even bigger bass. There is eerie fingerpicking (:50), shortly after which the vocals make their entrance, followed by the obligatory building-up of drums, then at the minute-and-a-half mark things REALLY begin to kick in. There is another instrumental breakdown (4:45), and a bluesy guitar solo that starts (5:20) and ends (6:15) almost interminably, then starts up again at the six-and-a-half minute mark! The only really disappointing moment is the inevitable end, mainly because it just takes far too long, as mentioned above. In spite of that, I’m going to give the entire affair a wickedly awesome thumbs up! The fact that they are a mere three-piece group makes them that much more incredibly wicked. Top marks all around! Five Mjolnirs, as it were!