The first time I ever heard of Kansas City, Kansas natives Vanlade, I was watching them perform at the Warriors of Metal Festival in Ohio in the summer of 2010. They blew me away. The following year, Vanlade did exactly the same thing at the fourth installment of WOM Fest. Unfortunately, when Slaney / Stormspell released their debut, ‘Iron Age,’ in 2012, it was a bit of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong: ‘Iron Age’ is a strong album that features some killer songs. However, the recording failed to capture the band’s live energy, the weak production job did Vanlade no favors, the songs felt amateurish in spots, and the cover art looked like a parody rather than an homage. Fast forward three years and Vanlade have returned with their sophomore album, ‘Rage of the Gods,’ which is easily one of the finest true/speed/power metal albums of 2015, hands down.
What’s fascinating about the massive improvement in quality of ‘Rage of the Gods’ over its predecessor is that, fundamentally, Vanlade are not really doing anything differently this time around. They are, however, doing everything (and I mean everything) better. The eight proper songs (plus an intro and a jaw-droppingly good instrumental, “Moonbound”) crackle with energy and excitement from the first note to the last, typically hurtling along at breakneck speeds that leave the listener breathless, despite the extended song lengths (five songs exceed six minutes in duration, with three of those eclipsing the eight-minute mark). Guidepost bands would include Helstar, Liege Lord, Powermad, Arch-era Fates Warning, Agent Steel, Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica, early Iron Maiden, Thundersteel-era Riot, early Manowar, and newer acts like Enforcer, Skelator and Skull Fist. Vocalist Brett Blackout Scott relies heavily on his high-end banshee wails (more so than on ‘Iron Age’), and Zach Vanlade and newcomer Vinnie Lee Camarillo put on a clinic of power/speed twin-guitar mayhem. Songwriting is of the highest caliber too. Want a superb true metal anthem with bursts of speed, a Visigoth-type chorus section, and gang-shouted lines like “bring down the hammer”? Then “Hail the Protector” is the song for you. Jonesing for an early Metallica-fueled frenzied speed workout? Say hello to “Jaws of Life” or “Hellrazor.” If glorious ‘Spectre Within’-era Fates Warning styled ripping epics are your thing, “As Above, So Below” will make your day. And did I mention that the production job on ‘Rage of the Gods’ surpasses by leaps and bounds that of ‘Iron Age’? It’s not too clean or too polished, but it’s sufficiently clear and powerful to buttress (rather than detract from) the searing energy of the songs and performances.
There’s really no way to overstate how killer ‘Rage of the Gods’ is. If you’re a fan of the above-mentioned acts, and if the idea of a top-notch amalgamation of all of them sounds intriguing, then you owe it to yourself to check out this album. When I heard ‘Iron Age’ three years ago, I was prepared to relegate Vanlade to second-tier status: good, but hardly essential. ‘Rage of the Gods’ vaults them to the top tier, rubbing elbows with the world’s best power/speed/true metal bands. This is mandatory listening, folks. I hope and expect to see Vanlade gracing stages of America’s marquee underground metal festivals in 2016. They deserve it. For now, the only question is how high ‘Rage of the Gods’ will ascend my “Best of 2015” album rankings. Top 10 is a given, and top 5 is entirely possible. Well done, lads. Well done, indeed.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~