Kansas City’s Vanlade delivered an absolute scorcher of an album last year. Entitled ‘Rage of the Gods,’ the platter was a towering slab of speedy U.S. power metal and true metal, expertly covering all the bases from Manowar to Riot to Liege Lord to early Maiden and Metallica. ‘Rage of the Gods’ ranked high in my best of 2015 list, and should be mandatory listening for all traditional-minded headbangers, young and old. On the heels of this magnum opus, Vanlade elected to shake things up a bit by recording a six-song covers EP, somewhat cumbersomely entitled ‘Wayward Sons: Masters of Time vol I.’ The title is a dead giveaway to one of the songs covered therein, as well as the era from which the song selections were drawn. As the band explained when they kindly handed me a copy of this cardsleeve-format EP at the Frost and Fire Festival in Ventura, California, last month, Vanlade had already been playing the ‘70s rock radio staple “Carry On Wayward Son” in their live shows, so each of the five band members picked another song for the band to tackle and presto, a six-song, 24-minute EP was born.
Sammy Hagar says there’s only one way to rock, and he may be right, but there are many different ways to approach a covers album. Some bands take the safe, unimaginative road by sticking to the predictable standards by the predictable artists. Others adopt more of a “Stump the Trunk” philosophy by delving deep underground into the realms of obscurity to excavate long-forgotten gems with which many listeners will be unfamiliar. Still others pick a bunch of nonmetal songs and metalize them. For their part, Vanlade adopted a kind of hybrid strategy. Half of the EP consists of songs from legendary metal titans Saxon, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Before you dismiss that idea as boring or lame, you should know that Vanlade selected non-obvious tunes from those three British lions, namely “Fire in the Sky,” “Never Say Die,” and “Riding on the Wind,” respectively. That makes it interesting, because it’s not the same ol’ same ol’ with the same songs you’ve heard covered a million times before (you know, the ad nauseam “Paranoid” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” schtick). For the other half of the EP, Vanlade selected well-known classic rock tunes in the form of “Barracuda” (Heart), “Bastille Day” (Rush), and the aforementioned “Carry on Wayward Son” (Kansas) and made them heavier, grittier and altogether more metal. Add in a pair of welcome guest appearances (Tyler Loney from Spellcaster shares vocal duties with Vanlade’s Brett Scott on “Never Say Die,” and White Wizzard/ex-Vindicator shredder James J. LaRue adds guitar magic to “Riding on the Wind”), topped off with cool cover art and punchy production, and you have the ‘Wayward Sons: Masters of Time vol I’ EP.
I’ll tell you this: This EP is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, and it sounds like the band had a blast recording it. Every song works well. “Barracuda” has always been a flat-out amazing track, and it’s nice to hear a proper heavy metal version (Chastain also recorded it on the ‘For Those Who Dare’ album back in 1990), even if Brett Scott has to struggle to hit those insane Ann Wilson high notes. “Fire in the Sky” is a stellar uptempo ass-kicking rendition of one of my favorite Saxon songs, boasting fine guitarwork from Zach Vanlade and Vinnie Lee Camarillo and a killer vocal from Scott. The band’s take on “Never Say Die” may be the best cover version on offer here, not only because the song rules but because the Scott/Loney duet knocks it out of the park and the band injects that extra bit of fiery energy and swagger to really bring the tune to life. “Bastille Day” benefits from the infusion of Vanlade muscle and might, and even ends with a Nolan Weber drum solo that segues perfectly into “Riding the Wind,” a straightahead version with Weber contributing upper-register backing vocals that dovetail nicely with Scott’s as they climb the Halford ladder. “Carry On Wayward Son” may not quite pack the wallop of its predecessors, but is impressively musical, adds a nice gallop and some killer guitar harmonies, and is a fine way to round out the EP.
I know cover albums aren’t for everyone. If you are predisposed against collections of cover songs, then go pick up a copy of ‘Rage of the Gods’ to experience how devastating Vanlade can be with their own material. For the rest of you, ‘Wayward Sons; Masters of Time vol I’ is an ideal good-time soundtrack when you just want to rock out, drink a beer, and have fun without having to think too hard about what you’re listening to. Best of all, the ‘vol I’ suffix on the title gives me optimism that Vanlade may have future covers-EP installments up their white fringed-jacket sleeves. I hope so, because they do a great job on this one.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~