Album Review – ShadowIcon / Smoke & Mirrors EP (2015)

This Slovenian band proves an opera singer is not always needed to make great Symphonic Metal songs.

Rating5

SHADOWICON_SmokeMirrors_coverFounded in 2006 in Ljubljana, capital of the mysterious Slovenia, ShadowIcon possess the perfect features to make a Symphonic Metal band: heavy riffs, killer drums, powerful keyboards and orchestrations and a very talented and charismatic female vocalist. What makes them different from other Symphonic Power Metal bands we know is that the beautiful Ana Prijatelj Pelhan is not a lyric soprano like other European divas such as Tarja Turunen, Simone Simons or Floor Jansen. Instead, her vocals are a lot more Pop Rock than Metal, something closer to Gwen Stephani’s voice, which makes the whole difference in their sound.

After four years of the release of their debut album, Empire In Ruins, the band is releasing this year the EP Smoke & Mirrors, containing six tracks and with many special guests such as Sascha Gerstner, guitarist of Helloween; Stefan Schmidt, member of the a cappella metal band Van Canto; Olaf Senkbeil, guest studio musician of Blind Guardian; Betty Lenard contributing with backing vocals, among others.

shadowiconThe EP starts – and also ends – with the powerful and exciting (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly, full of imposing orchestrations and keyboards. The opening track also has a wonderful vocal duet between Ana and Sascha Gerstner, with its chorus being really catchy (which I consider one of the things that make a great metal song), and after days I have heard this song for the first time I was still singing “I’ll step into your dreams, I’ll find out where you’ve been, I’ll make you wish you were already dead”. The following track, If I Was the One, the first single of the EP (check its official video below), is a really nice track with several different layers, starting in a smooth way and ending a lot heavier. In addition, its backing vocals and keyboards are great, especially when combined with the guitar solos. By the way, the keyboards seem to be a crucial piece of their music, supporting all the heaviness and the drama throughout the EP.

The Edge is a good song, but not as heavy as the previous ones, just like The Beauty of a Rose, a very nice ballad which shows all the beauty of Ana’s voice – her vocals are definitely the highlights in both tracks – with an awesome work done in terms of backing vocals too. My Plea starts in a cool and calm way, with Ana singing accompanied only by a piano before all that symphonic thunder comes back, showcasing more heaviness and focusing a lot more on the guitar lines and orchestral moments than all previous songs. And finally, a version of (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly without Sascha closes this good EP. It is still a cool and intense song, but I hope during their live concerts one of the guys from the band can reproduce the amazing vocal duet with Ana because it really makes all the difference in the track.

Smokes & Mirrors is available on several online channels, such as iTunes, Amazon and others, being a solid preview of what can come next on their future full-length albums. Also, don’t forget to check their Facebook page for more news and updates: it’s indeed worthwhile to follow their growth and evolution, as ShadowIcon are a band that definitely proves Symphonic Metal is not a thing only for Northern European bands.

Best moments of the album: (Now I See)Through a Mirror Darkly and If I Was the One.

Worst moments of the album: The Edge.

Released in 2015 Independent

Track listing
1. (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly (feat. Sascha Gerstner) 5:35
2. If I Was the One 3:42
3. The Edge 3:42
4. The Beauty of a Rose 4:54
5. My Plea 3:26
6. (Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly (reprise) 5:35

Band members
Ana Prijatelj Pelhan – vocals
Tomaž Lovšin – guitars
Bojan Kostanjšek – guitars
Matej Ravšelj – bass
Peter Smrdel – keyboards
Žiga Ravšelj – drums

Guest musicians
Sascha Gerstner – additional vocals in “(Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly”
Stefan Schmidt – vocal choirs
Olaf Senkbeil – backing vocals
Betty Lenard – backing vocals
Jeffery Hayat – additional orchestrations and programming
Matthias Ulmer – additional orchestrations and programming

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Album Review – Van Canto / Dawn of the Brave (2014)

This a capella Power Metal band from Germany proves why the human voice is the most powerful music instrument of all.

Rating5

vancanto_dotbWhen German Power Metal band Van Canto presented their a capella Heavy Metal to the world for the first time back in 2006, especially their cover version for Metallica’s Battery, I thought it was a fantastic and unique idea, but I wasn’t sure if that project was going to make it through the years. As we all know, the absence of music instruments implies many limitations to the sound a band can produce. However, here we are many years later with Van Canto’s brand new studio album, named Dawn of the Brave, the fifth in their career and another prove that the human voice is much more powerful and versatile than we think.

There’s nothing new when comparing Dawn of the Brave with their previous albums, but it’s still a lot of fun to listen to their own compositions, as well as their always much-anticipated versions for different classics from all types of artists and bands.

The intro Dawn of the Brave sounds like they’re just warming up their voices for what’s about to come, and it’s already a good sign of the overall quality of the album. One thing I really enjoy about Van Canto is their “made for battle” lyrics, mainly because they don’t let us forget that despite the absence of real guitars, they’re still a Power Metal band, and that’s exactly what happens in the heroic song Fight for Your Live, which could have easily been recorded by Manowar (“We are at your side / Day by day, and night by night / Fill your soul with pride / Reminding you to fight for your life / Fight!”). It’s one of the top moments of the album, with a great performance by all members.

To the Mountains focuses on Inga’s powerful voice, with a more melodic approach that sometimes reminds me of Within Temptation or Epica, and it will surely sound amazing when played live, while it’s impossible not to sing along with Badaboom, the first single of the album, with its strong rhythm and addictive chorus. The following track is the first cover version in Dawn of the Brave: thousands of bands have already recorded a cover version for Europe’s biggest classic of all time, The Final Countdown, but I’m pretty sure none was able to do it a capella as Van Canto, and believe me, the result is marvelous.

Dawn of the Brave goes on with Steel Breaker, an average Hard Rock song not as interesting as the previous tracks, and The Awakening, a faster and more melodic track that will surely be enjoyed by the fans of the band. Then come The Other Ones with its powerful atmosphere and strong lyrics, and the second cover song of the album, Holding Out for a Hero from Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler, another excellent heavy version for a song that’s not Heavy Metal at all.

vancantoTheir last two own compositions in the album are called Unholy, a song with good lyrics and a nice rhythm, and the sensational My Utopia, which sounds like a mix of Stratovarius and Iced Earth (without the real shredding, of course). And finally, the album ends with two excellent cover songs: Into the West, an Annie Lennox cover taken from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack (which in my opinion is one of the best soundtracks ever), and the one and only  Paranoid, from Heavy Metal icons Black Sabbath, with Ross taking the lead on vocals. The limited mediabook edition includes interesting orchestral, acoustic and other versions for some of their own songs, while the earbook edition comes also with a bonus DVD containing some of their own songs and awesome versions for all-time classics from Nightwish, Grave Digger, Blind Guardian, Manowar and Iron Maiden.

Alright, they’re not 100% a capella: they use a full real drum kit, played by the good Bastian Emig, but that doesn’t make the final result less impressive. Sly and the beautiful brunette Inga do an amazing job on vocals, but it’s the sound of guitars and bass produced by the trio of Ross, Stefan and Ike that gives Van Canto that “it” factor, in other words, that makes them so unique when compared to all other Power Metal bands in the world. I still can’t believe those guys are able to do those fantastic guitar solos just by using their voices!

In summary, Dawn of the Brave is a very creative album that everybody who enjoys some good singing should listen to and appreciate. The band surely proves to us all that no music instrument in the world can be compared to the human voice, which is the idea of the album art, don’t you agree? It’s an instrument so powerful it can even turn calm and smooth a capella music into pure Power Metal.

Best moments of the album: Fight for Your Life, Badaboom and My Utopia. Among the cover songs, the best ones are definitely The Final Countdown and Paranoid.

Worst moments of the album: Steel Breaker and Unholy.

Released in 2014 Century Media

Track listing
1. Dawn of the Brave 1:08
2. Fight for Your Live 3:59
3. To the Mountains 4:05
4. Badaboom 3:31
5. The Final Countdown (Europe cover) 4:55
6. Steel Breaker 3:40
7. The Awakening 4:13
8. The Other Ones 4:18
9. Holding Out for a Hero (Bonnie Tyler cover) 3:51
10. Unholy 3:28
11. My Utopia 5:13
12. Into the West (Annie Lennox cover) 4:25
13. Paranoid (Black Sabbath cover) 3:04

Limited Mediabook Edition bonus tracks              
1. If I Die in Battle (Orchestral Version) 4:45
2. My Voice (Orchestral Version) 5:29
3. Take to the Sky (Orchestral Version) 4:24
4. Neuer Wind (Jovian Spin Remix) 3:48
5. Lost Forever (Acoustic Version) 5:01
6. Last Night of the Kings (Choir Version)  4:11

Band members
Dennis “Sly” Schunke – lead vocals
Inga Scharf – lead vocals
Ross Thompson – higher guitar vocals
Stefan Schmidt – lower guitar vocals, solo guitar vocals
Ingo “Ike” Sterzinger – bass vocals
Bastian Emig – drums