Vangough – Warpaint – Album Review

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Artist: Vangough

Album Title: Warpaint

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 17 March 2017

The heavy metal underground. Is there a better place? I’m being serious here, because as I see it, some of the very best music being created can be found lurking in the underbelly of this fine genre. Sure there are the bigger hitters that keep producing fantastic albums and they deserve the plaudits. However, there’s something even more special about those bands that beaver away under the radar of the masses and then release quality material. Enter Vangough.

Vangough is the Oklahoma-based progressive creation of a highly talented chap by the name of Clay Withrow. This name might be familiar to some as he stepped in to assist Pain Of Salvation on tour when Daniel Gildenlow was in a bad way with his health a couple of years ago. The guitarist and vocalist released a solo album in 2008 (‘Dissonance Rising’) but formed Vangough soon after as he hankered after something more band-oriented. I somehow got wind of the 2009 Vangough debut, ‘Manikin Parade’ and fell for its charms in a big way. Here was a trio comprised of Withrow alongside bassist Jeren Martin and drummer Kyle Haws that threatened much and, I was convinced, should have a bright future ahead.

The following two albums maintained the quality, but for some reason, didn’t click so hard with me. Nevertheless, the name Vangough remained of interest and so when I realised that a fourth album was on the horizon, I had to investigate. As it turns out, ‘Warpaint’ is very much the album that I hoped I’d hear from Vangough and, as such, puts them firmly back on my radar. I hope too, that ‘Warpaint’ will ensure that the name Vangough now appears on significantly more progressive metal fans’ radars, because it fully deserves to.

I will admit to struggling with this review. Not in terms of my conclusions, for these began to form with some clarity very quickly. The difficulty I had here and still have to a certain extent, is being able to accurately and helpfully describe the music of Vangough for it is highly involved. It might not be the most overtly flamboyant and virtuosic music you’ll ever hear; if you’re looking for extended sections of instrumental gymnastics, you’ll want to move on. Even on the lengthy closer, ‘Black Rabbit’, where there is plenty of space for instrumental expression, the end result doesn’t feel over-indulgent or overblown. Rather, it just perfectly fits with the album as a whole.

That’s not to say though that Vangough are not accomplished musicians or lacking in ambition, far from it. There is no confusing ‘Warpaint’ as anything other than a progressive metal album. Each member of the trio and associated guests who assist in fleshing this album out are of the highest calibre and deliver their technical and subtly complex parts with assuredness and plenty of confidence. And yes, this does shine through as the music unfolds.

However, rather than their individual performances taking centre stage, the compositions themselves clearly come first. The Vangough sound on ‘Warpaint’ is therefore quite dramatic and dynamic, with a focus on producing music that is strong and powerful but also quite fragile and human-sounding. Atmospheres and emotions are explored to great effect and there’s also a subtleness to the compositions that creates longevity, allowing the music to keep giving long after the initial impact has been made.

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‘Warpaint’ opens up in moody fashion courtesy of ‘Morphine’ which immediately captures my imagination. The riffs are huge, the bass rumbles ominously and the drums pound with power and panache. The pace is initially slow and ponderous, but gradually increases to heighten the tension within what is a dark and claustrophobic beast that ebbs and flows wonderfully. The vocals of Withrow start off in quiet introspective fashion but become more urgent and fuelled by anger and frustration as things develop, punctuated by a few guttural growls along the way. I get hints of Pain of Salvation but equally, I hear artists like Devon Graves’ Dead Soul Tribe within this impressive opener which ultimately dances to its own original tune and becomes rather addictive in the process.

By contrast, ‘Dust’ is a much punchier, to-the-point track where the melodies are slightly more immediate and pronounced. If Vangough released a single, this would probably be it.

‘The Suffering’ comes out of the blocks kicking and screaming, driven by a high-tempo rhythm-section that morphs into a dampened djent-inspired chugging, churning riff with an off-kilter time signature. The heaviness drops away momentarily to be replaced by a really rich acoustic guitar and vocal section before returning with real urgency and style, complete with a well-placed wailing guitar solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome. What I like most are the extreme contrasts that litter this track. One minute it is quiet and tentative, the next, it explodes with fury and barely-controlled rage, all the while keeping one eye on what makes enjoyable music, as the final epic and utterly compelling final act demonstrates. The guitar sings and the melodies really come to the fore, making this one of my firm favourites.

The almost thrashy overtones of ‘Gravity’ do not go unnoticed, underlining the ambition evident on ‘Warpaint’. Again, the contrasts within the song create drama and pull the listener into the music, forcing them to live the emotions rather than simply listen to them. It is another brooding monster, full of hugely impressive but understated instrumental prowess. It fleetingly reminds me of Haken in terms of the background sounds that add to an already multi-layered affair, serving to increase the strong atmospheres that permeate Vangough’s output.

‘Til Nothing’s Left’ is a song of two halves. The first produces a nice blend of bouncier, vaguely up-beat material, juxtaposed by slower, more tentative and moody passages. However, as the composition develops, it changes tack, to introduce a much more pronounced melodic refrain, which builds in intensity. The sumptuousness of the melody, alongside the dark subject matter and more gorgeous lead guitar work strikes a chord with me. Underpinned by more superlative rhythm work, it fades out having made its indelible mark, begging repeated listens. Who am I to refuse?

Echoes of Leprous confront me as ‘Knell’ introduces itself as the penultimate track. If the preceding material could be classed as moody or dark, this piece of music ratchets things up yet another notch. It is minimalist at the beginning with Withrow’s vocals taking centre stage. Synths then play arguably their most important role anywhere on ‘Warpaint’ as they provide an atmospheric and all-encompassing backdrop to the other instruments which themselves slowly build the intensity whilst remaining as sharp and precise as ever.

It is then up to the aforementioned ‘ Black Rabbit’ to close out ‘Warpaint’, doing so in grandiose fashion, stretching over eleven minutes, effectively summing up everything that is great about ‘Warpaint’ in the process.

The more I played ‘Warpaint’, the more I felt I had to keep checking that this is indeed an independent release. It is and, given the quality of the music on offer here, that’s quite extraordinary. This is as good as any other progressive metal release this year so far and even at this early stage, I am confident that it will take something quite special to upstage it. ‘Warpaint’ very much has its own identity but if you are a fan of the likes of Leprous, Pain Of Salvation or quality progressive metal in general, then Vangough’s latest effort has to be checked out. This is essential listening, trust me on that.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Anticipated music in 2017 – an update – 30 Jan

Ayreon – The Source
Release date: 28 April 2017

ayreon-coverIt seems like every few days at the moment that we get a new Ayreon update. Not that I’m complaining at all. First we get the track listing and then we get a new song.

I must admit that the first time I watched the video and heard the music for ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’, I got goosebumps. Not only because the music was strong, heavy and powerful, but because of the impact of the guest vocalists that litter the lengthy track. To have this amount of vocal talent in one place is bordering on criminally magical. You may have already seen me share it over social media outlets, but it can’t hurt to share it again here.

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I had high hopes for the new Ayreon album a few weeks ago. My excitement is now at a whole new level. I get the distinct impression that this could be Arjen Lucassen’s finest hour. Only three months to wait…

Pallbearer – Heartless
Release date: 24 March 2017

15826722_1705409859485158_999859890853457012_nIn the last few days, we have finally been treated to a new track off the upcoming Pallbearer album, ‘Heartless’. The song is called ‘Thorns’ and can be explored below.

Having featured Pallbearer in my ‘most anticipated’ series earlier in the month, I have been asked for my opinion of this new track a few times. In short, I really dig it – it still retains that doom sheen but the composition is so much more than that – it is varied, intriguing and enjoyable right off the bat. There are even hints to modern era Katatonia in there, which is a really welcome ingredient. If this is a true representation of the full album, I am very much on board.

Nailed to Obscurity – King Delusion
Release Date: 3 February 2017

15977895_10154446249752872_6528639204757627055_nI’m always on the hunt for exciting new music and during my most recent foray into the murky world of the extreme metal underground, I came across Nailed To Obscurity. They are a name that I’ve heard before but never had the overwhelming to explore. I’m not entirely sure I understand why that is because, based upon the track below, this is the kind of music that I truly love.

Heavy, dark and melodically aware, this has hints of early Katatonia and others within it but fundamentally, they create a very commendable racket indeed. New album ‘King Delusion’ is officially released very soon on 3rd February 2017 on Apostasy Records and I’m now feverishly trying to land a promo so that I can review the record for the Blog of Much Metal as soon as possible.

Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand
Release date: 31 March 2017

mastodon-emperor-of-sandI’d completely missed this album until last night when I stumbled upon the news. Mastodon are a big deal but not so much for me. I have a few o their albums but I’ve never warmed to them as much as I think I should have, or as much as others have. I’m not sure why, because on paper, their approach sounds right up my street. And yet the reality has never matched up. And yet I’m always interested to hear a new album from the industrious quartet.

‘Sultan’s Curse’ can be heard below and is a cut off the new record, ‘Emperor Of Sand’. I must admit that it is one of the most immediately enjoyable tracks I’ve heard from the metal juggernauts so I have a renewed vigour to check out this new album, maybe even give it a review if I can access a promo. Watch this space.

Demonic Resurrection – Dashavatar
Release date: 15 March 2017

15822908_1859610294309479_318929624969591399_nIndia is not a country renowned for heavy metal. However, flying what often feels like a lone flag for extreme metal in India is Demonic Resurrection. Over the past few years, their stock has risen quite a lot to the point where theirs is a name that is relatively well known in underground metal circles.

Their new album, ‘Dashavatar’ is released on 15th March 2017 on Demonstealer Records and below is ‘Matsya – The Fish’. As you can hear, Demonic Resurrection deliver their own take on technical death metal but they do so whilst embracing the musical influences of their homeland. As such, you’ll hear authentic instrumentation, sounds and textures within their music. I really like this and am looking forward to the album.

Vangough – Warpaint
Release date: 17 March 2017

I have been a fan of Vangough since the release of their debut album ‘Manikin Parade’ in 2009. The rich prog metal in the vein of classic Pain Of Salvation was a draw that was too powerful to resist and it is a record I still listen to a lot today. News therefore of a new album from the Oklahoma based progressive metallers is very welcome indeed, in spite of the fact that releases two and three were not, in my opinion, as strong as the debut.

I can offer you a teaser trailer of the new record and although it is difficult to glean too much from it, I’d say that the omens are good for a quality album. I’m genuinely chomping at the bit to see how this new album sounds. Who’s with me?

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