|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Brazil|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Vox Heaven|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 55:48|
Ask most hard music fans to name the first Christian metal band from Brazil to make its mark in the USA, and the likely response will be Shining Star. And rightly so, at least when factoring the popularity of the Shining Star debut from 2000, the melodic metal and hard rock of Fatal Mistake, and its 2005 sophomore release, the Lance King fronted melodic power metal infused Enter Eternity. Whereas neither band does anything for me, hard rockers Stauros and Sunroad predate Shining Star, with the former getting started in 1995 with debut Vento Forte and latter putting out its initial offering Heat From The Road in 1999. Melodic power metal act Eterna is another name worth mentioning, referencing its 1997 debut Shema Israel, as is the classic metal of Dynasty, with an EP entitled The Angels Return dating to 1999. Best of the bunch might be Destra, with its first album, Sea Of Doubt, released in 2000 and power/progressive magnum opus Joe’s Rhapsody following four years later, a work that is by far my favorite to come out of the region.
Over the years, the Christian metal scene in Brazil has grown and expanded, with notable albums put out by Adiastasia (Life War from 2006), Allos (Spiritual Battle from 2012), Menahem (Angels & Shadows from 2008), Dragon’s Cry (Prophecies from 2011) and Maestah (self-titled from 2015). Maestah is a particular band of note, with its debut receiving a favorable 75% Angelic Warlord review in being described as “(blending) the rugged aesthetics of groove driven hard rock, the technical leanings of the power and progressive metal segments and the piqued muscle of classic metal”. The group also features a very competent front man in Celso De Freyn, whom (again referencing the review) “presents with a gruff and guttural lower register style somewhat akin to Mayo Petranin (Signum Regis) but intertwined with some raspy Dio-ish hints that bring to mind Russell Allen (Symphony X)”.
De Freyn, who also recorded the classic track “O Sentido da Vida” with Stauros in addition to fronting the 2010 self-titled released of Italian progressive rock act Seven Horizons, returns in late 2016 with his latest project, the self-titled debut full length of Vox Heaven. With the dual goal of proclaiming Christ while supporting unity within the Brazilian metal scene, De Frey recruited 25 co-lead vocalists, 14 guitarists, 4 keyboardists, 4 bassists and 2 drummers to complete the Vox Heaven recording process. Well known names include vocalists Germán Pascual (ex Narnia,), Nahor Andrade (Dynasty) and Celso Alves (Allos) in addition to guitarists Rex Carroll (Whitecross), Karim Serri (Doomsday Hymn) and Martin Hall (Germán Pascual). It would not be out of line to suggest that Vox Heaven is an ‘all star’ project in the truest sense of the word, or at the very least Brazil’s answer to Liberty N’ Justice!
I am unable to comment on specific (on most tracks) in terms of who performed on which track due to lacking liner notes from going the download route (a CD version to the album is available but only at a retaier whose online store is entirely in Portuguese). Equally problematic is that the Vox Heaven Facebook page and website are also in Portuguese, not to mention five of the albums thirteen tracks. What I can say is that Vox Heaven shares many of the same musical traits as Maestah with its emphasis (for the most part) on straightforward hard rock, power metal and traditional metal. This should not surprise in light of how Vox Heaven includes contributions from three of the five Maestah members. Where the two diverge, however, is in songwriting in that the Vox Heaven material (in my opinion) is that much stronger, with the more notable melodies and creative structuring overall, referencing the final score of 80% (as opposed to the 75% Maestah grade).
Opening track “I Choose To Believe” comes across in the form of quintessential Vox Heaven: invigorating front to back tempo aligned with copious double bass, crunching guitars and keyboards that highlight but not to a fault. I like to think of this one as touching upon more of a power metal basis to the Vox Heaven sound.
“Virtual Chase” slows impetus to a mid-paced grind while upping heaviness overall. The power metal driven double bass remains a focal point, as do keyboards, which lend a darker if not eerie feel. The very ably done lead guitar work of Nando Moura (Pandora 101) adorns the songs multiple instrumental breaks.
“Preachers Of Lies” takes the album in a traditional metal heading. Starting to a short drum solo, the song mauls ahead as monstrous riffing and staunchly done low end aligns with the assertive but understated catchy refrain (despite the ardor at hand). I cannot help but be reminded of countrymen Dynasty, particularly is Warriors Of The King release.
Stylish melodic hard rocker “Fear” delivers some cool variances. The song maneuvers its first half between more tranquil moments with bass guitar drifting in the backdrop and others that reflect a stauncher feel as gritty guitars take over. Over its final minute, “Fear” picks up pace to a bluesy hard rock direction as De Freyn lends some fitting low-end gravel to his delivery.
“Endless” maintains the bluesy sentiments, more laid back in comparison with complementary Hammand B3 and shuffling gritty guitars but picking up impetus for occasional shorter metal infuses passages carried by fiery soloing (again, wish I could name a guitarist). Helping “Endless” rate with my albums favorites is the protracted instrumental section that runs the gamut from calmer piano to blistering lead guitar.
By far the Vox Heaven best (in my opinion) is “Paradise”. This one represents a duet of sorts, as joining De Freyn is a co-lead vocalist whom is a near dead ringer for Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden). Al the while licks and chops that bring to mind Steve Vai decorate the length of a power and traditional metal hybrid track that I find assertive, energetic and highly addictive with repeat listen!
Note that Vox Heaven is not afraid to step outside its musical boundaries and throw the occasional curveball, as it does on “Swinder” in which it intersperses extreme vocals with occasional modern guitars. It works, however, in that the extreme vocals strategically trade off with the smoother essence of De Freyn to create a dramatic effect in which the heavier contrasts with the lighter. Likewise, “Break The Chains” mixes in ‘screamed’ hardcore vocals, but in similar fashion also successfully sidesteps the overbearing due to De Freyn making his melodic vocal presence felt while tons of youthful energy further helps set it apart.
Disclaimer: I am willing to accept either song in question because they are the only ones of their kind on the album, and that they mix equal parts melodic vocals with those of the extreme or screamed type. So for those sitting on the edge of their seats, you do not have to worry about Angelic Warlord changing its mission to being a ‘Christian extreme metal and hardcore resource’ anytime soon!
Perhaps it is due to the language barrier, but I am unable to identify with the Portuguese tracks in the same manner as their English equivalents. That said, some solid material still presents itself. I am most attracted to the two power metal pieces, with “Irmãos de Sangue” fleet from its tenacious riffing but refined in terms of its catchy chorus, and “Renascido na Luz” playing up a darker Symphony X meets Sacred Warrior vibe in reinforcing airy keyboards and plenty of double kick drum. Of the better hard rockers, “Me Entregar” takes a raw and bluesy barebones approach in pinning guitars to the front of the mix, while “Lutas” delivers the same type of lower register groove that makes Destra’s Joe’s Rhapsody such a special release. Lone track not to do it for me is “Acontecer” due to its borderline non-descript feel and that as the thirteenth and final track I am ready for the album to wrap itself up.
Vox Heaven leaves initial impression of an uneven listen, which attributes to its occasional outside the box musical leanings and inclusion of material in both English and Portuguese. The lack of continuity to the track listing does not help from starting to two songs in English followed by one in Portuguese with the four remaining Portuguese tracks relegated to the end of the album. I cannot help but think it would work better to close with all the Portuguese material instead. Better yet, why not record the entire album in English while cutting it by a song or two to allow for the more cohesive listen.
I might also mention the Vox Heaven production is somewhat thin, at least in comparison to Maestah with its more pronounced low end and better separation of instrumentation. Of course, I am not happy with having to go the download route either. Yes, downloaded music is cheaper (I paid just $7.99 on Amazon), but you also get what you pay for in that I penned the review without liner notes or lyrics. Yes, Vox Heaven features a literal ton of talent, but it is disappointing that I cannot provide attribution in terms of who performs on which track. I commend Vox Heaven for its ‘sole purpose of proclaiming Christ’ motive, but find it disenchanting I am unable to go into detail about lyrics.
Further confounding things is how Vox Heaven put together a lyric video to a song that does not even appear on the album (at least the download version), a beautiful but haunting eight-minute acoustic ballad entitled “Vox Heaven”.
With so many things to complain about, I am sure the reader is wondering why the album receives such a high score. The fact is De Freyn and company earned their stripes from a musical standpoint. The eight English tracks are all worthy - even those taking an unexpected musical direction - with majority of the Portuguese cuts holding their own as well. As always, De Freyn performs ably as do the talented guest musicians and vocalists, whom (again) lend to Vox Heaven an ‘all star’ feel. I might suggest waiting until the hard copy to the album is available, but if a fan of the Brazilian metal scene or the genres represented then I recommend making Vox Heaven a priority purchase.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Choose To Believe” (3:52), “Virtual Chase” (4:31), “Irmãos de Sangue” (6:03), “Preachers Of Lies” (4:05), “Swindler” (4:39), “Fear” (3:26), “Break The Chains” (3:28), “Endless” (4:57), “Paradise” (3:16), “Renascido na Luz” (3:55), “Me Entregar” (5:16), “Lutas” (4:07), “Acontecer” (4:21)