Album review: SONIC HAVEN – Vagabond

Frontiers Music [Release date 07.05.21]

Sonic Haven is Herbie Langhan’s band. He of Firewind, Avantasia and others fame. He’s produced it, Sacha Paeth has mixed it and old Radiant chum, Carsen Stepanowicz plays guitar. So, with three vastly experienced artists in key roles, this can’t fail.

The album, Vagabond, is clearly a love letter to those bands who codified the sound of heavy metal in the seventies… most prominently Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, given an emphatic stamp of approval later in the decade by bands such as Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Judas Priest.

That means extended multipart song structures and fret boards passing by in a high speed blur of moving fingers, both punctuated by the occasional Halford howl.
It also means good quality, commercial songwriting.

The whole thing is fabulous fun. A growling Langhans chews up the scenery on ‘Vagabond’ and ‘Nightmares’, as pounding, snarling verses go off tangentially into overipe lyrical rants, underlined by rippling axework, alternately slowing and accelerating, moving toward an always out of sight finishing line.

And yet, the band are exercising restraint, few of the tracks really amp up to the full blown blast we expect from today’s Metal. This is an old/new variant. It’s about mood and emotion as much as it is about the muscularity and machismo redolent of the genre. It creates its own highly melodic metal landscape.
‘Back To Mad’ is the model, driven and intense, it makes full use of a recurring (and beautifully composed) axe/key motif, as the voices and rhythms circle overhead.

From there, the…er, fiery ‘Keeping The Flame Alive’ ignites the album’s upward surge. A carefully measured mix of classic, power and symphonic Metal, it carries a brightly burning metal torch into an uplifting, triumphant chorus. It diverges from the genre’s historical template, and harnesses the distinctive, more contemporary sound of Teutonic Metal, arguably a genre all of its own. Its doppleganger, ‘Save The Best For Last’ lives up to its name, and is another album standout.

This is powerful stuff, with its own tough as teak sense of elegance. ****

review by Brian McGowan





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