German a capella metal band, Van Canto are comprised of Five singers and a drummer, substituting vocal percussion for a meatier metal sound. Two of the five singers (Sly Schunke and Inga Scharf) perform lead vocals and the other three use vocal techniques and amplification to create the sound of the guitars and bass. It's not going to be to everyone's taste, but they are brave enough to be trying something different.
Voices Of Fire is an album 6 years in the making. The band refer to the album as a 'cross-media project,' a vocal metal musical constructed with the help of fantasy writer Christoph Hardenbusch while working on his novel Feuerstimmen. Both works were very much a collaboration with the music influencing the novel and vice versa. The result is a vast and elaborate work of imagination, wonder and vocal dexterity.
To help create their fantasy world of dragons, battles, fire and bards, Van Canto have enlisted the vocal support of London Metro Voices, who sang on the Lord Of The Rings soundtracks, to provide a realistic symphonic sound and an album full of the human voice. The choral sound definitely gives it more of a fantastical sound, and a cinematic feel. Although Voice On Fire is referred to as a musical, in that it follows a narrative theme, but it feels like more of an operetta especially with the use of counterpoint and Inga's soprano range to temper the masculine vocals. There are moments where the music is very Wagnerian and Germanic (Dragonwake) and others where it is more like Blackmore's Night (The Bardcall). There are snatches of classical melodies and orchestration here too, but sometimes there is just too much going on to get the best from the performances.
Throughout the album, there is clever and impressive exploration of the voice as an instrument in a genre that you would not normally associate a cappella vocal technique. On occasion, the arrangements do become a tad overwhelming in comparison to traditional a cappella groups. It's an interesting concept work, but even as a metal album they might be better off laying off the drums and guitar sounds and exploring a more progressive choral sound as hinted at in the bonus track Hymn, to really draw out the best of the performers vocals. There's no doubt Van Canto are talented singers who have paved the way for a new musical genre.