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One of the essentials for any metal band is the electric guitar. Or is it? German metalheads Van Canto have been redefining the rule book, performing what they call 'a capella' metal since 2006. With five vocalists and a single drummer, they seek to create metal songs using their voices to mimic guitars and bass and they do it with alarmingly positive results. Tonight marks their second time in the country with a UK exclusive at the Underworld. Before the doors have even opened, there is a line of melodic metal fans snaking around the World's End pub outside, a rarity for metal concerts at this venue.
Support comes from fellow countrymen Winterstorm, a modern power metal act formed in 2008 with three full-length albums to their name andperforming in the capital for the first time. Their view on the genre is very archetypalcomplete with power chords, double bass drumming and keyboards with some jumpy folk metal melodies alaAlestorm tossed in.Evidently Drawing influence from the likes of Helloween, Rhapsody and Manowar, Winterstorm contribute nothing new to the genre and come across as uninspired. However, frontman Alexander Schmiermakes a conscious effort with his stage presence and gets grasps a portion of the audience's attention positively.
Unsurprisingly, the Underworld is brimming with attendees before the headliners begin. Opening with the rousing 'Fight for Your Life' from this year's 'Dawn of the Brave' album, Van Canto take the stage to an appropriately raucous applause. Guitar and bass instrumentation are sung with thunderous and consistent power, interlocking with the other voices to resemble something incredibly close to the real instruments and equipping a formidable metallic heaviness. However, it does take the duration of the first track to fine tune the sound with the drums dominating the voices, but this issue is rectified swiftly.
The setlist concentrates on the catchy new album much to the fan's approval, many of whom have learnt not just the actual lyrics but the sounds of the vocalised instruments. 'Badaboom' is a great opportunity to draw in some audience participation, while 'To the Mountains' proves Van Canto are more than a gimmick band with some serious power metal song-writing credentials and 'The Other Ones' honours those who favour paths less followed before a playful drum solo from Bastian Emig. There is an array of covers performed too familiar to most of those in attendance. Nightwish's'Wishmaster', Grave Digger's 'Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)', Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' andSabaton's'Primo Victoria' are served up brilliantly, impressively retaining the same fervour as the original versions.Stefan Schmidt does an outstanding job handling all the solos, replicating the covers complex precision and in the original numbers, the solos sound realistic and sincere. The lead vocal duties are shared by Inga Scharf and Sly, the male and female voices contrasting cleanly and sitting atop the other voices evenly.
Closer 'The Mission' one of the first songs the Germans wrote together is spliced with the beginning of Metallica's thrash metal classic 'Master of Puppets', increasing the demands on their voices and coercing fierce headbanging in the audience. The audience ovation is overwhelmingly positive and sees Van Canto leave the stage to a wall of smiles. But the show does not stop yet as the six-piece return for their encore. 'If I Die in Battle' from 2011's 'Break the Silence' hits the ground running with the fans passionately joining in with the singing. However closer 'Fear of the Dark', the revered Iron Maiden track, finalises the show with all seven minutes re-enacted sublimely a capella style.
Tonight's show has to be one of the most inimitable metal experiences currently in existence. Van Canto's professionalism and skill can only be admired. Their interesting take on metal donates another asset to this already multi-faceted genre in a time when many are content to regurgitate that which has been done before. Hopefully this encouraging turn out with ensure Van Canto return to the UK again very soon.