Dutch rockers Vengeance, hardly newcomers to the scene, release their 11th album 'Piece Of Cake' on October 28th.
For those who aren't sure about where these particular clogs and tulips fit in, they were formed in 1983 and featured probably the best known member of the band, guitarist Jan Somers, who died at the far too early age of 46 in 2011.
To keep with the family tradition though, his 21 year old son Timo came in as his replacement – young blood and continuity all at the same time seems a recipe for success. And what did Timo have to say about the new album?
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"The goal was to combine the old school Vengeance spirit with a more contemporary sound and style... I wanted my own songs to be a little funky and soulful... This time the instrumental side of the band is really outspoken and to top it off Leon (vocalist) is better than ever."
So the inside view is that this should be something worth listening to.
The album title itself 'Piece Of Cake' adds a little ironic humour. As the band are now in their 30th year, the lineup has changed constantly, members have passed away and all in all it has been quite a rough ride – so yeah piece of cake would describe it nicely.
So to the songs. European rock has always been thought of by some as a poorer cousin of the UK and US variety... why is anyone's guess but the language, media exposure and less accessibility to regular live dates over here all contributed to it. The irony is though that these days if you want decent festivals and more of the classic rock bands then a trip to Europe at least is in order.
As if to prove a point this album kicks of with 'World Arena' an out and out rocker filled with some very classic riffs. If you need a reference point for the sound, think Bonfire and Accept, although Vengeance are by no means a straight derivative of those two. A great kicker to get you into the groove on the album made even better with some great harmonies (remember them?) overlaying the guitar.
'Tears From The Moon' gives vocalist Leon Goewie a chance to really shine and show just how powerful his voice can be. On 'World Arena' there is grit to his voice, a la dumbed down Udo, but on this one his voice is far purer and to my mind a whole lot better.
The song itself is what some pigeon holing fanatics would call a power ballad, although a little heavier than the standard, it is well written but stopping short of raising itself above the mass of similar songs on countless other albums. That does come with the vocals though, with echoes of Jorn in his millenium days.
'Raintime Prelude' is a short 36-second instrumental part which comes just before a track called... wait for it... 'Raintime'. Yes I know you knew that.
Very classy, guitar going very Spanish and actually it is a shame it isn't a little longer as a fuller instrumental track of this nature would fit into the album very well. But a prelude it is which leads us into 'Raintime'.
One of the better tracks on the album, guitar intro with middle eastern touch to it, rumbling into the vocals, masterfully done.
Chopping rhythm, chorus bellowing out before a guitar solo with traces of malmsteen like progressions. A very classy song and to any naysayers of European rock, just blast your ears with this one.
'Sandman' has the vocals go all John Wayne again (True Grit if you haven't got there), and the song is a stormer. Starting off with riffs and general coolness that Diamond Dave himself would have felt at home with in his prime, its a fast paced ditty, guitar screaming at you throughout. The pre-chorus is a melodic work of art shifting everything back down before the chorus hits you between the eyes, head banging, foot tapping and general body shaking ensuing almost against your will.
A great track, one of those apparently straightforward ones but very clever and with so many layers to it.
'Back To Square One', aside from being a good life motto, well mine away, is yet another side to this band. The blues comes out, and there is an immediate melancholy feel to the whole thing, superbly done, delicate bass line adding so much more than rhythm, vocals again powering through the song, shifting up an octave to give it a pleading quality.
It is this sort of song that the band truly excels in and the guitars join in with tones reminiscent of the late and most definitely great Gary Moore.
'Headquake' doesn't have the blues in the slightest. Things get Metallised in no uncertain times but still another cracking track, an out and out rocker. Guitar squealing almost every 2nd bar, heavy riff underlying the whole song and driving chorus. A straight up the middle song but done well.
So to the network rail portion of the album and a track called 'Train', and its time to get the funk out. Guitar intro leaving a lot of space to wonder what is coming to fill it, building to the vocals, the whole track weaving along giving more a sense of derailment than a safe journey – see I told you it was the network rail bit. This track shifts along at an immense rate, beautifully crafted.
Heading for a car crash so we are told in the next track 'Mirrors' but the song is anything but a car crash. A strangely and very slight grunge feel to the beginning but not overdone so they can be forgiven, leading to loud chorus and it seriously seems like Leon's lungs are literally about to burst, before it calms back down to the next verse.
Nothing extraordinary about the songwriting pattern but again it is done very very well.
So to the title track 'Piece Of Cake', another fast shifting rocker, heavy and very melodic boosted up by some very interesting harmonies in the chorus. Driving guitars, backing vocals that surprise you almost every time they come in, this one may sound like a piece of cake but it has a lot of depth.
'Goodbye Mother Sky' is the final track on the album and it is a very fitting one and it will definitely leave you with very good memories of the band and the album.
This one is about three songs in one and it all fits together perfectly. Blues shifting to some very arabian sounding riffs with a very haunting tone to them, moving to some pure blues rock before shirting back down to the arabian theme – and this is all before the vocals even consider joining in and when they do, boy do they.
Bringing back memories of Aerosmith's 'Taste Of India', the track definitely has potention to turn into an epic, the track moving in and out of rock mode with ease, a very classy bit of songwriting and musicianship.
So all in all this is a damn fine album. I did actually own a Vengeance album back in the day and I have to say the band has come a very long way since then. There is such depth to them these days and they are more than accomplished musicians. And to top it all they write very good songs.
The good part is they have not lost their identity in the slightest whilst expanding their repertoire and from a personal point of view, it is when they shift to the blues rock side that things get really really good.
Barend Courbois - Bass
Timo Somers – Guitars
Leon Sibum - Guitars
Leon Goewie - Vocals
John Emmen - Drums