Van Halst – World of Make Believe (2016) – Review

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I can tell you what they are not. Van Halst are not some sort of an Evanescence clone, as was suggested by some.

Their debut World of Make Believe features some pretty strong similarities for sure. But they don’t imitate the typical sound of the latter, nor should they. If there has been a typical style left, that is, after the unhappy departure of the old band around Ben Moody.

Van Halst deploy a much fresher and – I daresay – a more thoughtful brand. Too tough and more varied than their alleged idols. And this is a good thing. There are enough Amy Lee wannabees strutting about the Gothic landscape and we don’t need any more of those.

Van Halst breathe the decidedly productive air of Edmonton, Alberta in beautiful Canada. And it shows. Kami Van Halst first got off the ground as a solo artist, then morphed all this into a full-fledged band. Her vocal presence is really amazingly powerful in more ways than one. She has this knack to switch effortlessly from growls to clean vocals and then back again from soft to tough. Gummy vocals galore.

I always welcome good lyrics and World of Make Believe features high on our internal top-ten list1) aiming at opening the gates of lyrics nirvana. The record’s underlying theme speaks towards the hopeless and downtrodden of this world. Rape, corporate greed, and bigotry are its main issues. In short, Van Halst lament contemporary problems that are working on the people of this world these days. Basically, anything touching on social injustice. 

The band serves us with a very special, if not peculiar brand of Gothic Rock and Metal with some Nu vibes for good measure. But there’s more. The first track The End growls back at you, kind of reminiscent of Arch Enemy in style. The second on the list, Save me actually starts off amazingly, with a spoken monologue of disturbing quality, true to the overall theme. World of Make Believe (the title song) does, however, sport more similarities to Evanescence than meets the eye at first. So, the howlers were right to an extent. Then again, Van Halst suddenly veer off 90° into Progressive territory, and towards the end, they go full Blues Rock on me. But more to that later.

Mixing and mastering? There is nothing really wrong with it, apart from some instances where the delicate balance between voice and guitars will favor the latter a tad too much. I would have preferred a more acute crispness, too. Their tune has this tendency to descend into some sort of a murky amalgam of soundbites with nothing to really write home about. 

World of Make Believe sports a somewhat weird tracklist as well. The record starts with a rocky, kind of hard fare – with growls to boot. But then towards the end, you will find the ballads and slower stuff. This might be good if you want to go to sleep later, but not to keep up the attention of anybody listening to this disc. So, a better-prioritized track selection would have done a world of good.

Surprisingly, Van Halst‘s voice sometimes sounds a bit underused. You can just feel the underlying power waiting to be unleashed. And for some reason, they didn’t let it come out – well not quite. But still and again, what took me aback was the inherent oomph in their tune. A little subdued at first, but then all of sudden taking off out of nowhere.

I do like the switch between growls and clear vocals in there, though. The change between soft and rocky Van Halst likes to employ. This switch between hot and cold strongly features in Ryan’s Song. At first, you wonder where this is going with this track and it is then, that they flip the switch. Not bad.

RockmusicRaider Review - Van Halst 2016

Questions is definitely the most remarkable track. Actually, not for the decidedly well-developed sound, but indeed for the lyrics that got my attention.

The second before last track Put Him Down gets us into Blues Rock. With a bluesy,2) typical, but absolutely stellar solo in the middle, as befits its station. Really well done. Then World of Make Believe ends in style with the self-reflecting ballad Perfect Storm.

Well, I stand corrected. The RMR crew came a long way from thinking that this is an Evanescence sound-alike or a weaker version of Blame Zeus. But we ended with the understanding that World of Make Believe is a complex work of torturous thoughts, again artfully brought to paper and then committed to tape. A very serious piece of work, skillfully put together and presented in a way that will keep your attention by taking surprising turns at every corner. 

And it is proven again. Bands that are not strict sticklers to a given style will usually produce the most interesting content. Not that other, more dogmatic approaches won’t work, just look at AC/DC. But with this kind of tune, you will usually get better quality. Albeit that this is more complex and demanding to listen to, no doubt. 

Ed’s note: The album made it onto the 2016 Top 10 Records and the Intermittent Digest – Tome III.

Record Rating: 8/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Site
Release date: 4 March 2016


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