I can tell you what they are not: Van Halst are not some sort of an Evanescence clone, as was suggested by some. Their début 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 of their own music. Too tough and more varied than the one of 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.
And who art thou?
Van Halst breathe the decidedly productive air of Edmonton, Alberta in beautiful Canada (North of Calgary). And it shows. Kami Van Halst first got off the ground as a solo artist, then morphing all this into a full-fledged band. Her vocal presence is really amazing in more than one way. She has this knack to employ gummy-flexible vocal cords switching effortlessly from growls to clean vocals and then again from soft to tough. The current lineup apart from the lead: Scott Greene (Derina Harvey Band/Dirty Pool) some of the guitars, Strathon J. Bajowsky (Havok Way) more guitars, Brendan McMillan (My Darkest Days) on bass and Brett Seaton (Cultured by Fire) hitting the drums.
Kami Van Halst and her gang of merry musicians serve us with a very special, if not peculiar brand of Gothic Rock and Metal. Varied enough to keep you on your toes, interspersed with a variety of styles and flavors. All this is sometimes vaguely reminiscent of Halestorm‘s latest Into the Wild Life and at times getting close to We Are The Fallen in a way. 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 veer off 90° into Progressive territory and towards the end going full bluesy R’n’B on me. But more to that later.
Ah, balm on my tortured, suffering soul!
I always welcome good lyrics and World of Make Believe features high on this top-ten list aiming at winning the prize to the gates of the lyrics nirvana. Their underlying theme speaks towards the hopeless and downtrodden of this world. Rape, corporate greed, bigotry – in short current issues that are working on the people of this world these days. Basically anything touching social injustice and all of that very pertinent.
Mixing and mastering? Nothing really wrong with it, apart for 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 soundbytes, but nothing to cavil about to any extent.
Now, this might surprise you: Kami’s voice sometimes sounds a bit underused. You can just feel the underlying power waiting to be unleashed. And for some reason, they don’t let it come out – well not quite. But still and again, what took me aback when starting to listen was the inherent oomph in their tune. A little subdued at first, but then all of sudden taking off out of fucking nowhere.
World of Make Believe sports a somewhat weird line-up of tracks!
All 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 mix would have done a world of good.
The first track The End growls back at you, kind of reminiscent to Arch Enemy in style. The second on the list, Save me actually starts off in an amazing way, with a spoken monologue of disturbing quality, true to the overall theme. 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.
Questions is definitely the most remarkable track. Actually not for the decidedly well developed sound, but indeed for the lyrics that got my attention. This whole second part of World of Make Believe kind of veers off into a more Progressive style of things – at least in part. Very interesting, if you compare to the first few tracks that kept better rooted in the Gothic understanding of worldly beliefs.
The second before last track Put Him Down gets us into Rhythm’n’Blues. With a bluesy, typical, but absolutely stellar solo in the middle, as befits its station. The use of downturned guitars takes this one out of your usual R’n’B delivery into a new dimension. Really well done. Then World of Make Believe ends in style with the self-reflecting ballad Perfect Storm.
Well, I stand corrected. We came a long way from thinking that this is an Evanescence sound-alike. And ended with the understanding that World of Make Believe is a complex work of torturous thoughts, again thoughtfully 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 that somehow get visible in this fog surrounding us. 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 more complex and demanding to listen to, no doubt. Good job, band. I love your record.
Record Rating: 9/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Site
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