Vexillum – The Bivouac
I’ll always remember Vexillum as “that band whose first album cover looked so cool that I waited around for 6 months until it came to Amazon mp3.” That’s a bit limiting though, and I’ll admit that The Wandering Notes was just barely worth that wait, ergo my delay until after the release of The Bivouac to purchase it. On this, the band’s second outing, they have stuck with a very familiar look, feel, and formula, but managed at the same time to improve most elements of their music.
The Bivouac busts out strongly with strong guitar leads in opener “The Wanderer’s Note” (yes, that’s familiar), a rousing chorus in “Dethrone The Tyrant”, and a superb guitar melody with the sashaying “Dancing Goddess”, one of the finest and most mind-entrenching tracks on the album. “The Oak And The Lady Flame” and “Letter From The Earth” explain the power/folk label that is occasionally thrown at the band, but simply adding a bagpipe intro or a mid-eastern influenced melody line or two does not folk make, as this is fairly straightforward power metal.
Compared to The Wandering Notes, Vexillum’s sophomore album is not as much of a musical jumble. More vocal melodies are sung solely by Dario Vallesi, and there’s less of a mish-mash of his voice with messy background singers. When this DOES happen (“Megiddo”, for example), the effect is noticeably more refined. All instrumentation is better balanced as well: violin sections stand out, guitar leads are stronger and more clear, and the percussion is more than the bare necessity that it was on the debut. I would have perhaps compared The Wandering Notes to Elvenking’s Heathenreel in regards to structure, execution, and blending, but The Bivouac reminds me more of a dense, higher tempo, and more polished version of Galloglass’s Legends From Now And Nevermore.
Despite stepping further into the limelight on this album, Vallesi’s vocal work still fails to thoroughly impress me. He’s a good singer, and probably in the right genre, but he strains so hard on his highest notes that it sometimes sounds like he’s just grunting in falsetto. Thankfully, Gasparri and Calvanico piece together a guitar entourage that is a force to be reckoned with, and ensure that, even if you’re not a fan of Dario’s singing, you’ll find hooky axe work aplenty.
It’s bigger, more adventurous, catchier, and a bit more grown up: it’s Vexillum 2.0, and I definitely recommend it to most all Euro-power fans, particularly those that enjoyed the first album or bands like Elvenking, Derdian, Galloglass, and perhaps even Ancient Bards or Storyteller.
Dan’s Rating: 3.75 out of 5