One of the issues that plagues the glut of ‘retro-rock’ bands that have sprung up in the past few years is that, although they can worship their rock gods immaculately, they lack the staying power that comes with originality. Of course, it had to be a band from Iceland that breaks the mould so succinctly; the remote island has become a byword for stunning quality in rock and metal. Enter The Vintage Caravan, stage left. This trio have been playing together since 2006 and it shows in their second album “Voyage” with strong songwriting. A fusion of 60’s hard rock, blues and proggy psychedelia, their influences read like a list of guitar legends: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Cream and Deep Purple to name a few. But what is even more jaw-dropping is that none of the three members are above 21 years old. I’ll let that sink in for a second.
Age becomes completely irrelevant when ‘Craving’ and ‘Let Me Be’ kick in. The songs screams 60’s and 70’s rock, with high-octane riffing and a production that sounds directly modeled on that prolific period: the drums thump, the bass is crisp and every note of the solos sings. Just before the formula becomes too familiar, they switch things up with ballads that echo Dire Straits and Led Zeppelin in their reflective, bluesier moments. Meanwhile, ‘Midnight Meditation’ gives the much-maligned cowbell a good workout amid the groovy drumming, and the trippy proto-metal closer ‘The King’s Voyage’ also allows the band to flaunt their ability to jam without losing the plot entirely.
However, the secret ingredient in all this lies in the fingers and throat of vocalist/guitarist Oskar Agustsson. The guy could have literally fallen out of the 60s, both with his soulful bluesy voice and almost supernatural finger work. Drawing from both Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, the guy knows how to write a hell of a guitar line, the solos in particular remaining consistently high in quality. As for his vocals, there may be echoes of Chris Cornell and Glenn Hughes but he never strays close enough to call it mimicry, and primarily the impact they give off is of a veteran set of pipes that belie the owner’s youth.
If one were to deduct points, most of them centre around the inexplicably titled ‘M.A.R.S.W.A.T.T.’, a track with toe-tapping groove and not much else brought to the table. ‘Cocaine Sally’ gets kudos for feeling like a blues standard despite being their own, but the hammy sniff in the middle feels overdone. Finally, although the 12-minute closer is generally well-written, the bizarre section in the middle with ambient soundscapes and vocal noises, which feel like a nod to King Crimson’s eclectic side, could easily have been skipped.
Ultimately, the lasting impression that The Vintage Caravan give off is that of a band wise beyond their years, and if “Voyage” is merely the second album then we can expect an impressive discography to emerge from this troupe. If you wish for a throwback to a bygone era that also stands alone as a strong hard rock release, then jump on this caravan and enjoy the ride.