It’s rather strange that when you think about combining power metal and folk it seems such a crazy idea and doomed to failure. On the contrary, it works so amazingly well that there are now hosts of brilliant and innovative bands flying the flag for the genre and all have the power to thrill to the core. It seems I have come a little late to the Vexillum party as this absolutely brilliant and essential Italian band formed as far back as 2007 in Pisa with When Good Men Go To War being the bands awesome fourth release to date. I love it when a band goes the extra mile (or KM, if you wish) and they take their music and add that extra special element so that it becomes something of a totally immersive experience. In this case, the band begins by giving the information that Vexillum is the name for the legionary banner of the Roman army which was carried before the troops as both a rallying cry and focal point for the army and how thrilling it must have been (if you were on the right side) to see this army of armies approaching with banners waving and horns blaring! The band has embellished on this and added to the experience by building their core sound around Celtic and Nordic influences and have even gone so far as to wear the kilt when performing live. I have Scottish blood in me but I suspect there is a little bit of ‘Braveheart’ in all of us which means that the sound of the pipes is another, irresistible rally call to arms!
Vexillum neatly wrap all these Celtic influences up into an all enveloping power metal delivery that is just so primal and stirring and, oh boy, this really is music to make you strut, swagger and reach for your claymore. There were a couple of changes within the band in the earlier years but they have been a stable unit for the last couple of albums with Dario Vallesminor on vocals, Michele Gasparri and Francesco Caprina being the now obligatory twin guitarists, Francesco Ferraro on bass and Efisio Pregio on drums and what a team they make. Vallesi is nothing short of revelatory as a front man without equal and his powerful and expressive voice is clear, beautiful and totally accent free. The powerhouse of the unit is Ferraro and Pregio as they put you under a continual bombardment that is so primal and aggressive. Of course, it is the two guitarists that provide the real fireworks and they lay down immense riffs and thrilling guitar leads that take your breath away. In the background and acting somewhat subliminally is the Celtic underscore of pipes and flutes which are provided by the professional piper and cèilidh dance instructor Nick MacVicar and what an amazing dimension he brings to the band and has become a truly essential part of the Vexillum sound and the band would lose so much in atmosphere and effect if these themes were ever missing.
The band has the sounds and visuals to succeed and you are urgently invited to check them out. Of course, if you are already aware of them and have been listening to the CDs for years then you can now go into smug mode and pour scorn on those only just discovering what, to me, has been a secret for too long. If you are into bands like Running Wild, Sabaton, Orden Ogan and Elvenking then you are going to love Vexillum. They have the power and might of Rhapsody Of Fire combined with the skills and songwriting talents of the wonderful Big Country and what an awesome combination that makes for. The album closes with the beautiful Quel Che Volevo which is sung in Italian and is a stirring way to close the album but I do have to mention the really entertaining Volunteer Slave Army which seems to be based on the themes of Hymn by Ultravox and really is beautiful.
When Good Men Go To War is moving, stirring, essential, thrilling and utterly gorgeous. I think I suddenly have a new album of the year and a short, sharp introduction to the bands back catalogue is now called for. This is magnificent beyond belief and totally essential.
When Good Men Go To War track list
- Enlight The Bivouac (10:59)
- Sons Of A Wolf (4:56)
- Voluntary Slaves Army (4:53)
- When A Good Man Goes To War (5:08)
- Last Bearer’s Song (5:07)
- The Deep Breath Before The Dive (5:32)
- Prodigal Son (6:18)
- Flaming Bagpipes (4:54)
- With My Hands (5:59)
- The Tale Of The Three Hawks (6:13)
- Quel Che Volevo (3:35)