The Vintage Caravan
Nuclear Blast Records
By Michael Lohr
Of late, Germany’s Nuclear Blast Records, traditionally a heavy metal label, has been signing retro rock acts right and left. Bands like Austin, Texas-based Scorpion Child as well as Sweden’s Blues Pills and Free Fall have been spreading their retro-colored jams across the globe with much success. Now, along comes Iceland’s The Vintage Caravan, a group of three young pups barely out of their teens, and they have released their debut album, “Voyage,” that is nothing less than pure late 60s psychedelic, hard rock bliss.
The Vintage Caravan is Oskar Logi Agustsson on guitar and vocals, Gudjon Reynisson on drums and Alexander Orn Numason on bass. When discussing the band’s overall sound, think a combination of Cream’s Disraeli Gears meets Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, but with a modern, progressive approach. The sound is heavy but is not without psychedelic-infused elegance.
The opening track, “Craving” is a fast paced, heavy rock song that will demand you shake your moneymaker. It’s the perfect starting point on an aural journey down the rabbit hole. The next tune, ‘Let Me Be” is a heavy-toned, mostly instrumental with a blistering guitar solo. This song, when played live, usually becomes an extended jam session. But in all honestly, almost all of The Vintage Caravan’s songs could become an extended jam session with ease, and that’s a cool thing indeed.
“Do You Remember” has a soulful, slow tempo much in the same vein as the Allman Brothers “Melissa” and shows the band can also sparkle in a mellower groove. “Expand Your Mind” is an epic, psychedelic, soon-to-be classic. The song starts with a heavy, groove-laden riff and magnifies into a full-on sonic excursion. Do yourself a favor and go to Youtube and watch the accompanying video for “Expand Your Mind” –you will never look at white rabbits, cheeseburgers or bass solos the same way again.
“M. A.R.S.W.A.T.T” is an enigmatic, if not infectious song. I attempted to research the meaning of the acronym title but with no luck. The lyrics don’t really help either. References to the Starship Enterprise, roundabouts and purple eyes are about all one gets. But hey, that’s fine. This is a fun, jamming song, so just go along for the ride.
The next track, “Cocaine Sally” is, excuse the pun, vintage blues rock reminiscent of Clapton or early Led Zeppelin. A multitude of blues breaks intersect this song. And just like most of The Vintage Caravan’s tunes, this one could also be expanded live for a spontaneous jamming combustion.
“Winterland” has an ethereal, near trance-inducing beginning, but halfway through the tempo abruptly changes as if the trance is over and you’ve landed on the other side. This is easily one of the more Prog-minded tracks on the album as it in clocks in at over six minutes.
“Midnight Meditation” immediately follows “Winterland” and is essentially a companion piece to “Winterland,” but there’s more of a Led Zep/Yardbirds influence here than King Crimson. And for all you cowbell enthusiasts out there, this song is brimming with cowbell chimes, or should I say clunks.
Whereas “Winterland” shined in the shimmering sunlight of a Zeppelin morning, the final song “The King’s Voyage” is firmly rooted in the midday burn of Deep Purple or the aforementioned King Crimson. At just over 12 minutes in length it is the most Prog bent song on the record.
“Voyage” was recorded at Studio Reflex in California and the producer credit goes to ‘Flexi’ –who is also credited with backing vocals on “Winterland.” I don’t actually know who ‘Flexi’ is but they did a sensational job on “Voyage.” The guitar tone is especially exceptional given the fact that the overall sound and feel is retro late 60s to early 70s in tonality, but the production is reflective of someone who has the expertise of a modern day studio wizard. And the most important point that I can get across to you here is; while I used plenty of references as examples to establish in the minds of you, the readers, what The Vintage Caravan’s sound is like, never do they seem derivative. At no time does it seem as if they are ripping off their influences, and that maybe the wondrous thing about “Voyage.”
Collectively speaking, with all its retro-fitted hallucinogenic jams, Prog noodlings, mega arena riffs, bass solos and cowbell bashing, it is one of the finest modern rock albums released in recent memory.