Well, I'd reckoned without my own ability to get curious about stuff. However, this one has a valid reason behind it! See, I was bored and decided to look up the history of Van Canto and these guys happened to appear in the previous bands of the members of Van Canto (specifically, of Stefan Schmidt). Being curious, I looked them up and I happened to notice you could get their fourth (and last) album for free on bandcamp. So I went there and, upon noticing that all of their albums were available for whatever you wanted to pay for them, I opted to get all of them for free (partially because I have no spare cash). And I'm going to review all four of them to see whether they're worth checking out or whether it wasn't worth getting them, even for free! Also, considering how unknown these guys are compared to Death Angel, I figured it would be worth giving these guys some publicity. Do I think they'd reunite after these reviews? Considering Schmidt is now doing his Heavatar project in between his work with Van Canto and I'm very much a small voice on the Internet who does this in his free time, I highly doubt it, but that's not going to stop me from giving these guys a review! If this gets a particularly positive reaction, then I might just dig into the other bands with connections to Van Canto, like Deadly Sin and Fading Starlight, and maybe even dig into Van Canto themselves after I've done that!
Anyway, Jester's Funeral were a German power metal band who formed in 1996, were signed before 1999 (at the very least, that's when their first album came out) and disbanded in 2006, having released four albums. Stefan Schmidt was the band's vocalist and guitarist, and another face that you might recognise if you're a Van Canto fan is their drummer, Bastian Emig. For this album, the band's line up was completed by keyboardist Nic Kobold (who played on the rest of their albums as well), bassist Holger Wies (who played on the follow up album QuickSilverLight as well) and guitarist Heiko Höhn (who also played on QuickSilverLight). None of these guys, to my knowledge, have played with any other bands since they left Jester's Funeral, but Kobold was one of the guitarists of Solitude (not the more famous metalcore band that were formed in 2006) between 2001 and 2005 and possibly played on their 2005 album Alteration (nothing I've seen says whether he did play on it or not).
The album artwork for their 1999 debut album, Labyrinth, is...interesting, to say the least. The jesters look like they want to kill you, which is actually a bit of a terrifying thought if you have a fear of clowns, and they remind me a little bit of the artwork for Tank's album Filth Hounds Of Hades. The colour combinations are interesting, but I have to comment that the colour combination reminds me more than a bit of the artwork of Felipe Machado, who seems to have this thing for blue and orange that is starting to wear thin on me today. I don't know whether he did this artwork or not, but the popularity of this colour combination has really started to bug me, as it's being used everywhere and it's stopped feeling exciting or new now to me. However, since the artwork is from before this trend really took off, I can't really complain too much about it.
Also, the jesters on it reminds me of Fergus from the second Pandemonium game, for some reason.
|Fun fact: this game came out in 1997.|
Anyway, I've chatted about the artwork long enough. Let's start reviewing this album!
First up, we have a somewhat atmospheric intro track, with the title of "Intro" (how imaginative...). If you've heard a power metal album before now, you know what to expect here. I will say that there's some nice keyboards on it, though. Nothing especially technically demanding, but it fits the atmospheric sound that you'd expect from an intro and is also quite a nice build up to the next track on the album.
The first actual track on the album is called "The One Worth Dying For". I know it's the first actual song on the album, but I'm already getting the impression that these guys are basically Edguy without the humour, a less theatrical vocalist and generally weaker songwriting. That's not completely a bad thing, but it doesn't really leave me with much to say beyond maybe "Eh, it's OK" if you pushed me for something. They also don't have quite the same catchy hooks that Edguy do, but I can let that slide for this album, as it's only their debut and the band would have been still finding their feet on it. I do like the keyboard riff at the beginning and the replaying of it on the guitar sounds pretty nice, but the rest seems like it doesn't translate very well on the record. I can imagine this going down very well live, but, on record, it's nothing special. I also think Schmidt's voice could have done with being a bit higher in the mix, but that's probably nitpicking, as he's still understandable. The song just seems to be one that goes in one ear and out of the other, with the only thing that really sticks in your head being the chorus of the song, which doesn't even last that long!
Next up is "Shadowtaker". While it does have a solid main riff that is quite enjoyable, I'm sorry to have to say that the song mostly feels like "The One Worth Dying For" all over again, only the chorus isn't even that catchy. While some artists can come up with hooks that you'll be singing from your first listen and some artists can come up with hooks that, once you let them sink in, will never leave your head, it seems that Jester's Funeral don't have either gift, at least at this point. They just plod along, hoping to stumble upon a catchy hook to give the song a great chorus. Which, unfortunately, leaves me wondering whether to break out the coffee...
Next up is "Fear Of Fear" (which does NOT have any connection to the third Harry Potter book: I just checked their release dates and the album came out a few months before the book did). Again, this has a solid riff, but the rest just doesn't really come together to make a great song. There's some solid drumming on this, though!
...Sorry, I'm taking a coffee break before I continue. I've been listening for over twelve minutes of the album's run time for over forty minutes (all of the songs on repeat a few times on the off chance I've misjudged them and to check whether my original opinions of them still stands...) and I'm bored stiff already. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves or put on this bit of music while I'm gone.
...OK, I'm back. For some bizarre reason, I'm now wondering when there's going to be a millennium item in the shape of a coffee mug...OK, enough digressions, back to the album!
The next track is "Jester's Funeral". And, I have to say, this one starts out very nicely! The riff is, again, very solid and the drumming is solid. I think the big issue that drags this song down is, again, the fact that this doesn't really have a strong enough hook to keep you interested in this song. However, they do manage to capture the mournful tone you'd expect from a song title like that and the nice bit of blues influence in the bass playing can keep you going for a bit if you like that kind of thing. It could have done with a MUCH stronger hook for the chorus, though! I also find that Stefan Schmidt's voice is still not holding my interest much at this point. Don't get me wrong, he's not a bad vocalist, but the guy just isn't keeping me engaged in the music, which is not good news when you consider that power metal is pretty much known for incredibly good vocalists (see Michael Kiske, Khan, Matt Barlow, Russell Allen, Jorn Lande, Tony Kakko and...actually, that's a long enough list to start you off with!) and it kind of shows that the guy isn't capable of standing up to those guys by any measure. Heck, I'd say that Tobias Sammet of Edguy and Avantastia is still in a bigger league than Schmidt, as he can at least be entertaining to listen to because of how over the top he can get!
So, we finally reach the halfway point of the album with "Devil Die". And, to be honest, the only thing that really stops this song from being the best song on the album at this point is the chorus. It's probably the worst chorus the band have come up with yet, as it's just a repetition of one phrase and a lower, harsher voice saying the song's title. Which seems a bit lacking in terms of creativity and is also not especially memorable. Apart from that? It's got solid riffing, enjoyable bass (by power metal standards), great drums and the vocals even start to sound interesting (indeed, as much as the harsher vocals are poorly used in the song, their appearance is welcomed at this point, as it's something new!), so that's a huge improvement from the previous songs. Still not enough to really recommend it, but it's certainly been the best song up to now.
Track seven, "Hands Of Time", suffers from the same problems that "Shadowmaker" did, only it goes on for an extra minute and a half. It's got a great riff, but, if you've got so little to keep your interest going up to this point, it stops feeling like you're listening to something and like you're taking part in a marathon just to get to the end: at the beginning, it doesn't feel so bad, but then it all starts to hit you and all you can do is keep going, hoping that something is going to happen to make you go "Wow, this is looking up!"
"The Assassin" follows up. Surprisingly, this track is not too bad! It doesn't need to stretch to the near five minutes run time it has, but it's mostly a very solid track that, had it been cut down by at least a minute, I'd have called the highlight of the album so far. Sadly, the amount of time it runs on for means that you've usually got bored before it ends. I also think the chorus could have done with a bit of shortening, but that's probably just me. So yeah...overly long, but there was the potential for a great song in here!
The follow up is also the longest track on the album, "Pilgrim's Path". No matter how much I listen to this track, most of it just stubbornly refuses to remain stuck in my head beyond one tiny section of vocals in the chorus. So yeah, not an especially memorable song.
The tenth track is "Graveyard". At this point, you can probably guess what I'm going to say...and you'd be right. It's got a good riff and some strong drumming, but the rest of it is just...there. You could really just sum this album up with that phrase: it's just there. Not bad enough to get any real dislike for it, but not good enough that you could really grow to like the album for the material on it.
Next up is "Mirror". And oh, how I wish that it was as good as Blind Guardian's song "Mirror Mirror". But nope! Same complaints again. Really, do you need me at this point?
And, to finally close on this marathon of boredom, we have "A New Moonrise". Surprisingly, this one DOES have an enjoyable chorus! Not as strong as power metal demands, but it's not too bad. Throw in a strong riff and, well, you get a passable song. Nothing revolutionary and certainly too little too late for me to recommend this album, but enough to at least say that I found something on this worth a listen.
Well...at this point, there's nothing more I really need to say about the music. I've said it all already. However, I really can't carry on without commenting on the musicians. Well, they're certainly capable of playing their instruments, but it seems like they don't really have the songwriting ability (at least on this album) to take them to the next level. Like I mentioned earlier, they're basically Edguy without the strong songwriting and the humour. And with a guy who seems to have a fondness for early Metallica on vocals instead of Tobias Sammet.
In terms of production, I think it could have done with some slightly louder mixing for the vocals and the bass is a bit too quiet overall, but it's all pretty well done. No real complaints there. Unfortunate that the material wasn't up to a particularly high standard...
So, at the end of the day, as much as I would love to say that these guys are a highly under appreciated band who you really deserve to check out, the sad truth is that this just isn't strong enough to really justify purchasing. If you want to get the album off of bandcamp, then you'd probably be best advised to only pay for it if you have listened to it somewhere else and found the album to be worth putting money down. If you are wondering whether to purchase this album...I wouldn't advise it unless you're a HUGE power metal fan, truth be told. There's nothing here that you won't hear done a lot better by a lot of other power metal bands. Maybe you'll find something I didn't in this album, but, for me, it boils down to two BIG issues: as a debut, it fails to deliver strong enough material to really make me want to pay attention to these guys and, as a listening experience, it's far too dull to really recommend. If you're a Van Canto fan, then it's an interesting listen, but not one that I reckon you'll be spinning for more than a few weeks.
Final rating: 4 out of 10
Not a bad album, but a very dull one. Unless you have a lot of patience and determination, I would recommend skipping this one.
(Behind the scenes note: over the course of writing this review (and not just in the actual review itself, although that was actually the point where I gave up in search of coffee for a bit...), I kept getting sidetracked by literally everything else I could get sidetracked by. Master procrastinator at work or so bored that I needed to keep getting something else to keep me going? You make the call!)