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Van Halst - World of Make Believe

Van Halst - CD Review
World of Make Believe

Van Halst - World of Make Believe

CD Info
Self Released
10 Tracks
English lyrics

I get a little excited when I discover a new female fronted metal band from Canada, because, as a proud Canadian metal head, that doesn’t happen every day. This is not Europe after all, this is the Great White North, and hailing from Ontario’s sprawling urban mega-city, Toronto, we have a great new band called Van Halst, named for the surname of the lead singer, Kami. World of Make Believe is their new album, which dropped back in March, and I was lucky enough to score the opportunity to review it.

Being a reviewer can make one jaded a bit, so when I was offered the chance to review this album, I had my typical low expectations I usually have of relatively unknown bands, even though the CD’s first single, “Save Me” was quite highly thought of by some of my Sonic Cathedral colleagues. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by this release, which is great, because as a Canadian, I love nothing more than promoting the music of my fellow county men and women when I feel it deserves it. And I think Van Halst has come up with something very worthy of recognition and promotion on the female fronted scene, not only nationally but internationally as well.

The a lot of music’s roots are definitely in the Gothic metal tradition; you can hear a lot of the Euro-Gothic in the dark atmospheres and soundscapes the album provides, however it’s a simpler sound without the typical choir arrangements and orchestral accompaniments you usually hear in the genre. Van Halst delivers a sound as heavy as hell, but keeps it straightforward with simpler keys, often just pure piano rather than synths, when used at all, and all that, and clean, almost classically-influenced guitar arrangements. The ballad “Denying Eyes” is a great example of what I mean here. It starts off with emotional vocals of Kami accompanied by a lovely guitar performance by Scott Greene, and then near the end, turns into a very satisfying power ballad. I loved it. “Put Him Down” has a slower, bluesy kind of groove, but again, has the simpler sound approach I was describing above.

As usual with my reviewing process, I pay close attention to the first song on the album because I think it’s the most important song on the release. In this case, the opener, “In The End” starts off with a short instrumental intro that also involves what sounds to me like some whale song kept low in the mix, before the main part of the song fades in with an ferocity of drums and guitars pounding that is most head bangable indeed. This song also introduces us to Kami’s vocal style and her ability to growl more than adequately.

The single “Save Me” is one of the highlights on the album, and it’s easily the most catchy of the songs on offer. I also thought “Plastic Smile” and “Denying Eyes” were very strong tracks, along with “Ryan’s Song” and the closer “Perfect Storm”, which is a lovely ballad with only a piano accompanying the Kami’s vocals.

So there are a lot of strengths showcased on World of Make Believe. There are a couple of critiques I have, however. One is a personal preference thing purely, and that is although Kami has some vocal versatility, I am not 100% sold on her voice. While she’s definitely a competent singer - there is no doubt about that - but her vocals are not completely my cup of tea. Although “Perfect Storm” is a strong song and and she pulls off a lot of emotion in it, her upper register sounds a little forced to me. She also has an androgynous quality to her voice at times that I had a hard time reconciling.

The other critique I had, that is again completely subjective and just my personal preference, is that the social justice and sociopolitical angles of many of the songs were a little heavy handed. Generally, I do like angst-ridden and somewhat socially conscious lyrical themes, but I did feel that I was kind of being hit over the head with these themes, and got to a place where I was feeling like yes, I am getting her point (and even agreeing with it) but it was almost too obsessive after so many songs.

Overall, however, I enjoyed this album and the musical end of the compositions is excellent, and the production quality is very high. World of Make Believe is very deserving of attention and a worthy addition to the female fronted scene. And they’re Canadian! We need more bands like this in this country. Give them a try; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.