Issue 2020-011: Vengeance Special
Simultaneous to the Bodine Anthology box set, Pseudonym Records released an equally impressive set: Power Of The Rock Anthology 1983 - 1998 by Vengeance. In light of our beloved progressive genre, this box perhaps floats on the outskirts of prog, as it contains mostly melodic hardrock / metal. But as with Bodine, there is an interesting aspect attached. And best of all, there is a most noteworthy peculiar "sublime hidden treasure" within this immaculate box set, to be revealed later on. For this treasure hunt we'll explore the albums using nuggets from the multitude of details to be found in the accompanying booklet.
It all started in 1983, when Vengeance was founded by Oscar Holleman (guitars), Jan Bijlsma (bass), Matt Oligschlager (drums) and Leo van Breemen (guitars). A coincidental spontaneous act during a talent show by vocalist Leon Goewie, results in their first line up; and it was a successful one at that, for with their first demo they immediately landed a contract with CBS. The pressure of success however gets the better of van Breemen, who shortly announces his departure from the band, leaving them in search of a new guitarist.
And here stars align, when Bijlsma, befriended to Arjen Lucassen from his Bodine-audition as a bass player, calls upon his help in search of a new guitarist; one capable of filling van Breemen's shoes. Rather unexpectedly the next day Lucassen offers himself for the job, unsatisfied with the way things are going with Bodine. A decision that marks the end of Bodine and the beginning of one of Holland's most accomplished and successful hardrock bands.
Read on for an album-by-album review of the contents of this box, and a conclusion for the whole package at the end.
Vengeance — Vengeance
In this first line up, Vengeance go straight for the throat with catchy melodic hard rock and a touch of glam. Blessed by a super-tight rhythm section, guitarists Lucassen and Holleman excel and deliver flashy riffs, hooks and soaring solos. This combination, and the powerful vocals of Goewie, result in a fast-paced rock 'n' roll freight train thundering past.
Tracks like Tonight, Tonight and Metal Days both feature glimpses of metal, instigated by heavy riffs. The catchy AOR-structured compositions are reminiscent of Shy, where the high-pitched, soaring vocals of Goewie even resemble those of Tony Mills. A slightly more old school metal (NWOBHM)-style can be heard in tracks such as Prisoners Of The Night, rocking away like Saxon, and Get Out, which excels in power rock with fast shreds and catchy Iron Maiden melodies.
Although having the opportunity for a twin-guitar segment, they rather opt for alternating virtuoso solos, as majestically shown in Vengeance and Destroyer, of which the latter oozes adventurous rock, similar to an unleashed Triumph. The smooth AOR feel of You Took Me By Surprise aside, both Down And Out and On The Run are precursors to the direction of Vengeance on their next effort, surrounded by catchy choruses and a high sing-along content. A solid effort, but not yet showing their own identity.
Vengeance — We Have Ways To Make You Rock
Having made a name for themselves by supporting their debut album with an extensive array of highly memorable and successful gigs, their next step was to record a follow-up. And with the freshly recruited John Snel on drums, it sees an inspired band growing in confidence, as well as musical diversity. The production has been greatly improved. There is a balanced mix that captures the live-energy of the band, where the more prominent role of Bijlsma's pounding bass gives the music a luscious, dynamic groove.
Metal influences are now almost obsolete, paving the way for impressive melodic hard rock, captured beautifully in the solid up-tempo rocker Power Of The Rock, featuring their trademark of fast shreds, thundering melodies, soaring guitars and powerhouse vocals. Catchy choruses (I'll Come Running) and bombastic eruptions (Love Lies Bleeding) add further variety, while the slow transition towards party rock, as shown in the AC/DC-influenced We Shall Rock and the opener She's The Woman, adds variety.
May Heaven Strike Me Down opens quietly with violin, before gliding into a competent hard rock mode (Y&T) with eruptions of Van Halen, while the anticipated, obligatory, slow-moving ballad (Only The Wind) contains an melancholic solo reminiscent of The Scorpions. These show the compositional growth and strength of Vengeance most elegantly.
The solid, Dio-inspired performances of Dreamworld, especially in the vocal department, and the fast-paced tempo changes in Second To None round-off a very powerful and successful record, that can easily compete with many contemporary international bands such as Stryper and Wasp.
Vengeance — Take It Or Leave It
The success of We Have Ways To Make You Rock pushed the band to the top of the Dutch (hard) rock scene and received light appraisal in Europe. It also meant the departure of Oscar Holleman, being replaced by Peer Verschuren from Rancid. Thriving on their popularity and success, they quickly delivered a follow up with Take It Or Leave It, which sees the band rush towards party rock. The album feels slightly less energetic compared to the path they took with We Have Ways To Make You Rock, and is predominantly focused on the 'mainstream'.
Most tracks are well above average, mainly to be attributed to the excellent musicianship of the band. But aiming for commercial success gets the better of them. Incorporating additional elements like the saxophone (Hear Me Out) and trumpets in the over the top, Status Quo-inspired Ain't Gonna Take You Home, leads their path astray as it overflows with ideas. Likewise, the frivolous violin parts in the Y&T-influenced Take Me To The Limit and a children's choir in the rock-induced Code Of Honour, featuring unrivalled guitar solos, gives the impression of a band trying too hard to please.
Rock 'n Roll Shower is enjoyable party rock, where keyboards and obvious Bon Jovi influences add a silky-smooth touch, and the rock foundation of Take It Or Leave It does open the album most satisfactory. Yet contrary to this, Looks Like A Winner is a rather meaningless, radio-friendly AOR track, while Woman In The World could just as easily have been culled from a David Lee Roth or Motley Crue album (Girls, Girls, Girls), especially in light of the dull, uninspiring lyrics. The exciting instrumental Engines, harbouring divine interplay mindful of Triumph, proves to be one of the highlights of the album, going back to the roots of Vengeance.
Despite its disjointed character, it managed to attract full attention from radio stations and proved to be rather successful, with even a release in America. Yet prior to any major breakthrough, the band once again had to look for a replacement, as Verschuren decides to leave the band.
Vengeance — Arabia
With their popularity rising, there had to be auditions to make the choice of adding Jan Somers to the line-up for their critically acclaimed fourth album, Arabia. It's still woman and children first, with solid melodic hard rock, yet the party rock aspect has been securely reduced, resulting in a more cohesively-bombastic epic of sparkling sounds, thanks to a clear production, which personally I find shrill.
Goewie's vocals, energetic as always, sounds pinched and for the most part resemble those of Axl Rose (Guns and Roses) and Brian Johnson (AC/DC), as shown in tracks like Wallbanger, Broadway - Hollywood - Beverly Hills and the majestic potential hit If Lovin' You Is Wrong. The latter is a superb ballad dripping with melancholy, a strong build-up and melody, all passionately delivered by Goewie.
The AOR/Rainbow structured title track Arabia is equally high pitched, where further excellent guitar and eastern atmospheres fit perfectly, welcoming an updated return to some of the Shy influences from the debut album. Fillers like Just What The Doctor Ordered, Children Of The Streets and That's The Way The Story Goes keep the dynamic pace of the album going most confidently, but it's the deliciousness in between that's the icing on the cake.
Cry Of The Sirens for instance is a many-layered track filled with catchy melodies, tantalising harmonies and enthralling riffs, and a genuine precursor to Lucassen's Ayreon projects. The equally exciting Castles In The Air, opening with harpsichord, flows into some fast-paced Iron Maiden metal with adventurous melodic solos and occasional Triumph thrills. And the western-styled flirty banjo quirks, jazzy frivolities and steamy Hot For Teacher (Van Halen) likeness of How About Tonight is equally surprising.
Further spicy Southern blues rock in The Best Gunfighter in Town and Bad Boy For Love, mindful to Michael Schenker at times, rounds off their most accomplished album thus far. Touring extensively in Europe, it should have given them their much-desired international breakthrough, but it wasn't meant to be and growing internal tensions led to Goewie leaving the band.
Vengeance — The Last Of The Fallen Heroes
With Liverpool born Ian Parry (Elegy) the band finds a suitable replacement, shifting in sound towards a more bombastic, melodic and heavy AOR style. With the music industry focused elsewhere, they suffer in finding a record deal and after a few years, Vengeance decides to split up, but not before Sony releases the compilation The Last Teardrop '84-'92, including six newly recorded tracks with Parry. Coinciding with their farewell tour, by the end of 1994, the complete recordings with Parry see the light of day on the Japan-only release of The Last Of The Fallen Heroes.
In hindsight, the lack of success can be seen as an obvious sign of the times, yet the album proves to be a delight for lovers of well written melodic rock and has all the ingredients that make this genre great, including strong expressive vocals and a lively production. Straight forward, exquisite melodic rockers like Blood Money and Trouble In Town are great examples in a Tyketto or Shotgun Symphony vain, while the powerful AOR influences in Hold On Tight spark images of HTP (Hughes/Turner Project), accounted for by Parry's powerful voice.
The title track, The Last Of The Fallen Heroes, shows signs of Ayreon magic, where an acoustic intro and slow, swelling organ culminates into thunderous guitar riffs. The polished production aside, it is a delicious track with some unctuous keyboard moments. The bonus, stripped-down alternative version is an equally impressive ballad. Outta Control also shows some premature signs of Ayreon but is surpassed by the immaculate Wings Of An Arrow, feeling middle-eastern, like Arabia, whilst containing many variations, lots of depth and melody and colourful bridges/choruses.
Tracks like Edge Of Time, Outta My Head and One 'O' Nine (109) are adequate uptempo tracks with dashes of Uriah Heep, while Football Crazy is a small reminder to the party rock phase of Vengeance, showcasing delicate David Lee Roth insertions and speedy guitar work, much like Keepin' Up With The Joneses. The playful Funky Little Lady is as smooth as it can be, but neither can beat the precious beauty of the sensitive ballad As The Last Teardrop Falls, filled with refined harmonies and many pristine, emotive touches on guitar.
For the right minded melodic rock aficionado it doesn't get better than this, and fans of the aforementioned bands (plus Hardline or Extreme) will find a lot to their liking here.
Vengeance — Back From Flight 19
After the demise of Vengeance, Arjen Lucassen retreated to his home studio focussing on his individual projects, releasing several albums in the process. And it is during this time Goewie gets word that Lucassen is writing new music and decides to contact him. The end result is Back From Flight 19, where once again Lucassen and Goewie team-up with old colleagues Peer Verschuren, Jan Somers, Oscar Holleman and Jan Bijlsma, each contributing different parts to the album. With Roland Bakker on Hammond, the comeback album is finally released in 1997.
And for anyone wondering what this "sublime hidden treasure" mentioned in the intro' entails, don't look any further! Anyone familiar with the works of Lucassen from the past 20 years (Ayreon, Guild Machine and more specifically Star One), will immediately press this one close to their hearts. It goes under the name of Vengeance, but proves to be light years away from it, showcased by the instantly gripping opener Planet Zilch which could just as easily have been included on Star One's Space Metal which was released five years later.
And this applies to every single track on the album, which is far ahead of its time, set in an immaculate modern production similar to Ayreon, and filled with many powerful riffs, hooks, lots of keyboard layers, Hammond organ, and bombastic/ambient intertwining passages. There's no letting go, with tracks like Loaded Gun, Right To The Core, Live Or Die and PG 16 displaying highly entertaining prog metal incorporating all kind of influences like Glenn Hughes, Queen and Led Zeppelin, to name just a few. On top of this, Goewie, apart from Lucassen's background vocals, is solely responsible for vocals throughout and does a magnificent job, transcending his own high standards by miles.
Several alternating solos of Verschuren and Somers in tracks like Follow A Trend and She Said are to die for, which can also be stated for the many playful Hammond insertions of Bakker. Adding even more to the plate are the complex structures of the compositions, as brilliantly shown in Dark Side Of The Brain. Flowing back and forth through ambient and prog metal, it offers divine harmonies, pompous riffs, solos and keyboards accentuations.
Amongst all this jaw-dropping power, Lonely Girl is a sensitive, small, medieval resting point with some lovely Mellotron touches, an instrument also effectively used in the highly addictive Dreamulator.
Equally intoxicating is Flight 19, which on the roaring sounds of a plane slowly drifts to a darker, ambient opening and gradually builds up to gorgeous Ayreon metal with Hammond sparkles, dynamic grooves and strong vocals. It's without a doubt the most progressive song on the album and the perfect ending to an overwhelmingly superb album. It turned out to be Lucassen's swan-song under the Vengeance banner, and how it has managed to stay under the radar this long is beyond me, for this is right up there with his best work.
Vengeance — Power Of The Rock 1
Vengeance — Power Of The Rock 2
Vengeance — Power Of The Rock 3
Enclosed within the anthology set are three CDs filled with demos, b-sides and miscellaneous recordings. Some tracks are featured multiple times, in different formats (demos and live), sufficiently divided over the three CDs. The chronological order and very accurate information included in the booklet, explaining the origins of these recordings, makes it easy to follow and is a welcomed gesture by Pseudonym.
Most interestingly, the first disc starts with a small gem in the form of the first demo consisting of Down And Out, Straight And Fair and Metal Days, recorded before Lucassen joined the band, giving a great glance into the origins of Vengeance. Other additional demos such as 1000 Girls and Crazy Horses, a cover song originally by The Osmonds, prove to be of equal importance, as does the inclusion of the b-side Death Ride To Glory, a NWOBHM Saxon-styled track.
The second disc offers some nostalgic aspects such as radio jingles and live renditions from Countdown Café, plus several interesting demos (Castles In The Air and I Said Nonono (Ain't Gonna Take You Home) that have different arrangements. Tracks like Don't You See and the interlude Memories are not fully finished, while the two different demos of Rock 'n Roll Shower show the development of the composition, with both differing from the album version (not yet incorporating the Bon Jovi element).
Out of the three discs Power Of The Rock 3 proves to be most rewarding, as it contains a wealth of b-sides like Big Fat Car, What The Hell Is Going On, Lonely Rider and Rock 'n' Roll Man, all thriving on tight, heavy riffs, powerful vocals and pounding drums that prove to be hard rock in optima format, somehow sparking images of Van Halen's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Further perfect live recordings from 1989 and the single Crazy Horses, finish these CDs on a high note.
Vengeance — Power Of The Rock: Anthology 1983 - 1998
Vengeance is still going strong today with Goewie at the helm, so this isn't a finished, career-spanning box set. Nonetheless this highly recommendable collection emphasises the importance of Vengeance as one of the front-runners in Dutch melodic hardrock / metal. With a playing time of over 500 minutes (!!), its handsome format, beautifully designed booklet and extensive liner notes means that there is something for everyone with an interest in melodic rock/metal and the history of music.
Besides being a perfect overview, it supplies wonderful insights into the Arjen Lucassen years, prior to his Ayreon escapades, where the precious find of Back From Flight 19, for me, turns out to be the biggest revelation. For those really interested, they'd better hurry, as this only has a limited run of 1000 copies.
We understand that this is not for the average prog fan, the recommendation tag is for those who do know how to appreciate this, and to Pseudonym Records for completeness and packaging.
Thankfully the mildly interested can also opt for a trimmed down 2CD compilation, going under the name: Vengeance - The Ultimate Vengeance, issued at the same time by Pseudonym Records.