Review Summary: A fine vintage, indeed
The last decade or two has seen a burgeoning movement of retro-inspired bands, delving deep into the heritage of (especially) 70s-era hard rock. While groups of this stripe certainly aren’t for everyone and have been rightfully critiqued for their lack of originality, a fair number of these bands have ultimately impressed. The best among them stand apart by summoning an epoch and a familiar sound without feeling like a carbon-copy of any particular legendary group. On the whole, Scandinavia has been preeminent in the emergence of this style (look no further than Graveyard and Hallas (both from Sweden) as an example). The Vintage Caravan, hailing from Iceland, are another of the elite leaders of this school. Monuments is their fifth album in a well-regarded catalog.
Right off the bat, the main gripe many will have about Monuments is that The Vintage Caravan are not reinventing the wheel, and in fact they don’t even try. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the band’s fusion of traditional hard rock with a healthy dose of psychedelia and a pinch of prog, and for some listeners this may be a turnoff. The other primary critique may be the lyrics, which are nothing particularly impressive. That said, this style isn’t particularly lyrically inclined, and there aren’t any intolerably bad moments to be found in this department.
With those caveats aside, those who love the sound of the halcyon days of rock are in for a treat. Monuments may or may not be The Vintage Caravan’s best album, but it’s undoubtedly another very impressive work from a talented band, continuing to explore the cosmic sound of a still-beloved era. The album reaches a full hour in duration, and while it’s easy to expect that a release of this style may overstay its welcome at that length, there are really no wasted moments. Bouncy riffs, shredding guitar solos, and pristine tones await throughout.
It is difficult to single out tracks from Monuments for discussion, as it is a reliably consistent album. Opener “Whispers” lays solid groundwork with hard rock riffage leading into great vocals immediately supplying images of sun-swept 70s nostalgia, motorcycles, and the open road (particular images may vary for each listener, but it’s undeniably evocative). “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” might be a bit plain lyrically, but the listener will forget about that as soon as the late guitar solos overwhelm everything else. “This One’s For You” sees the band try their hand at soft balladry, and excel at it, while the motoring album midpoint “Forgotten” and the closer “Clarity” are both exceptional old-school rock epics running over eight minutes.
All in all, if one doesn’t mind the band’s retro proclivities, Monuments is a masterpiece in hard rock. Anyone with an appreciation for the guitar gods of the past should leave their first spin impressed. The Vintage Caravan have shown enough distinctiveness to leave their own mark, demonstrating that the gritty sounds of the 70s aren’t dead and gone, but have instead aged quite well. A fine vintage, indeed.