Though widely regarded as some of the most pretentious and elitist assholes in the metal blogosphere, AMG contributors are, behind the scenes, a bunch of goddamn nerds who got lucky enough to find an audience by piggybacking off our founder’s hard work. As such, each of us has a musical vice that threatens to smudge our goggles of objectivity; Steel Druhm idolizes Jørn, Diabolus In Muzaka grows a third (peg) leg for Alestorm, and so on. As for myself, I’m drawn to power metal from specific regions, chiefly Brazil. My beloved Angra has influenced a seemingly endless amount of satisfying tribute acts, and three years ago, Vandroya was the new kid on the block. Representing Angra at their speediest and proggiest, Vandroya also heaped on the Euro-power influence in crafting their impressive (though derivative) debut, One. Four years down the line, their sophomore effort Beyond the Human Mind falls into my lap. Will it pull down my objectivity goggles, exposing the bias shimmering in my eyes?
As anyone who’s already sneaked a peek at the review score (i.e. probably every one of you) could tell you: no, not quite. But make no mistake; I’m quite taken with most of Beyond the Human Mind. Setting an early precedent with the Galneryus-esque melodies (and song title) of opener “The Path to the Endless Fall,” Vandroya ensures that their speediest material is always at the top of its game. The faster tracks are where the band truly plays to their strengths, pairing their excellent rhythm and lead guitar work with Daísa Munhoz’s powerful vocal work to create hooks that are more memorably than those from One. The trade-off is the de-emphasis of Vandroya’s proggier traits, which here take more of a backseat as window dressing for more traditional songwriting, but the new songs are so fun and catchy that I consider it a worthwhile exchange.
It’s a good thing that the majority of BtHM is comprised of Vandroya‘s fastest work, because the remainder is flawed to varying degrees. There are two ballads here out of nine total tracks (including the surprisingly good instrumental intro), and neither of them are a patch on One’s sole ballad, “Why Should We Say Goodbye?” “If I Forgive Myself” is at least passable, a decently catchy if overly long Journey, but “Last Breath” is borderline unbearable. Take it from a guy who’s lived his entire life in the heart of America’s Bible Belt: this thing is one Chevrolet-focused lyric short of being a fucking country song, and it’s a bad one at that. I have no idea what possessed the band to stop their high-energy power metal album dead in its tracks in favor of some Rascal Flatts worship, but it would’ve utterly killed my rating of this record if the bulk of it wasn’t so far up my alley.
The eleven-minute title track isn’t much to write home about, either. It’s one of the more prog influenced tracks of the album and its melodies flow pleasantly, but aside from one lukewarm tempo increase in its latter half, it feels directionless and strangely low-energy. This dispassionate vibe stands in stark contrast against most of the rest of BtHM. “Time after Time” carries an infectious, hard rock groove reminiscent of the best of latter-day Edguy, “Maya” features a breathtaking piano break before its chorus that wonderfully showcases Munhoz’s improved, nuanced vocals, and “You’ll Remember My Name” showcases a unique verse that’s at once playfully bouncy and unexpectedly dark. These songs certainly benefit from the fuller and more “metal” sounding tone than on Vandroya’s debut, although dynamically speaking it’s rather flat and the bass is hardly audible.
While no sophomore slump, Beyond the Human Mind isn’t quite as recommendable as the much more consistent One; BtHM’s peaks in quality are higher, but the valleys are much lower, too. Still, there’s over half an hour of laser-precise riffing and infectious vocal work to dig into, and most of the lesser material isn’t so much bad as merely bland. On the whole, Vandroya has proven once again that they excel at combining the warmth of the Brazilian power metal scene with the cheese and speed of Euro-power, and if they focus on their strengths on every track for round three, they have the potential to produce Brazil’s best album in the genre in years.