Vexillum – When Good Men Go to War Review

“Bagpipes are a lovely addition to any song,” I staunchly declared a mere fortnight ago in another review. While my bagpipe rule of thumb held true on Wynter Arvn‘s Abysses, I’m struggling to stand by my words after spending the last couple weeks with Vexillum‘s When Good Men Go to War. Strong onion, weakly held? I’d say so. How could I have known that this opinion would make me grimace so soon? Rather than adding a haunting and epic mysticism to Vexillum‘s music, the bag-pipe is instead an ever-present, garish nuisance.

Faithfully following in the footsteps of Elvenking since 2007, Vexillum is an Italian quintet blending together equal parts power and folk metal. With When Good Men Go to WarVexillum seek to take their listeners on a dark and mystical voyage across the seas. The album artwork conveys that message precisely, and I quickly bought into the album’s story. What I didn’t realize, initially, though, was that When Good Men Go to War‘s runtime comes in at a beastly 63+ minutes. The opening track “Enlight the Bivouac” was an accurate introduction to the standard power-folk metal throughout the rest of the album, complete with the prescribed amount of guitar solo wizardry and mix of power metal vocals, gentle harmony, and orchestral instrumentation. That first track dragged on and on, and I finally resorted to checking the track length. If anything, the fact that the album’s first track is over eleven minutes long is demonstrative of Vexillum‘s boldness. When Good Men Go to War‘s bloated length left me losing interest midway through the eleven tracks on every listen.

Before I completely deter everyone from giving this album a chance, Vexillum‘s latest work does have a number of shining moments. The band’s marriage of power and folk metal is unmistakably catchy, and when attending concerts becomes a thing once again, I might even go so far as to say I wouldn’t dare turn down an opportunity to watch a melody-driven song like the title track performed live. In addition, Vexillum‘s transitions are on point. The band clearly spent time deliberately ensuring each track transitions seamlessly into the next. All of the songs end by gently and quietly fading to some subset of whispers, wolf howls, stormy winds, or battle cries which then feed fluidly into the subsequent track. Lastly, I appreciated the acoustic outro “Quel Che Volevo.” The gentle ditty features Dario Vallesi’s vocals sung in his native language and soft and happy instrumentation reminiscent of the jovial tunes on the soundtrack for The Hobbit video game which my brother and I played incessantly on our GameCube growing up.

These commendable moments on When Good Men Go to War, however, do not make up for the cornucopia of issues I take with this album. While the band’s vocal inspiration is undoubtedly Elvenking‘s Damnagoras, Vallesi’s vocals consistently lack a tightness and oomph that make them one of the weakest links on the album for me. Perhaps my initial callout regarding the bagpipes on the album comes across as too harsh. Admittedly, my disdain for the bagpipes was building throughout the entire album and was ultimately exacerbated by the track “Flaming Bagpipes.” No matter how merry and catchy the chorus of this song is, Vexillum crossed a hard line with their lyrics which should never, under no circumstances, have ever been crossed.

“Marching through the haze, I feel a coming blaze, It’s time to blow my bag, To celebrate my flag.” 

You get the point. No further discussion here is necessary.

According to the band’s promo materials, a vexillum was a battle flag for battalions under which one was gathering to fight in ancient times. It was a symbol for the honor, courage, and heritage of all whom bring it. Vexillum charge onto the battlefield with gusto in the first several tracks, but the album quickly fell flat for me. Unfortunately, I don’t quite feel the pomp and circumstance on When Good Men Go to War that Vexillum are evidently trying to emanate, and I won’t be coming back. The band’s insensitive bagpipes utilization may have left me scarred, but I am hopeful that I will soon enough warm up to the sound of the bagpipes once again.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Scarlet Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 23rd, 2021

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