The Bivouac is the second album by Italian power metal act Vexillum. The album was released in 2012. Vexillum was first formed as Shadow Vexillum and released one demo before shortening their name, releasing another demo and then their debut album The Wandering Notes in 2011. The Bivouac marks the debut of the band’s new drummer Efisio Pregio and features a guest appearance by Maxi Nil, one of the vocalists of Visions of Atlantis during The Oak and Lady Flame.
Vexillum’s music, which is power metal at heart, is also heavily influenced by folk and symphonic metal while not sitting completely comfortably in either of these genres. In some ways the kind of energy exhibited by the band reminds me of their countrymen Elvenking circa that band’s debut album Heathenreel albeit it with a much more dominate power metal focus and much less frequent folk instrumentation, although there is still a fair bit of it during the album. I’d also say Vexillum’s vocalist Dario Vallesi has a voice than is much less of an acquired taste than Elvenking’s Damnagoras. But while they do remind me of a less folksy Elvenking, unlike Elvenking’s own less folksy albums, The Bivouac is a much more satisfactory release to these ears.
If power metal isn’t your thing, then The Bivouac isn’t likely to an album to change your mind about the genre. While to the power metal fan Vexillum produce a sound that is just what the doctor ordered, to the outsider it will still appear somewhat cheesy, although Vexillum is nowhere near as overdone as some acts in the power metal game.
I do however think that the release has a couple of faults which while they do not completely hinder my enjoyment of the album, do keep it off of the highest tiers of ratings for me. Perhaps the most obvious issue is the backing vocals. Dario Vallesi has a great voice for lead vocals, but with a voice like that I’m not entirely sure where the need for backing vocals arises. At best they simply feel unnecessary, but at worst they actually come across as subpar, such as in opener The Wanderer’s Note.
A more minor quibble is that although we are talking a generally high quality level with mostly killer tracks, The Bivouac does occasionally come across as one of those power-folk albums where the mix of elements is good, but sounds like it could have been even better if there was a bit more balance between them. It’s the folksiest of the tracks where the album delivers its finest goods, The Way Behind The Hill being an example. Not that Vexillum isn’t capable of making power metal dominate songs, they very much are and the songs are definitely all growers. The Bivouac feels a more rewarding album with each listen I’ve given it. However there are many times in the album where I can’t shake the feeling that I’d be listening to an even better song if a little reworking of influences had been done. Even so, no less than a great album tier rating is deserved.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org))