In the eternal war between Pirates and Ninjas, the Vanilla Ninjas have kept a hold of the Eurovision crown. A band that has continued to mature, their fourth album, Love is War, is a slice of pop-rock that’s both accessible and personal to Lenna, Katrin and Piret.
Vanilla Ninja managed 8th place in the 2005 semi final (and, spookily, 8th place during the grand final) while the Pirates of the Sea (for Latvia) managed 6th and 12th in their 2008 outing. So it’s advantage ninja – and when you look at the discography of Vanilla Ninja, this Estonian band, with a significant following in Germany and Austria as well as their homeland, are leagues ahead.
So, onto Love is War, and the band, now a three piece and with a new record label, set out to show a new side to their music. A goal they’ve clearly achieved once you listen to these twelve tracks.
“Kingdom Burning Down” mixes their take on melodic rock with just a dash of Euro-pop that will ease Eurovision fans into the album, before the album literally takes off with “Dangerzone”
And while it’s not a tribute to the Top Gun aviation fuelled Kenny Loggins extravaganza, if the rumours of a sequel are true, this would not be out of place with a couple of naval aviators flying through the sky to this straight forward slice of guitar rock.
The three piece decide to present a rather nice power ballad. This is a strong number, and I love the feeling that the music and vocals are straining at the leash during “The Band That Never Existed” just waiting for the right moment to explode. Of course anyone with a passing knowledge of the band’s history might read a bit more into the lyrics than normal.
“Rockstarz” keeps things light and relatively poppy – although the band have moved towards rock with every album there’s still a lot of mainstream hooks and structure they like to play with. “Shadows on the Moon” continues that pop/rock confusion with a song that showcases the guitars but manages to pair it with rather obvious lyrics. Then it turns dark with “Black Symphony”.
Now this I like. Imagine a darker version of that 2005 Eurovision Song, Cool Vibes, laced with a bit more gothic sounding vocals. There’s some danger under the surface of the music, and it really helps to give the band some emotional connection for the listener.
“Pray” returns to power ballad territory, but after the rush of “Black Symphony” this fits really well when you listen to the album as an album. On its own it does stand out, but in the flow of “Love is War” it’s yang to the preceding ying.
“Battlefield” flows as well, but it does feel like there is a signpost that says now is the time to play a possible single on the album, so the energy it pushes in is a bit like a sugar rush to kick you towards the end of the album in “Spirit of the Dawn”. Rather than an anchor, this is a mid tempo number that grounds everything before the final flourish.
“Insane in Vein” just bubbles away, with a grungy undertone driving the rest of the music, “Bad Girls” keeps up the same venom but with a slightly lighter and fluffier sound, driving enough to keep the guitar heads happy but a bit of clap-along in the chorus for the pop fans.
And it all finishes in “Silence”. Heralded by the same haunting horn that kicked of Ruslana’s “Wild Dances” (and the soundtrack from Gladiator”), this is a left turn at the very end of the album. It’s a gamble that pays off, as the lyrics smash to an end on “Bad Girls” as the trio pour out their hearts in one final opus that really needs a full orchestra behind them if it’s ever done live.
As it is, the final guitar moment of the whole album is their finest, and it sounds like it was recorded be at the top of a wind-swept cliff in a Ken Russell directed video.
Love is War, rightly, sounds like a band that are still maturing – and the decision to go on as a three piece band (when they were originally a four piece, even after replacing members of the band) means that it was a bit of a reset. Thankfully the trio are still out there, playing their music and making their name in Latin America as well as staying popular in Estonia.
At some point, a fifth album is bound to appear, but or now, Love is War is staying close to my playlist.